by Michelle Guillemard
“How long should it take me to write this article or blog? Am I taking too long? How can I write faster?”
This is a question that comes up often in my course groups. Being concerned with time is natural – and reasonable. Time is money. The less time you spend writing, the more money you make. The more time you spend researching, writing, reviewing and refining, the more your hourly rate drops.
But, it’s not just money that fuels our desire to write quickly. Striving for efficiency is human nature. Plus, spending too much time writing makes a project drag on – and you risk losing your mojo and enthusiasm.
Wanting to write quickly and efficiently makes financial sense, but quality health writing requires time. There’s no getting around that fact.
You cannot write high-quality health articles in 30 minutes – it just isn’t done. (Sure, you can – and people do – write poor-quality health articles in 30 minutes, but that’s why there’s so much misinformation around on the web).
Rushing means you risk making factual errors and cutting corners. And if you’re writing about new research? You may need 30 minutes to locate the study let alone read it and understand it.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t need days and days to write your article, either. So, how much time do you really need?
Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer to the question of how long it “should” take you to write a 500-word health article.
We all work differently. There’s no use comparing your speed to someone else’s. We all come to the health writing profession with a unique set of skills, attributes and strengths. We aren’t robots, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. There are, though, some common themes and approaches to consider if you’re wondering about your article writing speed.
Your confidence will develop with time
In writing, there aren’t a lot of shortcuts. When you start out, you might take hours and hours to write a small amount of copy – and, that’s perfectly okay. Your confidence is growing, and you’re learning a new skill. Like any skill, writing gets stronger with consistent training. With time, your skills will develop – and, you’ll become more comfortable with the writing process.
Over time, you’ll also get better at:
- Preempting and avoiding your little bad habits and errors – repetitive words, passive voice
- Idea generation, headlines and angles – you’ll start to understand how to conceptualise compelling ideas and catchy titles
- Researching efficiently – you’ll develop your favourite go-to resources, and you’ll know which sources to avoid, too
- Believing in your abilities – a confident writer is an efficient writer
If article writing is new to you, don’t worry too much about time. Focus on learning how to write properly and making good habits stick. Speed will come later.
You’ll refine your average article writing time – with time
I can’t tell you how long it should take you to write a 500-word article. I can’t even tell you how long it should take ME to write an article. That’s because I can’t work out my average time without knowing more about the project. In fact, my answer almost always depends on:
- The topic – how well do I know the subject matter?
- The amount of background research needed – one study or several?
- Interviews – how many people do I need to speak to and how long should each interview take?
- Editing and proofreading – ideally I like to allow for a break of 12-24 hours so I can review the final draft of my article with fresh eyes
- Referencing requirements – Harvard style or an in-house format?
- Internal guidelines and processes – are there any internal rules and regulations that impact the writing project?
- My headspace – am I busy, tired, distracted, unmotivated?
What do clients and editors expect?
If you’re writing for the kind of client who expects you to pump out health articles every 30 minutes, it’s time for a little client education.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your clients or editors about the sheer amount of time and effort that goes into every health or medical article, including:
- Editing and proofreading
- Project management – emailing back and forth, phone calls and in-person meetings
The problem with tracking time
We’re all so busy and are always multi-tasking. Getting an accurate picture of how long it takes you to write a 500-word article can be fraught with error.
Did that article take you six hours to write, or was it four hours plus Messenger chats? Did you stop for a long tea break? Did you stare at a blank screen for three hours?
When it comes to quoting, you won’t always get it right, either. You might guesstimate an article will take four hours, but you’ll end up spending seven hours on it. Hey, it happens to all of us. But, maybe you’ll also nail another article in a few hours when you allowed for seven. In the end, everything evens out.
What does the research say?
Unsurprisingly, there’s not a lot of research looking at how much time health writers need to write their articles. Data from 2015 from Hubspot showed that most marketers spend 1-2 hours writing 500-word blog posts.
However, general marketing posts are not the same as health articles which require a significant amount of time invested in background research, fact-checking and referencing.
Still looking for a ballpark figure? It’s safe to assume you may need at least a few hours, probably more, to write a high-quality, useful 500-word health article. However, before you start any writing project – even one article – take the time to do your requirements gathering. Before you start writing, know exactly what’s expected of you – this will help you to develop an accurate time estimate.
What do you think – how many hours do you spend writing your 500-word health articles?