On Writing Swiftly

Sometimes I write quickly. Occasionally, when I write quickly, I write well. Most of the time, though, I don’t. I have to revise and re-revise and throw things out.

You’ll find me peering with envious eyes over the shoulders of great writers who write quickly, studying, studying, trying to divine the secrets.

And I think I’ve learned a few. I AM getting faster. Some of it just comes from experience, but some of it, for me at least, comes down to conscious choices.

Thinking back over the best successes I’ve had with writing well, swiftly, I can recall a Dabir and Asim story I wrote in one sitting (“Servant of Iblis”) and an occasional chapter or two that ended up with only a few words changed between when I crafted it in a blaze of inspiration and when it appeared in print. And I think about what I’ve learned talking to talented writers who write swiftly and reading about those from the past. As a result I can make a few generalizations. Maybe they’ll help you as National Novel Writing Month gets into full swing.

1. Know your characters. Know them backwards and forwards. Most importantly, know what every single one of them wants before you start writing the scene, as I keep repeating, for I need to keep reminding myself of this very important truth. So long as I remember that, my writing is stronger. When you’re writing the scene, you’re the director, telling everyone what their motivation is. And if, while you’re thinking about the character, you get a voice telling you it doesn’t quite make sense, you need to step back and talk with the “actor” or maybe even talk with the playwright, to alter some things before you start writing. And as I mentioned at a recent writing workshop, there are two reasons even many of Shakespeare’s bit parts are memorable. A.) It makes for a more interesting story and B.) every actor who was part of his company wanted the moment in the sun. If you think like a playwright who wants to make the story interestng and give everyone a moment, you’re likely to help your writing.

2. Focus. Everyone tells you how much you must focus, but before you focus, you have to have the plan in place for what’s going to happen, based on those characters that you allegedly know so well. Know them, and what they’re capable of, and what they want to do, and then you can channel your energies.

3. Miscellaneous and sundry. I’ve tried all kinds of things. I’ve tried writing with music on and music off. I’ve tried speaking my prose out loud as I write it, something that worked to great effect for Robert E. Howard when he crafted his most visual scenes. I’ve tried (and recommend) shutting off access to the Internet. There are probably some more little tips, and feel free to send ’em in to me, but I don’t think any of them will help too awful much if you don’t know your characters. And different tips work for different people. Me, I can’t stand to write with music on, because it distracts me.

4. My fourth and final technique is the Dr. McCoy Test. (“I’m a doctor, not a moon shuttle conductor.”) If I remember to stop every now and then during my writing time and take the Dr. McCoy test (applied to writers, that is) I can stay on track. Am I a writer, or a FB checker? Am a writer, or a news junkie? Am I a writer, or a blogger?

Speaking of which, blog time is over. Time to get to work.

8 Comments on “On Writing Swiftly

  1. The only way I can write is quickly. It seems almost like I need the speed to get the images out of my head and onto the page intact. It’s the same when I draw.

    • Lucky man. I sometimes get to write that way. And I’m on a quest to make it happen more often.

  2. After #4 I am scared to post a response! My excuse is I have just finished a round of emails with my editor. Yes, this is very sound advice.

    However, you missed out #0 LEARN TO TOUCH TYPE

    • Touch type = good. An actual typing class = also good. I took one semester of personal typing when I was in high school, and I can’t think of any other class that I took that was only one semester’s duration that had such a profound impact upon my life moving forward. Sure, some year long classes or series of classes, but not thins one, which taught me a skill that I have used practically every day ever since.

    • I just keep all computer games off my computer. I made allowances for Fields of Glory, which I managed to go wild on only for a little while last fall.

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