Sunday, November 1, 2009


I just got out of the hospital. I was in a speed-reading accident. I hit a bookmark.
-- Steven Wright

If you're doing NaNo, today is the big day. You've been prepping and plotting and clearing your calendar, and now it's here. Hooray, at last! Have fun with it!

So what are you doing here at edittorrent? Why are you trolling the internet when you could be writing something? Have you already hit your word goal for the day? 1,667 a day will get you across the finish line. It's not that much. You can do it.

If' you're doing NaNo and you haven't made your goal for the day, here's what I want you to do. (You can do this even if you're not doing NaNo, or if you've already met your goal for the day. But if you're procrastinating, stop procrastinating and do this now.)

Pick a scene or concept from your book which you would like to explore.

Get a kitchen timer.

Set it for ten minutes.

Write as fast as you can until the bell rings.

It's only ten minutes. See how many words you get. Is it more than you expected? Fewer? What did you do when your fingers stopped moving?

Make a game of it. NaNo is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be a chance for you to try different tricks and techniques, to disengage from the inner critic and just push yourself to generate words. They don't have to be good words. You get one month of the year for speed-writing, and the other eleven to edit. So every time you start to worry that the sentences are sloppy and the scene is rambling, just say to yourself, "Self, that's an excellent observation. We'll be sure to address that in the eleven months from December 1 to October 31. But now is the one month for new words and ideas, so let's just table the editing until later." And then get back to cranking out the words.

After the bell rings, pencils down and hands up. Take a deep breath. Flex your fingers. Congratulate yourself *before* you count your words -- the point of the exercise is not the word count, but the process of speed writing. (And the process of speed writing is the process of training your subconscious mind to regurgitate on command. But that's a whole other issue. First, let's just do the speed writing.)

Now comes the part that might be a bit tricky. Now you have to think, honestly and ruthlessly, about what happened to you while the timer was ticking. Did you forget about everything and just write, write, write? You might be one of the lucky ones who can slip into the writer's consciousness upon command. For the majority of writers, though, it takes some practice and training.

Did you find yourself stumbling over a particular passage? Did a certain thought stall you and make you space out? Pay attention to that thought or passage. One of two things might be happening. Either you are subconsciously backing of from a particular area because it is difficult or sensitive, or it is so loaded with creative potential that you hands can't keep up with your brain.

(You think there's a third option? You think it might be, it just might be, that the idea is not ready to write. Bah. That's no reason to stop writing. However, that might be the reason for cutting these particular words later -- the idea wasn't fully fleshed yet. That's fine if you need to cut them later. Let me assure you, better writers than you have thrown out crappier passages than yours. But that's not a reason to stop now.)

So, most stalls stem from hot emotional stuff or from too much creative energy. Don't pass judgment on the process in either case. The point is not to get frustrated by what might stall you, but to recognize that stalling is possible, and to find a way to keep going anyway. It's only ten minutes. When you hit a stall, put a star in the margin or something to mark the point of the stall, and then keep going. You can check your stars later, after the bell rings. But before the bell rings, just keep writing.

So, this is your task for today. First, hit your NaNo goals, if you're doing NaNo. And try the timed speed-writing exercise in either case. We'll be building on the notion of this timed exercise over the course of the month, so do try it out and see how it goes.

Heck, do it a bunch of times, if you like. Why not? Have some fun with it. Set yourself free. You lose nothing whatsoever by doing this exercise, except ten minutes. It's only ten measly minutes -- and as I always remind myself when I set the timer, I can do anything for ten minutes except hold my breath under water. Everything else, no problem. ;)


n.b. The ideas in this post, and in the related posts which will follow, are not original. I don't know who first came up with the notion of speed writing, but I've seen it referenced all over the place. (Natalie Goldberg, Dorothea Brandt, etc.) In any case, just want to point out that these are old ideas, and I take no credit for the concepts.


Denny S. Bryce said...

Thank you! That was a much better pep talk then the others I've read today, and yes, I'm trolling the Internet because I finished 1800 words. So I'm enjoying the joy of conquest - before I hit that certain wall in the road.

Edittorrent said...

Hey, Denny, I was thinking of you the other day! Let's get together after the new year. I'll be visiting le parents in Richmond, so I might fly into National.

I swear by Write or Die--

I got 1877 words today!

Glynis Peters said...

Thanks for the info. I am not doing NaNo this year as am finishing my WiP. I do want to try a bit of speed-writing though, it might come in handy for this plodder.

Leona said...

thank you for the tip. I was thinking how I could possibly make it through the days with the baby and I love your ten minute routine. :) It will work splendidly. I only did 1270 yesterday (baby's first birthday kinda important LOL) but I've already hit the thousand mark for today.

I will use the ten minute method to help me make up for yesterday's shortage and finish today's numbers.

Time to change the baby

Laura K. Curtis said...

Something else that speed writing enthusiasts always recommend is to do this with a pen and paper, not on a computer. I always do use a pen (fountain) anyway, so it's not a trial for me, but it's something to try. Different ways of thinking.