The Need For Speed

So, I write a lot. You may have noticed this from me everywhere.

I also write fast, or at least I do when circumstances cooperate and I can sit down and bash out some words. This contributes to the impression that I write a lot; on a bad day I can usually grind out 500 words or so, and on a good day I can get up to 8-10k, sometimes 14k on different projects? I think that’s my upper limit. I did this by breaking myself, in the way that you can shape bones and bodies when they’re young and malleable by breaking them. I dont’ recommend it, and I’ve gotten into it in more depth elsewhere on my blog.

One of the ways I do write fast though, that I do advocate, is because I have learned to both shut up my inner editor and to use her to my advantage. I recommend starting with gagging your inner editor, sitting them in a corner, and telling them to think about their many and varied sins and how you’re not going to have anything for them to complain about if you don’t finish this first draft. Once you and your inner editor have gotten into that routine (and if you have you might know what I’m talking about here) you can begin Phase 2 of becoming Even More Awesome.

Look, if you ground out a first draft you are an Awesome Writer by my way of thinking. Drafts are hard. So we’ll work on being Even More Awesome.

My mind is, eh, I don’t want to say a finely tuned instrument but more like it’s a government institution. Which is to say that it has inertia on its side, it works sluggishly at times and way too fast at others, and both of these times are the least convenient. (I refer you to the perpetual phenomenon of Ideas In The Shower.) It has many rooms and offices that each perform functions, another thing I’ve gone into more detail elsewhere about which rooms perform what functions. Today we’re going to be looking at the Inner Editor’s office. It’s pretty empty most of the time, after all she’s not very useful in getting the draft out, but some things do live there with reasonable permanence.

The first thing that comes to mind as I write this is also the latest thing: the shelf of weasels. Occasionally these weasels will be retired and new weasels will show up. Not the typical kind of brainweasels, these are what Editrix calls the “weasel words,” the ones that I’ve started using as conversational filler like ‘almost’ and ‘at least’ and so on. And in some places they’re justified, but most of the time they dilute the writing and wear down the impact, so I leave the weasel cages on a shelf to remind me to cut that out. Every paragraph or page or so I go back and look; did I use them? Could I take them out? No? Good. Stay in your cages. The whole process takes about thirty seconds if I don’t have to make any changes, and then I’m on writing the next chunk of text. Sometimes I can catch them before they escape their cages and pee all over my text, which is ideal. Nobody likes watery weasel pee-soaked text.

Another thing I do is I have a few coats hanging on hooks. If I’m doing detective pulp I’ll have a detective coat on my hook and every few minutes I’ll do an internal check to make sure I’m in that mode. Clipped sentences, vivid description. Hints scattered here and there. How’s the tension? If I’m doing something more along a fantasy line I might keep a simple or a fancy cloak, and do an internal check there as I write. I want something that flows well and has a lyrical quality to it, without being so heavy in the phrase or word choice that I weigh myself down and can’t move the story at all.

I use visual metaphors to describe this because that’s how I think. What I’m doing is getting used to keeping these concepts in mind as I write, but separating it out from the part of my brain that worries over everything. I refer to it often as hanging things on hooks in my head, and it’s complicated at first but gets easier with practice. It helps to do a few test runs of writing shorter things at first, keeping one or two things in mind as you write and otherwise just going as fast as you reasonably can while maintaining coherence of story.

The other thing I do, unrelated to my Inner Editor’s Office, when I sit down to write is I have an idea of what the scene is. I’m afraid this may just take practice, or if there’s a method to learning how to do it I haven’t picked it out of my head yet. I’ll sit down to write a scene and I’ll know, for example, that this is the scene in which a father tells his daughter his life story. I’ll know it starts with a meal, and in the kitchen, and that the immediate family will be there. I’ll pick a point before the action starts and I won’t stop until I’ve completed the scene goal and gotten everyone to where they need to be, or until it’s become obvious that I’ve run so completely off the rails that I need to stop and go back and start again, or reassess what I need out of this scene.

As with all useful skills, it takes practice to do this. It takes a lot of practice to write well, fast, to get things up to 50% right on the first try. Which honestly is about as high as I’d try to get on the first try, so tell your inner editor to can it. But it’s a skill worth developing if you’re one of those people who has a lot of stories you want to tell and a limited amount of time in which to write.

I know this torment. Trust me. I have a to-write list a mile long. Speed writing is the only way I get things done without becoming an eternal scream of frustration.

If you don’t have a lot of stories to tell or you have as much time as you feel you want or need to write, don’t worry about practicing this! But for those of you who are like me, who have so many stories in your head and are typing at the speed of light to get this out before you have to go someplace or do something or wrangle a child or a pet, I hope these tricks work for you.

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