Craft of Writing: Speed Writing- OMG

You might be wondering why someone who has ADD and other health issues would be writing on speedwriting. It’s a fair question and one that I can actually answer with happiness. Okay, maybe not happiness, but at least truthfully and perhaps give you some insight on how you can make speedwriting help you through those hard times when things aren’t going so well. There’s a few theories on why speedwriting works for many people and why it doesn’t for others. I’m going to cover them both. Then I’m going to cover how speedwriting and speedtranscribing can benefit those with disabilities.

First, whether you call it Word Wars, speedwriting, the 10 minute timer, or what-have-you– the concept here is that for X amount of minutes you’re going to sit in the chair, put your hands on that damn keyboard and pound out some wordage. It’s a simple, brilliant strategy that focuses on one simple idea– screw the internal editor– WRITE! Believe it or not, when you are with friends on IM, group chat, or even on the phone, you’d be amazed how much you can pull off because of the peer pressure and because you’re turning off every single part of you that says, “You can’t do this. You can’t succeed. You can’t write from nothing! You need something to work with!” 

Most of my friends who do speedwriting have notes. Surprise! They will ping each other and setup dates to write with each other. Then they do what are called scene cards. They know they need scenes where X and Y need to get to S’s home, find out about Z sleeping with Y’s hubby, then find the red herring. Then there’s the emotional reaction of the betrayal to deal with. That’s just one scene they know that needs to be written that day. So they’ll spend the night before writing up scene cards of the story they’re working on. Each card has three Goals on it and at least one Motivation/Emotional point on it. They must all relate to the plot and to the main characters in some way. They’ll block out as many as 10-15 cards for the speedwriting. Will they get that many cards done? Maybe not, but at least they’ll have them ready to go for anytime. Even for those who hate plotting or think that outlining the entire book would ruin how they write– this kind of prep work does help a lot of times. For more organic writers, sometimes they might make a small blurb of the section they’re gearing for– a minor synopsis point that might make it into their final synopsis. 

Second, there are times when being forced to write when you have no idea of what you’re doing– let’s say you’re starting a new book and all you have are characters or just a germ of an idea- that free writing can help you decide whether or not it’s a good step forward or how long the story might be. Sometimes the speedwriting will let you know as you let it flow that it’s not going to be a lengthy story, in fact, it’s looking like it might be a short story or possibly at most a novella. That’s not a bad thing, it just tells you that your original idea might need more work if you want it to be something more. You’ll need to sit down with it and add in subplots, more character arcs and other GMC details to help lengthen the book and give it more depth to the original plotline.

Now a bit on why it doesn’t work sometimes. Some people can’t speedwrite. They have issues with focus, concentration (look at the bunny!), or they have physical ailments that prevent them from doing speedwriting for long periods of time. You have to understand, most writers who do this– do this in writing increments of 10-20 minutes with a minute or two off then start back up again– doing this constantly for a total between 1-4 hours before taking a 30 minute break or so. For those who have arthritis, ADD, bad backs, or some other ailments, that might impede the ability to hang out with those writers who do these longer periods of writing segments of speedwriting. Plus, some people for some reason, just can’t get on track knowing there’s a time limit. It’s like taking a timed test- they panic. It really sets off something in them psychologically that scares the bejeezus out of them. Occasionally, I can’t blame them. It can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming.

Before my breakdown and my health took a tumble, I was one of those who could do it for hours. Hours, I tell you! You might laugh at me on it, but I look back at those days fondly. With a lot of pride, too. When I started back writing, I tried with my closest writing friends to do speedwriting and I failed. Miserably, in my eyes. I was lucky if in one session that lasted an hour if I got 500 words. This from a woman who could write 2k in that time. I was devastated. But I wasn’t the same person I had been before. Arthritis, migraines, ADD and other things had come and said, “No, you can’t do like you did before. Figure out another way.”

So, how can you speedwrite if you can’t sit for great periods of time? By speedwriting. Seriously. Set the timer for 5 minutes. Then write. Or dictate. When the time is up– walk away. Go play a game. Go throw a load of laundry in the washer. Go cut up veggies for dinner. But walk away from the computer for at least 15 minutes. You have to build up tolerance. You also have to learn where your limit is. You might only be able to sit for 15 minutes. You might only be able to do 7 minutes of intense typing. You might be able to surprise yourself by doing 20 minutes. But then you find out that you have to walk away for at least 20 minutes. That’s okay. You’re not alone. You aren’t. There are other authors and writers who struggle with disabilities and problems writing consistently and often too. Put out a notice on FB, Twitter and elsewhere on the internet that you’re looking for others who want to do some timed writings but who need big breaks between the writing. There are many of them– some with young kids, some with elderly parents, some like me who have health issues and need to get up and work things out between typing and transcribing what they dictated. Once you find your limits and your threshold, you can find others who can work within your limits too. Then as a group, work together. It helps because each of you is cheering on and supporting each other to get that word count up there. It’s a beautiful thing when it’s done right. It helps so much so you don’t feel so isolated, especially when your health or your disabilities have you feeling like there’s no one else out there.

A special shout out to those who have ADD. You can learn to sit and type for periods of time. It’s not easy. I’m going to be honest and up front on that. I had to retrain myself. It took me over two years to do it. But I also can’t keep it sustained day in and day out because of other issues. One of the best books I ever bought that helped me relearn how to focus on my learning to type again, learning how to do timed writing is Hillary Rettig’s The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. The book deals with procrastination, self doubt, and the other aspects that make writers have a hard time on writing more. But for me, it helped me work step by step, inch by inch on getting my ADD under control so I could type at least 20 minutes at a time. Some days, I can do speedwriting/speedtranscribing for up to 4/6 hours a day. Other days it’s only for 2 hours. Depends on how I feel, how my focus is doing and how my hands feel with the osteo-arthritis I have. But I do the best I can, when I can. I stop when it hurts. Make sure you see your doctor. If you need meds, get them. If you need to watch your diet to be at your best– do it. It does make a difference.

What can speedwriting or speedtranscribing do for you on a good day? It means you might be able to write between 1-4 chapters in one day. If you’ve been averaging 1-2 chapters a week, that’s a huge jump for you. It’s also a great way to boost up your creativity and to feel like you’ve gotten yourself on track. Even on a bad day, you might do nothing more than finish a chapter that’s been dragging for days on end. Or perhaps finish one chapter and get another one finished. Perhaps it’s writing a critical scene that you weren’t sure how it would go because you had been toying with it in your mind, but you hadn’t really plotted out how you wanted to see it played in one POV or another. This speedwriting gives you the chance to write it one way, if you don’t like it– toss it. You can always write it another the next time. That’s the thrill of it– it gives you the blessing of telling your internal editor that you’re in charge and for the day– you can write freely. You might need to go back and edit. Yes, you might need to layer in some extra sense work, up that description and double check those sentences for strong verbs, but at the same time– you’ve also managed to keep your story on track, you’ve gotten more words done than you had in previous days, and for once– you feel excited to see what you can get done the next day. You feel accomplished.

Should you do speedwriting every day? Some people can– and more power to them. I cannot. My health takes one look at me when I contemplate it and does an impression of my soon to be 3 year old niece. It puts up one finger and goes, “No! Just no!” But what normally follows a massive day of speed for me is that I take it easy the next. I usually read a bit, I go and start plotting out what I’ll do the day after– and I’ll dictate– because with my ADD, it’s what works for me instead of BICHOK. So, I put in my writing time by talking into the recorder. Then I set Dragon to doing the initial transcribing. After that, I set it up so it’ll go into my followup transcription pile. It makes easier work and I find that doing that editing/transcription as part of my speedwriting/speedtranscription is awesome. I get massive words in and sometimes I pause it so I can free writing because suddenly my brain realizes there’s a scene there I need to put in.

Give the idea of speedwriting or even speedtranscription a chance. First, sit down with a timer such as this online timer and see how long you can write before you get bored, in pain, or feel like you have no idea what’s going on in your story anymore. Then check the timer. Do this every day or every other day for a week. Average the times out to see what your average writing time is. Then you know how long you can write for. It might be 30 minutes, it could be only 15. The idea here is that you know your base time. Then decide whether you want that as your countdown time or you want it longer or shorter. From there, hit up some friends and start writing. You might just be amazed what you can get done in an hour or two when you’re all cheering each other on!