How to write faster

Time is money and all that. It’s true. I wish I knew how to calculate the value of the lost productivity that can be traced back to bad writing.  It would be HUGE.

So in my trainings that’s one objective lots of people have:

Here’s my advice.

1 – Think first, write second

It’s the thinking that slows us down. We get an idea, start to write it, get stuck on a word, forget what we were going to write next.

So we should REALLY separate the thinking part from the writing part. Think first, write second.

2 – Plan

The thinking part needs to result in an Actual. Written. Plan.

Your world is literally full of distractions. They’re internal and external.

Don’t forget to buy milk. Did I lock the car? Heeeeeey, Shelly, how about that All Blacks game last night? An email notification. A text message. A phone call.

Every time one of those things distracts you mid-sentence, mid-paragraph, mid-chapter, it takes you anywhere from 17 seconds to 17 minutes to get back on track (depending which study you believe).

Writing out a very simple plan means you get back on track faster, every time.

3 – Write the easiest bits first

A plan also means you can pick and choose which bits of an email or document to write first. You know the thing about eating an elephant one bite at a time?

It’s the same with documents. People procrastinate writing a report because they’re thinking about writing the WHOLE THING. ALL AT ONCE. It feels big, daunting, and that puts us off.

The same thing happens when you’re faced with a section of a document that’s hard: I have to write the introduction. I don’t know how to write that. Kill me now.

Imagine if your document has 6 sections, and 4 of them are super easy to write. You know exactly what needs to be said for those 4. You have all the info. You can copy and paste some stuff. If you write those 4 bits first, then you feel like you’re almost done.

You sit back and the bulk of the document is finished.

Suddenly accomplishing this thing (eating this elephant) feels possible.

4 – Less wordsmithing

In my estimate, anywhere from 30 – 100% of the wordsmithing (editing, polishing, sculpting, fine-tuning) we do has a negligible effect on the outcome. If we’re focused on our readers, those tiny changes that can take so much time and effort, make very little difference. We’re usually making those changes for our own benefit.

Language is too subjective for lots of those small things to have much impact. You start to make changes at a level that has so much subtlety the likelihood your reader will infer the same things as you is diminished.

So there you go.  Write faster, write smarter, write purposefully.

Then go have a coffee. You’ve earned it.

Do you need help?

My true home is on Great Barrier Island, where my ancestors lived.

I only get there a few times a year, and when I do, nature has done its best to take over.

Elephant grass up to our waists. Manuka seedlings, thistles, and rushes have their roots deep into the clay.

The job is simply too big for me. I look around and there’s so much to do that I don’t even know where to start.  Left to my own devices, I just wouldn’t.

That damn elephant

And yes, I get the idea that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. In my mind, each bite of this clean up, if I do it alone, would be too small and insignificant to even be worth it. There’s no way I’ll ever get all the work done.

But as we arrived on our last trip, my dad pulled out the lawnmower and mowed a track between the house, cabin, toilet, and generator shed. That made a difference.

Carver Boy grabbed a slasher and started on the elephant grass. I did the same and cleared the track to the waterhole.

Within a couple of hours, we could see some progress, and we could function.  We could get from A to B. And each cleared space, each cut manuka, each clump of rushes levelled, did two things: made the task seem achievable, and revealed the next level of clean up that could still be done.

Within 2 days, the house looked like someone lived there – with a lawn, clean drains, and nothing overgrown in sight. Far more work than I had even thought possible.

The miracle of many hands

It felt miraculous to me. Because on other trips, when it’s just me and my kids, it’s too overwhelming and we don’t even attempt it.  I look around and it depresses me.

I sat on my deck with a well-earned glass of wine feeling so, so grateful for the help. Feeling so, so proud of what we’d accomplished.  And feeling relieved that, because of our combined efforts, the next few weeks of this stay was going to be so much more enjoyable.

And I thought about how much more we can do in our lives when we have help.

And how we find it so, so hard to ask for help.

We are grateful when people around us ask for help, but we feel that to ask for help ourselves is a weakness.

Depression is a part of my life

It has been for decades.

I manage it.

One of the things depression looks like for me is a feeling that even the simplest tasks are too much. I look around me and all I can see is things that need to be done, and I can’t face them.

Have a shower? Too hard.

Get dressed? Too hard.

Answer an email? WTAF.

I want to sleep for a week.

We all need help

But when I have help, that changes.

The company of one of my daughters, or Carver Boy, or my Fairy-God-Ninja, Mandy, makes some things possible.

And each thing I accomplish lifts my spirits. I get help (for me – this usually means just some company) to sort the laundry. I get help while I write a list of things that I think need to be done, so they don’t feel so endless. I get company while I clear out some emails and work tasks so the weight is lifted.

My fairy-god-ninja

When I first hired Mandy I literally had her sit with me once a week just to keep my motivation up – to not let the lurking depression raise its head and climb onto my shoulders. In my calendar those days said, “Mandy babysits Shelly.

When I’m planning out a big project or a hefty document, I get help. I talk it through with someone as I brainstorm. It gets me out of my head.

What’s in your life that you look at every day and it feels too big?

What could you do with that thing if you had help?

What might help look like?

Who could you ask?

We all need help.

Is it time for you to ask for some?

Are you brave enough to be happy?

I woke up this morning, looked at the beautiful man beside me, and thought, it doesn’t get much happier than this.


I’ve been doing the gratitude thing this year and there’s NO DOUBT it’s making me happier, kinder, less sweating the small stuff.

That’s absolutely one big reason I’m feeling so happy.

Being brave

But a really big reason I’m feeling so happy is that I have a good life. A life I worked damn hard to build myself.

A life I had to be fucking brave to get, over and over again.

I had to be brave enough to leave my first husband when he said he didn’t love me, and brave enough to keep living when he drowned soon after.

I had to be brave enough to leave my second husband and commit to being a single mother for all those years.

I had to be brave enough to be alone.

I had to be brave enough to build a house at home on our island so my children and wider whānau have a place to come home to. And so that while I work so hard on my business all year, I get a summer in paradise recharging, reconnecting, and reprioritising.

I had to be brave enough to walk away from my religion. The only worldview and culture I knew, so I could truly be me. And so I could be loved. And so I could feel the sun on my skin.

I had to be brave enough to admit what I wanted.

I had to be brave enough to resist when carver boy wanted to break things off. Brave enough to persist in our relationship. Brave enough (and patient enough) to wait four years for him to move in. Brave enough to risk another broken heart.

I had to be brave enough to say no to things that were tempting, but not right or good for me.

I had to be brave enough to set boundaries around my time and my contributions to others.

I had to be brave enough to charge what I’m worth.

I had to be brave enough to love and back myself.

It took a while, but I turned 45 this year, and I’m proud to say I’m brave enough to be happy.

Are you?

Things I have tried and failed

I consider myself to be successful.

We all have different definitions of success.

Defining success

Mine is that I live a self-determined life for me and my family.  I earn enough money for us to live a comfortable life and have great experiences. I have complete control of how much or how little I work, and how much time I have for my family.  I get to be fully ME everywhere I go.

Those are my definitions of success.

My journey

I don’t really consider myself an entrepreneur. I haven’t owned multiple businesses and I don’t have stories of huge failures I’ve come back from in my business.

But, to get to where I am today, there’s a shitload of things I’ve tried and failed, or tried and decided they’re not working, and therefore stopped.

It’s so easy to look at someone enjoying success and think they always get everything right. I soooooooo haven’t!

A business manager

I’ve hired and been left high and dry by not 1 but 2 business managers. No, I didn’t hire the right people. Yes, I learned some things. It was a fairly expensive lesson.

A social media manager

He didn’t have the skills he said he did. And he misrepresented the hours we worked. It was a bit scary giving someone that much access to my world and then realising they can’t be trusted.

Paying someone to write blogs for me

I mean, I’m a writer, DUH. But I was soooooo busy and never writing for me and I thought if I just gave someone the main points and they knew my brand voice it might work. It didn’t.

A virtual assistant

I think I’ve tried 3. Holy fuck trying to save time by outsourcing stuff is SO TIME CONSUMING! I found the right one eventually. But they weren’t as virtual as I thought they’d be. *hiyeee Ninja*

My first Google Adwords campaign

I went with a big, recognisable brand. Thought that meant they’d do a good job.  They didn’t. It was expensive, they didn’t listen, and they got me exactly zero results. They hooked me into a contract and wouldn’t give me any information about my own campaigns. Fuck all of that. If you need a great digital marketing team, talk to Adhesion[link]. I’ve never looked back.

At least 2 websites (Maybe 4)

I think this is just normal. Any website needs regular updating. I’ve never had one I’ve been happy with for more than 2 years, and some MUCH shorter than that. They can be fucking expensive. But as long as you’re learning each time, meh, that’s business I reckon.

5 collaborations

I get so excited about the possibility of working with other amazing people. Luckily my business doesn’t depend on it. I can do my own thing really well, and the idea of collaborating is just the cream on top. Because of this, and because I’m a get-shit-done no-mucking-around ACHIEVER, none of these have played out the way I’d hoped. Honestly, I’m all good with that. Things work out when they should. And again, I’ve learned so much.


Finances are the bane of my life. They’re not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve had therapy, 2 different accountants, different arrangements with an accountant, tried 6 different versions of having a CFO or financial controller. So far, the only things that has really worked is freaking blood sweat and tears, keeping myself FULLY and PAINFULLY informed about my financial situation as regularly as I’ve been able to manage.  I’m getting there. It seems like there’s no such thing (yet, in my world) as handing this responsibility over to someone else.  Uggh.

A business mentor – She had one way of coaching/mentoring, and it didn’t work for me.

A sales coach – She didn’t live up to her own sales pitch.

A technical writing qualification – I knew more than the tutor.

Saying yes to everything

*laughs maniacally*  I actually think this was a useful and legitimate philosophy in the first few years of my business. It got me here. I learned sooooooo much. I grew. And now I’ve grown to the point that saying yes to everything is not only DUMB, it’s wrong. For me, my family, and my clients.  I am no longer a yes-girl.

I’m sure there are more.

I just thought maybe you might need some reassurance that it’s ok if you’ve tried something and it didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that.

Or maybe there’s a dead horse you’re currently flogging and it’s time to stop. Chalk that one up to experience and learning, and move on from it.