I have been free-writing and doing my “write-as-you-think” journals for quite a while. But it is only recently that our writing teacher introduced me to the idea of speed-writing. The problem with the way I was doing my free-writing was that I did not write at break-neck speed, which gave the “cynical me” or my “inner critic” the leeway to raise its ugly head from time to time.
But speed-writing, specially speed writing on paper, is a visceral experience, blistering in its speed. Your eyes flip, your arm aches, your pen almost slips, the paper nearly burns with the brush of your hand as you whip yourself to the end of the page, frothing out quantity, with absolutely no respect for quality: no grammar, no punctuation, no pauses, no thought, no looking back. It is just take the pen and run, run, run.
My poor inner critic (I scoff at it nowadays as I spill out more than 2000 words under an hour) gets chopped, chopped, its weedy little head cut neat away every time by the furious scythe my pen has become.
I write five minutes on nothing in particular, five minutes about a random word picked from a dictionary, 10 minutes on a piece that has 5 random words picked from a dictionary, and then I make fun lists (timed, of course): lists of things lost, things gained, things that have hurt me, things that have humiliated me, things that have caused me total agony, and so on……or I pick up a writing prompt and then just run with it, letting my pen scamper off like a page in a historical novel, with a momentous message to deliver on pain of death. The only rule is that there are no rules. I start off with something I buried, and end up on a post-mortem table. (Quite right too, wouldn’t you say? lol)
I churn out a lot of crap, but as a friend put it the other day, the crap needs to come out. I need to get it out of my system before I can do anything meaningful.
At other times I am hit with moments of self-realization:
I can make it happen. There is no hurdle but my own self, no problems but my own doubts, and I have to cast them aside no matter how hard or real they seem before my work is truly begun.
After I have done this sort of 100 m sprint in preparation for the marathon, and shat out my 2000 words for the day, my writing flows easier, and an article on domaining, blogging on blogging, or a macabre short story are all in a day’s work. To use a rude analogy, I feel as a severely constipated person must feel after the successful use of a laxative. (Yeah, I know, ugh, but the relief in being able to write without getting stuck throughout the day is enormous!)
Speed spurs creativity, and that has been known in most spheres of art. When you are expected to come up with something in extremely limited time, your sub-conscious takes over. It short-circuits its way to create something, anything, but usually something that the rational/logical part of the brain can never hope to produce.
As I said in a recent post, something speaks to you, something outside of you, and people infinitely worthier than me have felt it too. The absolutely marvelous poet, Sharon Olds, says:
“It’s a little more hearing – it’s almost as if I hear them just before they come out the end of the pen. I don’t hear them, but it’s as if they’re in a chamber just outside my hearing. I don’t usually try to write a poem unless that’s happening. The poems come to me, I don’t go to them.”
But to hear that voice, you have to be there, be willing to write every day. And the faster you write, the more chances you have of hearing something truly extra-ordinary. It is like being a radio-enthusiast, and being tuned in to some divine channel purely by accident. Speed creates these accidents oftener.
Speed writing is popular as a technique, and much celebrated. If you want you can write a novel in three days, or a month, or win a poetry contest that always begins two days before the deadline. Or, if you want to experience it every day like me, just get a countdown timer (my cellphone has one) and get writing right now.
Awesome! I too have a debilitating inner critic… I will try this out for sure, get some daily practice and hopefully discipline 🙂 … I can’t do a novel that quick, but there is plenty of crap to be released 😀 …
Loved this.. Thank you!
I did the speed writing / morning pages thing for about a year. It didn’t help so much with writing as with thinking. When I have a problem to work out (like what the heck do I want that scene to do) I take pen and paper.
Speed writing can be a useful exercise for some people, but I find the reverse to be far better: to sit and think and mold ideas and words in my mind until they are so clear and urgent that I need to write them down. This way, you train your mind to create more mature writing the first time through, so you don’t have to go back and spend as much time hacking through the crap to find the gold.
Oscar, yes, it is not easy at first. But when you sit every day, force yourself to sit every day and do a minimum of ten minutes of speed-writing, irrespective of the crap that comes out, the job gets easier.
An idea germinates in the first five minutes, and sometimes to carry it to its term all you have to do is speed write in bursts of five minutes with gaps in between.
Practice is KEY.
This is not as easy as it sounds at first – I have a very persistent “inner critic” – but there is definitely advantage to be gained in just getting the story down, just the ideas. I’ll have to have another go at this.
Yes, it is. And I cant thank my teacher enough for getting me back n touch with paper.
A story flying out is always a good feeling, always!
My handwriting is worse than any doctor’s scrawl. It is wonderful to crack the barrier and feel the story flying out of the recessess though.
what a great idea. i’ve actually never tried speed writing. i’ve done it naturally, when super tired or emotionally burdened…but i’ve never done it as an actual exercise.