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So You Wanna Try Speedwriting

Lily has been doing creative writing since she started high school. She likes writing mostly short stories, but seeks to branch out.

Not shown: how fast this person is actually writing

Not shown: how fast this person is actually writing


Have you ever felt the urge to write but not felt like you had the time to do so? Have you ever wanted to explore a crazy and wacky plot idea, but wanted to give it a small test run before fully committing? Have you ever just found yourself bored with nothing but a bunch of lined paper and a few pencils to spare?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions or just want to try something new because you want some spice in your life, you’re in luck; speedwriting just might be for you! It’s a fast and fun way to train your writing abilities, improve your writing or typing speed and maybe even come up with a few ideas for something longer (and hopefully more thoroughly edited).

At this point, you might be wondering about something. “But Lily, how will I ever write a story with a complete plot and all the necessary bells and whistles in x minutes?” The answer to that lies in a few things: namely, changing your mindset and having some idea or structure before you start. Those are the big things here about the ‘how’ of speedwriting, but we’ll definitely go over the ‘what’ in case you’re unfamiliar. At its most basic level though, speedwriting is just writing fast and usually with few, in any breaks.

How fast is a speedwrite?

The specifics of time are not very important. I’ve done speedwriting sessions as short of 5 minutes (but would not recommend it) all the way up to as long as two hours. I personally wouldn’t go longer than two hours, though.

What is much more important is committing to your deadline once you’ve set it out. After all, (metaphorical and literal) diamonds are formed under pressure. Not committing to a speedwriting deadline lowers or eliminates this pressure and kills much of the appeal behind speedwriting. If you decide one hour and you don’t have any words 10 minutes in, don’t give yourself another 10 minutes - work with the 50 you have! Even if it comes out as a trainwreck, no one has to see that except for yourself (and maybe someone standing behind you).

Do I need a writing prompt?

Prompts are useful! They can give you direction, which can save you from having to use precious time coming up with a topic. Personally, I’ve found that having a prompt can give you both inspiration and direction. However, they are absolutely not necessary. If you have your own idea you want to explore or you want to practice brainstorming in a pinch, feel free to go without a prompt. Basically, prompts become more useful the less time you have. (In other words, going 5 minutes promptless kills so maybe don’t start with that)

Long story short, prompts can be good, but they’re not the only way to do things. I’ll go over this more in my section about prior planning and having an idea of where you want your story to go.

Save this for after you're done your speedwriting, not for while you're speedwriting.

Save this for after you're done your speedwriting, not for while you're speedwriting.

Changing Your Mindset

It can be very tempting to edit as you go along. See a typo? Prune it right out. Some words don’t flow right? Change it right away. There is a great deal of value to polished, well-done writing, right? Surely that’s true.

No. Stop. You’re wasting time.

While you’re in the middle of a speedwriting session, you should never edit as you go along. It wastes time, derails your train of thought, and worst of all, probably isn’t even that useful. The odds are that what you’re thinking about one moment will be something different in the next moment, and the correction will end up not mattering in the end. Regardless of what you do, it’s very likely that your sentence will end up pulling in two different directions.

That doesn’t mean that polish isn’t valuable in writing as a whole. It absolutely is! I get as triggered as all of you when I see someone mix up your and you’re, or when I see someone writing I in lowercase. But the time for polish is not during your speedwrite. The speedwrite is for getting ideas down, not for getting polish down. The polish can come after you’re done your speedwriting session. In fact, you’ll probably have to do that whether you edit mid-speedwrite or not. With that in mind, there’s very little reason to edit while speedwriting.

Basically, what I’m saying is: when you’re speedwriting, value creativity and ideas over polish.

No, your plan doesn't have to be this complicated. Yes, you should still have a plan.

No, your plan doesn't have to be this complicated. Yes, you should still have a plan.

Being a Man/Woman With a Plan

Having said everything about creativity and ideas though, you should still have a plan. Whether that be in the form of a prompt, a goal you’re aiming to achieve (such as trying to focus on using the chiasmus as a literary device) or some personal idea you want to explore, you should kind of know what you want to do.

Keep in mind that this is not a hard rule. It is, however, one that you should probably stick to if you’re starting out. It can be hard to grind out ideas ASAP under the deadline unless you have some form of structure, plan, or even some kind of restriction. This is because restrictions breed creativity. Rather than being stuck choosing between some vast expanse of choices, you’re forced to look at a smaller list of choices. This means you can spend less time choosing and more time writing and coming out with ideas.

A plan also allows you to know where you’re going while speedwriting. It means being able to end your piece coherently because maybe you have an ending in mind. It means being able to hopefully make the post-speedwrite editing process a bit less painful. It also means not confusing yourself, which I think we could all agree is a positive. After all, speedwriting is already stressful enough, even when you’re not bamboozling yourself.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to deviate from your plan if it’s a story-based one. If you start off thinking you want to kill your protagonist by the end of the story and later decide “wait crap that’s out of character and it sounds bad let me change please”, then you can do that! Remember the plan is a plan, not a prison, and a template, not a tenet. This applies less if you’re trying to employ a specific literary device or writing style - in these cases, it’s better to grind it out and see what you can do.

Get Out There!

Beyond these things - and even with some of these things - most of speedwriting is subjective. I like listening to music while I write. Other people don’t. I hate speedwriting by hand (still can’t hold a pencil properly). Other people love it.

The only way to find out what you like about speedwriting - and to get better at it - is by doing it yourself. So get out there, open that document (or pull out that notebook and pen) and get writing! And remember - everything here is a guideline - nothing more, nothing less.


RTalloni on March 29, 2019:

A neat read. Thanks for encouragement and tips. I'm working to finish a couple of projects but I keep getting distracted. Thanks much.

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