Fast writing can be an amazingly effective tool for tapping your creativity, by-passing your inner blocks, and creating strong drafts. Assuming the technique fits into your process, it can be a terrific addition to your writer's toolkit.
Probably the most important aspect of fast writing is how it can sidestep the inner critical voice at a time when that voice may not serve you well. Consider this: most of us have been at retreats where writers work in parallel in a common room or around a large table. There is sometimes a writer, often a very gifted one with perfectionist tendencies, who will sit at their keyboard (or notepad) and write for five or ten minutes, pounding out a few hundred words, then stop to re-read their work. On looking it over, they will cry out, "This is shit!" and erase most or all of their work and restart.
Several hours later they have typed 4,000 words and have 250 of first draft copy to show for their efforts.
While there are certainly some people for whom this is an essential part of the process, that degree of effort with instant revision is often a severe waste of time. When we include the inner editor in the drafting process, it can cripple our output, kill dozens of ideas before they get any chance to develop, and create a wall of frustration around the writing process.
A basic rule of thumb in writing: the writer is the worst judge of his or her own work. This means you don't know what is effective on the page and what is ineffective, especially not when you are first creating text. You're too involved in it, too close to it, too much aware of your vision of the story.
The value of fast writing lies in slipping past that internal editor to commit words to the page without the intermediation of self-judgment. Much good writing is tapped from veins deep in the subconscious. The subconscious gives us the new, fresh, outrageous ideas we have rarely seen before; when at its most uninhibited, it can mine the places of dark and light in the human soul. By contrast, the internal editor is a conscious process. A very different animal, rational and logical, which brings concerns of ego and self-consciousness into play. All writers need both: the playful ideas and the ability to organize them; the sometimes painful tapping of our own inner vision and the editor that can make it coherent for others. But when a writer is successful in banishing that editor to the revision process and keeping it out of the first draft, the results can be amazing.
One of the things that the subconscious can influence positively is voice. The writer's unique vision of the world, filtered through their experiences, their emotions, their needs and desires, lends a distinctive authenticity to prose which appeals to editors and readers alike. Much of this can be found through the vehicle of dream, if you are a lucid dreamer with a good memory for the transitional states between sleeping and waking. Likewise, the imagery in visual art, music, even cooking can stimulate that vision. This distinctiveness is closest to the surface in writing which is least mannered or forced—
Another benefit of fast writing lies in the relationship between story and manuscript. The manuscript is a tool for transmitting the story, nothing more. Think of it as an envelope, while the story is the text within. The story itself exists in the mind of the writer as a vision, as an experience, as a sensation—
Fast writing, removing the role of conscious editing and self-conscious judgment from the drafting process, can with practice improve the projection of that ideal story in a form which will provide the richest experience for the reader.
That may be all fine and good, but how does a writer trick the inner editor into keeping shut? If you've never done it before, how can you possibly produce five hundred, a thousand, maybe even two thousand words in an hour or two? It's a truism that no two writers are alike, but among the many different strategies others have adopted to prepare the mind for a fast writing session, there may be something that will appeal to you as a writer, something you can use and adapt to your own writing habits and routine.
Here are just some of the things that we or others we know have used:
Break your habitual schedule
Try rising an hour before your usual waking time, and spend that time at the keyboard. You'll be as close to your subconscious then as at any time of the day, and you may tap into a flow which your still-slumbering inner editor may well have blocked otherwise. Or the reverse, write late in the evening, right before sleep, when the day's free associations are creeping up on you.
Write in a different environment
This is otherwise known as the coffee shop trick, and is related to the first strategy in that it also provides a break in your routine. It can be particularly useful for writers who work from home and use the same computer both for the day job and writing. The idea is to signal to the mind that you are not at work anymore, that this is writing time. This works best, of course, if you are not distracted from your writing by random strangers chatting nearby. If silence is critical to your production, the public library may be a good alternative.
The timer trick
Set a timer for a specific period of time, perhaps thirty minutes or an hour. During that time, concentrate exclusively on writing, not allowing any interruptions—
Develop a writing ritual
Many writers swear by little personal rituals to get them in the right mood or frame of mind to write. This can range from reading a poem or two, to lighting a candle and meditating, to going for a short run before turning on the computer, to practicing self-hypnosis sessions before writing. The important thing with any ritual is that it resets your mind to writing mode. If you think candles and meditation are silly, find something else to signal your brain that it's time to write.
If you like to use writing books to kick the muse into gear, there are several that deal with fast writing, for example David Fryxell's Write Faster, Write Better, Roberta Allen's Fast Fiction, and Susan K. Perry's Writing in Flow. While Fryxell advocates planning in order to produce faster during actual writing sessions, Allen emphasizes short writing exercises in order to promote play. Perry looks at the theory of "flow" and analyzes the habits of a number of different writers to see how they manage to achieve a state conducive to fast writing.
Many writers are skeptical whether fast writing can be at all useful for them personally, either because their process involves careful consideration of the words or phrasing while they write, or because they can't imagine achieving a state of flow where the words seem to come of themselves. Even if you consider yourself in this group, a fast writing session or two might still be worth the effort. Growth as a writer is about experimentation, about change. Make an attempt, give it an honest try, and see if it works.
It may not. If a writer's process genuinely is one of carefully considered initial drafting, then a speed run through the text may well be a disservice. This is not an argument from principle, it is an argument from cases, some of which will be valid.
The best recommendation we can make is if this technique sounds interesting to you, make a run at it. Set aside a time when you will not be interrupted, establish a modest goal—
You may be quite surprised.