4 Things I Learned Writing at Breakneck Speed

Speed

 

by Millie Ho

I finished Draft One of the new story today. The total manuscript is 476 pages and 98,298 words. To recap, I started writing last month after plotting for a week or so, and basically word vomited every day for twenty-four days. So yeah, no social life for me! And, as expected, what I achieved with speed I sacrificed in coherence. But that comes with the territory, and I’ll fix this later in the revision and rewriting process.

I felt like I needed to write this new story as quickly and as imperfectly as possible. I needed to do the exact opposite of what I did when I wrote and revised the Long-Suffering Manuscript. I needed to come at it hard and rely on my intuition more often than my outline. Also, I didn’t want to be in the position of not delivering a story on time or leaving beta readers hanging ever again, so being able to write quicker is part of my training.

This was the hardest and fastest I’d written anything before, so naturally here’s a post about what I learned:

 

1. There is no one right way to write.

As I learned from other bloggers and am discovering for myself more and more, there is no one right way to write. Though I still lean more towards plotter, “Whatever works” is going to be my motto from now on. Therefore, an addendum I’d add to my past writing learnings is this: just because you identified a writing process that works for you right now, it doesn’t mean that’s all there is. You might find something better later on, so allow yourself to be flexible.

 

2. Listening to music helps with writing momentum (at least for me).

Here’s something that will always be true for me. Regardless of how and where I write, the process is always more pleasant and productive when I put on some tunes. For Draft One, I listened to rock and hip-hop. The lyrics—what I could make out, anyway—were cathartic and occasionally necessary to drown out the sounds of the writing environment. Fast beats also guided the rhythm of my typing, so the faster, the better.

 

3. Entertain some exploratory writing.

Back to that ‘story as fossil’ analogy that Stephen King described in his On Writing book. Since I didn’t polish the plot before writing, it was inevitable that I would run into parts where I had no solutions or resolutions. In these situations, I just pulled up another document and scratched around in it a little, until I found something promising. Then it’s copying + pasting the above average bits into the main draft, and going from there.

 

4. It’s possible.

It’s possible to write a lot in a condensed period of time. One of my favourite authors is Catherynne M. Valente, and I used her 2011 pep talk for NaNoWriMo as a guide for writing quickly without stopping. Here’s the part that marked a turning point for me:

Though it is important not to put too much pressure on yourself, it is also important to know that quality and speed have absolutely nothing to do with one another. You can write something heart-catchingly brilliant in 30 days. You can do it in 10. There is no reason on this green earth not to try for glory.

Quality and speed have nothing to do with one another—isn’t that brilliant? Of course, this may be true for Catherynne (my Draft One was barely clinging to life when I was done), but it got the ball rolling for a new project, and I’m so glad I tried, if only to see what I was capable of.

 

What’s next?

I printed out the manuscript and will start reading and revising.

I took lots of notes as I wrote, so the process will likely also involve scanning those notes, trying to make sense of them, and making a Frankenstein-esque Draft Two. The main goal is to ensure that every scene, character, and subplot a) progresses the main conflict and b) is relevant to the main conflict.

Time to get to work.

 

 

Guest post contributed by Millie Ho. Millie is a writer and illustrator from Toronto, Canada. She uses her blog and YouTube channel to document what she’s learned about writing from both the writing process and from books, TV shows, and films.

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19 thoughts on “4 Things I Learned Writing at Breakneck Speed”

  1. I found that I’m not a person that can write fast, even if it’s a first draft. Mostly because I don’t carve out time consistently. And also because I am a perfectionist when it comes to writing. It’s hard to churn out a short story in a day. It’s nearly impossible for me. But I’ve learned to be okay with it.

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    1. Ahh, I know where you’re coming from. I also have those tendencies so I saw this binge writing exercise as a kind of experiment. As someone who has come out from the other side, I can say with a level of certainty that I would try this again. It was fun to push myself out of my comfort zone. However, we all have our different writing styles. Do what works for you!

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  2. Excellent! Although I do like writing quickly when the mood strikes. Although, most of the time I sit watching play out in my head, then have a go at transferring it. Good luck with that edit, buddy!

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  3. I can’t write fast like that, but I suspect it’s because nearly everything i write is set in a time/place that is foreign to me, and so a lot of research is needed otherwise I end up writing a huge amount that needs to be completely junked later.

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    1. Hi Mick, that makes sense. I didn’t spend a lot of time world-building before writing this draft, though I plan to for Draft Two (aka the deathly editing process). However, the speed did help me stop overanalyzing and overthinking things, which used to stall my productivity in the past. I think it comes down to personal preferences. Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences!

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  4. I wish I could explode like you did. To get it all out before any of it starts slipping away must have been thrilling to accomplish. Although I don’t think I could ever do what you just did, your account of the experience has got sparks of another idea forming in my little pea-brain.

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    1. Hi Glynis, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m sure you can do this as well. Not to say this is the best method of writing a first draft, just that it can definitely be done if you think it’s something you’d like to try.

      “To get it all out before any of it starts slipping away” — Yes, exactly. This kind of thinking forced me to keep writing. If I stalled, I would overthink things and second guess myself. Definitely didn’t want to go down that route again.

      Happy to hear that this gave you new ideas. 🙂

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