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Career Focus

Writing Against The Clock

By LISA TRUDEL - December 9 2012

If you are an adult learner, job seeker or employee, what do you do when the clock is ticking and the page is blank? If you are in school, are you trying to complete an essay or assignment that is due in the morning? If you are a job seeker, are you trying to compose a deadline-driven cover letter? If you are an employee, are you trying to write an email providing instructions that needs to be sent before you leave for the day?

Whichever you are, if your fingers are frozen on the keyboard, what do you do?

Writer’s block is common, especially if writing is not your favourite task or even if it is. Panic can hit as you stare at an empty computer screen that should reflect what your supervisor or teacher already expects on his/her desk.

The issue of writing fast is complicated and it is not necessarily about keyboarding fast. It all depends on the content, complexity, audience and situation. Writing fast is about clearing the mind so that you can write as easily as you speak. To help with writing against the clock, here are three useful tips:

1.  Remember the three big questions.

Before any writer takes on an assignment or chooses to write something, there are three questions to ask:

  • Where am I going?
  • When must I get there
  • How will I get there?

Writing is a journey and whenever you are pressured for time, these questions are imperative.

For example, in the first question of “Where am I going?” answering this demands a purpose and a specific audience. Answers could include: For a job seeker: I am writing a cover letter to accompany my resume both of which are tailored to a specific job ad. For an employee: I am writing an email to my manager with a proposal for a new laptop.

For the second question of “When must I get there?” answering this locks you into a no-excuse commitment to finishing the writing task at a specific time ahead of schedule. For example, answers could include: For a job seeker: If the deadline for the job posting is next week, I won’t wait until the deadline but instead will send in my application as soon as possible since employers might close the competition deadline without warning. For an employee: If my manager expects the proposal for a new laptop by Thursday, I will have it ready by Wednesday.

For the third question of “How will I get there?” answering this requires a straightforward attack with supporting details, which you can gather through research or various resources. For example, answers could include: For a job seeker: For my cover letter I will use a t-bar style letter which will demonstrate my best skills efficiently and effectively to the reader. For an employee: In my laptop proposal I will mention the options, cost and benefit.

2.  Build a writing world.

Strength as a writer means having a strong attitude in approaching writing and having a good system when delivering the final product. Writing is very much a physical and mental activity so writing fast requires a checklist of specific environmental concerns beyond having a working computer. For example, it is important that you are writing in an area with good lighting, temperature, ventilation and controllable noise levels. Your writing environment is directly linked to your productivity so watching for these concerns might improve your speed. Additional environmental concerns include possibly making ergonomic improvements if you need to. Do you have an appropriate and comfortable chair and desk area? Can you reduce clutter or loose papers that might be in your way? Another part of creating a suitable writing world in order to write fast, is checking that you have your favourite reference books nearby, bookmarking online resources, considering the time of day that you are writing, counting the number of words you are writing, and believing in yourself. Lacking confidence in your ability to get the job done successfully will slow down your writing and might cause you to miss deadlines.

3.  Identify energy stoppers.

The most common reason that stops writers from putting pen to paper is working without a plan. Writing slowly can be due to trying to draft something without a plan in mind. As a result, you stare blankly at the screen without being able to generate ideas. Creating a plan will promote writing efficiency and can help to cultivate productivity instead of waste. Another energy stopper is trying to do everything all at once. Rewriting every sentence, and sometimes every word, until you get it right, can be a foolish approach for two reasons. One is that you might not even use the sentence in the finished product and another is that you can easily lose your train of thought when you stop and start at every turn. Writing fast when you have a deadline is possible even if you have interruptions or a break in your concentration. By considering the importance of the direction of your message and using awareness that attitude wins over perfection, it is very possible to write against the clock.

If you are an unemployed job-seeker and want to learn more writing tips or what a t-bar style cover letter is, contact the Centre for Education & Training at:

Whether you are in school and trying to complete an assignment on time, or are an employee trying to write an email before the end of the business day, or are a job-seeker applying for a job, it is possible to learn the secrets to recover from writers block.

Lisa Trudel is a Career Specialist with the Centre for Education & Training, Employment Services. ( She can be contacted at:

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