What's the whole deal about writing fast? Why is it such a trend? One, we know writers who write more and have more books to sell -- sell more books! You have fans that want to gobble up everything you write and you're under the gun to write faster. But, you don't want to just churn out crap.
I hear you. In "The Writer's Coloring Book®" (sorry, one bit of shameless self-promotion) I devote an entire chapter to this subject and offer techniques to help you churn out a first draft very quickly. And you must understand, these techniques ONLY apply to writing the first draft -- that ugly, uncertain, first glimmering thing -- that must come out of your brain and onto the page. Once you have it on paper, then you can dissect it, figure out what the story is really all about, and design your plan of attack for the next revision.
One of the benefits of writing this way allows you to see the movie in your head in real time. You watch your characters in action, you listen to what they say and you just scribble down as much information as you can. When your inner editor wants to butt in, just tell her "don't worry, don't worry, we'll fix this later."
I can already hear some of you freaking out right now. Writing at top speed is a scary thing. But, you have to set the bar high and push yourself to reach it. And look at it this way, you have created a set of characters and you are putting them through all sorts of hell (I'm sure you are, lots of conflicts, lots of opportunities for your character to grow). Why not put yourself in a similar situation? That's what I did when I decided to write 8,000 words a day. Yup, you heard me, 8,000. The goal was to do it for 10 days straight, thus producing 80,000 words. But I totally hit the wall on day 6. I'd churned out 55,000 words, none that I would ever show to another soul, but that draft served as the seed for my novel. A couple drafts later I had my 95,000 word final draft.
So, here are my 8 tips for writing fast:
TIP 1: Be prepared. Before you begin each writing session, have all of your materials handy, your scene plan, an outline, some notes on what will happen in your scene. This is essential, even if all you have is a list and character names. You want to have some kind of prompt so you won’t be writing “blind.”
TIP 2: Think about the needs and conventions of your final project to determine your total word count goal. If you are writing a novel and your best guess is that your final total word count will be between 75,000 and 100,000 words, set your word count goal for 60,000. This will give you one big chunk of story, with enough room to add or subtract characters, other story arcs, or any number of other elements to play with in your later drafts.
TIP 3: Determine your word count goal for your writing sessions. I am assuming that you will be working on a computer. Find a website that lets you take a free typing test to determine how many words a minute you can type. For example, I can crank out 65 words a minute. Now multiply that by 60. So 65 x 60= 3,900. That means at full speed I can crank out 3,900 words in one hour. To be conservative, I set my goal to 3,500 words in one hour. I know, I can feel you all freaking out, because that just sounds impossible.
TIP 4: But I have a trick up my sleeve: Use a kitchen timer or your smart phone timer and set it for 15 minutes. That’s right, work for only 15 minutes at a time. First, this tricks the part of your brain that’s freaking out. If all you have to do is 15 minutes, then the pressure is off and it feels less intimidating. However, once you get started, if you are on a roll, let the timer go and just keep working.
TIP 5: End in the middle of a scene. As you are finishing your daily session and the timer is about to go off, or as you see your words pile up, resist the urge to finish the current scene you are writing. This gives you a great starting point for your next session. You already know what’s about to unfold. You jump in and you’re on a roll when headed into the next scene.
TIP 6: Resist the urge to edit: When you finish your session for the day, you may have “seen” what’s about to happen in the story. Jot down some notes, but don’t stop to re-jigger your story. Do not start editing. You want to get the full story out of your subconscious first. I know it will be hard to resist, but if you start editing now, you won’t know what’s about to happen down the road and you will get frustrated. Trust me, I’ve made this mistake.
TIP 7: Trust yourself, trust your instincts. The one thing that blows me away every time I’m asked to help a writer with her story is this: everything you need to tell a great story is already there in your personal unconscious. Think of it as a big computer file, in each writing session you are downloading more information. Wait until you get the full file before messing with it.
TIP 8: Congratulations, you did it! Once you've chunked this draft out of you, celebrate. Seriously, this ain't easy; it's heart wrenching, gut twistingly hard work. Now you need some down time. Don't look at these words for a long time. At least a week, a month would be better. You are a different person now than the one who started writing this draft; you need to savor your sense of accomplishment. You also need some rest and you need to recharge your batteries. When have fully recovered and with fresh eyes, dive back in and plan your next revision.
There you go, use these tips wisely and crank out that draft. Your readers are waiting to read your stories.
So what do you think WITS readers? Ready to try it? Still freaking out?
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Rachel Funk Heller began her career as a journalist and worked as an independent television writer/producer for over two decades. She's worked for a variety of industry clients as well as the Hawaii State Department of Education. She is a former CNN producer who worked in both the Atlanta headquarters and the Washington D.C. bureau. An accomplished video editor and graphics designer, she was commissioned to produce and illustrate a YA story-telling television series titled, “Christabelle in the Museum of Time.” She recently completed her workbook for writers, "The Writer's Coloring Book®" launches on March 30 at writerscoloringbook.com
Find Rachel on Twitter: @RchelFunkHeller or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rachel.f.heller
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
I find that when I write more quickly I actually write more accurately. I am less likely to forget things like one of the characters hid a sword in her skirts rather than in her cape when I refer to it later. My first book took me 20 years to write. My last book took me six months to write and I had to do history research!
Hey, the key here is YOU FINISHED IT! I have a screenplay that I turned into a novel and abandoned back in 1999. I'm hoping to take it back up again soon. Writing is a lot like weight lifting, the more you do it, you build muscle memory and it becomes easier. Congratulations.
This makes so much sense and I'm ready to apply the approach. I tend to edit as I write and it really interferes with the flow of thought. Trying so hard to stop doing that! The discipline of this approach will be good for me.
That's why I like the 15 minute chunks, it tricks your internal editor, making her think, "meh, 15 minutes, go ahead, I'll leave you alone.
20 years to 6 months? Wow Cygnetbrown - just wow!
I really would like to write faster. I've tried plotting and shortcuts and fastdraft and...
Every time I try, I learn that my process is what it is. But I keep looking, hoping to find something that works....
Thanks for the tips, Rachel!
I can type fast, but writing is different from just typing. My writing speed differs when I'm writing a contemporary paranormal vs. a historical women's fiction (my WIP) when I'm "becoming" someone else and having to get those pesky historical facts/events correct. But I'll take these tips and apply them, Rachel, to get the dang editor (I was a tech editor in my former day job) out of my head! Thanks!
Hey Betty, just remind yourself that you will give the text a good, fine-tooth comb edit, once the story is complete. You'll have all the time you need to get the details right. But while you're drafting you just want to find out how the story works out.
Thanks Rachel. GREAT ideas here. I teach fast writing in my creative writing classes (I time us for 10 minutes, give an exercise, then say "GO"). But I need to do this for my next novel, which I've been procrastinating about for months. I'm going to try your technique~!
Procrastination has its place when you're in that dreaming phase. But eventually those characters start talking in your head and then it's time to get writing. Good luck with the techniques, I hope you find the useful.
Rachel's 15 minute technique bumped up my pace to an average of 1600 words per hour. There's just something about knowing you "only have to do 15 minutes" at a time. 🙂
I used a similar approach in writing arguments and briefs when I was a practicing trial lawyer. My clients' cases were stories that needed to be told. I added the legal stuff in subsequent drafts.
A thousand words a day is gold for me but I'll try!
Hi Deb, when I first tried this technique I forced myself to write 8,000 words a day. Believe me, they were utter crap, but I saw how my plot lines merged and met new characters so it was worth it. Good luck.
Thanks, Rachel! Great tips. I'm going to try and speed up my output using these. Turning off my internal editor is the biggest challenge for me, but I will do my best.
Just remind your editor that the time will come when you need her desperately, but for now, she can just chill.
Great post! Thanks, Rachel. I will definitely try this on my second novel. My first one I flew by the seat of my pants!
Freaking out? No, not doing that... but definitely self-doubting. For me the conflict is this: I kind of wish I could write faster, but at the same time, I like my process. So, probably the bigger issue is daring to try a change, right? This process would be very different than my current one, but I do like a challenge. 😉
I think the key is understanding there are different techniques for different phases of creating the whole piece. The writing fast only works for you FIRST draft. If you are already in revisions, take your time and craft your words. That's the part I really like, designing my story for the readers. But I can't do that until I have the first draft. And please, take me up on the challenge. Try it and see what happens.
Some excellent tips, thank you! Following here now too. 🙂
Thanks for the follow, Geraldine! You may want to look through our archives...bunch of great past posts!
Hi everyone, thanks for the great comments! I agree that writing is not just typing. What I love anout these techniques is it helps me feel less precious about the words I write in a first draft. I just want to see the story unfold in my mind's eye, get as much detail as I can, and then move on. And with all writing techniques, try it, see if it works. My goal is to help take some of the frustration out of the process.
Rachel, I love the refresher! Everyone, I've been one of Rachel's guinea pigs, and I can tell you it works really well! I'm not as fast as some others, but I'm definitely faster than I used to be. When I strictly apply this method for first drafts (no editing along the way...bad Kathy!), I really do tap into a lot of possibilities that I wasn't able to plan out in advance. Sometimes the trickiest part of this for me (the master plotter) is to TRUST that I'll be able to fill in the open-ended parts because they will come to me as I write.
Hey Kathy, so nice to see you here. And I'm thrilled to hear that this works for you. Can't wait to read your next book.
Great idea about the timer. I find that I get the least done when I have the most time. Setting a timer for 15 minutes would not only take the pressure off, but also force me to hurry up and do all I can in 15 minutes. Great tips!
Hi Piper, thanks for dropping by. I'm the same way, when there's a deadline to meet I manage to get the best work done. Good luck trying the 15 minute sprint.
Yay! You did it Rachel! I am so proud of you! I love the way you simplified your method into eight easy steps. What a wonderful post my dear friend. And as another alumni of the Writer's Coloring Book Method, I can only say that I put total trust in your writing wisdom. I've personally seen how it works and the results are amazing! Congratulations! 🙂
Hi Karen, so happy these techniques work for you. And thanks gor being such a great cheerleader fot The Writer's Coloring Book." Xox
Love the tips on the 15-minute timer and not stopping at the end of a scene. I also do best when I give myself a time limit, but then allow myself to write beyond. And I've learned to write into the next scene before quitting for the day, to keep my story in flow.
Some of the tips don't work as well for me. My inner editor is actually helpful a lot of times, stopping me from going too far down a path that will require way too much effort to fix later. But I know that's not for everyone. And I always read the last scene I wrote before starting the new scene for the day, to reground myself where I left off and get back into my voice.
Thanks for some great tips, Rachel! And major congratulations on The Writer's Coloring Book!
I did NaNoWriMo last November. I was able to crank out 54,000 words in 29 days (I took Thanksgiving off). I found it was a great impetus to crank out words on my laptop. Right now I'm polishing for publication.
The editing is what slows me down esp if I'm editing one manuscript and writing on another one, my brain doesn't hope back and forth well. LOL
Hello, Rachel ... I was off all day today so I am very, very late commenting. I could say I was too busy keeping up with my daily word count, but no, I was just not home.
I can grind out the first draft ... I talk to my self, talk in character, argue, and annoy my characters. I do that at night so in the morning when I get back, I'm ready.
THEN ... that fast draft turns into a slow boat to Mongolia ... but I have it down and know that no matter how I alter it ... the bones are set. Loved this post and some of your other suggestions ... thanks 🙂
Good ideas, Rachel.
One of the things I like about writing fast, isn't the fast bit at all. If I write every day, I remember my story. The things that slows me down when I don't write is that I have to re-aquaint myself with my characters and what they were doing before I can figure out what comes next.
Course, it could just be because I have a brain like a sieve!
Hi, again, Rachel! Like Kathy said, it's nice to have a Writer's Coloring Book refresher - most of the tips I already use. And while I use a timer set for 25 minutes, I can totally connect with Piper's 15 minute comment - you write faster and more focused if that's all the time you have.
The one that doesn't work for me is #7: "everything you need to tell a great story is already there in your personal unconscious." Only if you're not writing a historical!! I don't know how Kathy Owen does it, probably because she knows her period so well. But when I tried it in our class, most of my setting-related plot fell apart when I finally found the research sources I needed! I'm on my third plot iteration now and it's finally working. But you're right in that all the emotion and drama I need are in my unconscious, and accessible as long as I have a setting to accompany it.
I would love to write faster, but Rachel I am one of those writers that freaked out just reading your blog. My conclusion, I need to get over myself, turn off spell check, stop reading what I've written and just write. Um...this could be tricky but I'm going to give it a try.
Hi Susan, what I've learned along this path is if you encounter a technique that freaks you out...GO FOR IT! You've got nothing to lose and you will be surprising at the results. And when it comes to getting over yourself, remind yourself that you're giving your characters the chance to come forward and speak their peace.
I'm inspired! Gotta run, though. I've got 8000 words to write! 🙂
Rachel, thanks for a great post. Writing faster really does work to get the story flowing. I'm doing Speedbo with the Seekervile gals and I'm amazed at the progress I've made. I don't edit, but my sister next door reads each days work. She said I was writing better and with no more typos than I normally make—don't know if that was good or bad!
Your post was a timely one for me.
I'm having a ball with speedwriting! 🙂
Great post! Following similar tips, I recently completed a 14-day challenge with some of my critique group members. I was shocked that I actually wrote 90 pages, approx. 22,500 words in that time. It showed me I'm capable of more than 2 or 3 pages a day. I can do this!
Sorry for the delayed reply, but I had to comment. Great post! All good tips; my favorites are "15 minutes" and "quit in the middle of a scene." Thanks!
James, I agree with the comment, "Quit in the middle of a sentence." I've been doing that—it works! 🙂 I'm doing Speedbo with Seekerville and I've written 27,447 words since the first of march. A little over 1000K each day. And I'm a busy person. 🙂
WOW! I'm impressed. And envious . . . I was holding steady at 1,500 - 2,00 words/day, but got distracted. For me picking up the threads after even a few days away is time-consuming.
i discovered after about the tenth day that I almost couldn't get the day started without my three or four hours of writing first. "They" say that it takes 28 days to set a habit. I can see that now. The Speedbo commitment is the best thing I've done as far as writing goes. I also discovered my 'sweet spot' for writing is very early morning.
Sorry you got distracted . . . maybe you could just start over? 🙂
Great article - am desperate to write faster. Am interested what the overall elapsed time is on average for a novel where you write fast and the revise a few times to get it into shape? To me the elapsed time start to polished is more important than how long the first/rough draft takes. Any insights ?
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