Speed Writing

Lately I’ve been using a creative technique I call speed writing. It’s simply my adaptation of the well-known technique of freefall, or associative, writing. You write anything that comes to mind or anything triggered by something in your surroundings then use word association to keep it going in a kind of stream of consciousness.

It can start with a simple observation of someone in a coffee shop. You might describe the person, then speculate on what their story might be. Or you might see a dog outside the window with a strange collar around its neck and speculate on the owner. Anything will do as long as you let it flow.

Some writers say they use this method as a warmup exercise before starting their more focused writing for the day. Many of them record these kinds of jottings in their journals, which is what I’ve begun to do.

The difference, for me, is that I have to do it fast. If I amble along at a moderate pace, my inner critic begins to notice what I’m writing and begins to comment on it: that’s a really stupid idea, or, do you think anyone with that name could do that, or why are you doing this instead of getting down to some serious work? You get the drift.

My inner critic is strong. I’m a highly rational person, prone to writing essays, and my inner critic thinks my foray into fiction writing is a silly waste of time. You’d be better off out taking photos, it says to me. It’s an ‘it’; it doesn’t even have gender. It’s squeamish about make-believe and writing things that can’t be verified or at least supported by a good argument. My inner critic wanted me to become a scientist or engineer, and I almost did. But I was saved by my discovery of English lit and I long ago turned sail in the direction of poems, novels, short stories, plays, and literary essays. I’m not sure my inner critic has ever forgiven me.

So, I have to run, and run fast. That is, I have to type like the devil, outrunning my inner critic before it can start to criticize. Which is one of the reasons I use a keyboard for writing most of the time. I can type at least ten times faster than I can write longhand. To give my inner critic even less of a grip on me, I not only type as fast as I can when freefalling, I don’t look at the screen of whatever I’m typing on. This speeds me up even faster. I forget about typos altogether, unless I feel them as I’m typing. Let Word flag them when I import my document.

So far it’s working, and nearly every day I give thanks to that inner voice that way back in 1962 gave me the courage to talk my high school guidance counsellor (who doubled as my dreaded geometry teacher) to allow me to take a typing class. I was in the academic stream and typing classes were offered only in the commercial stream. She bought my argument that I needed to be able to type essays and reports when I went to university, and I learned how to type on upright Underwoods and Royals with blank keys. But I digress…

I don’t know if this would work for anyone else, but if you want to try an interesting approach to freefall, associative writing, try typing as fast as your thoughts come to you. If you’re a good typist, don’t even look at the screen or keyboard. Look out the window and let the fingers fly.

The point is to loosen some creativity and let it spread. I’ve already found the nuggets of some interesting short story ideas in my speedos (my pet name for these flourishes, despite the unfortunate double entendre).

As a deep-seated rationalist, I need all the help I can get when tapping into the creative side of my brain. Speed writing opens me up to a playfulness that doesn’t always come easily to me. It doesn’t work miracles, but it does generate ideas, and that’s worthwhile, as long as I don’t stop there and later do the hard bit: turning it into some kind of story.

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