What is speedwriting? Why do I write and why should you also write? I prepared a lot of links and want to discuss the subject in-depth. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
I practice speedwriting
That’s funny but somebody else used the same formula to write quickly independently of me and called is SPEED writing. The formula is pretty standard for the “flow” state:
- Select a topic
- Prepare the supporting research
- Establish the structure
- Eliminate distraction
- Dash to the finish without stumbling
This blog was started almost 10 years ago. All that time I was working full-time job as an engineer, writing on weekends. I wrote a book, several courses, another book, many hundreds of articles… I improved. When I started, I used to write around 2000 words in a good day, and now my good day is probably 10000 words. The text I write is also better than ever before. An A4 page is 500 words. Then again, not all days are good for writing. I used to publish articles once a week, but with extra productivity I can publish every day.
By the way, English is not my mother tongue, but my third language… I do not use it very often at work or at home. This is not an excuse for me and should not be an excuse for you.
A couple of months ago I literally felt that I have nothing new to tell, so I simply started to look at my old plans vs published content. The gap I found was big enough for several new courses and books.
How fast is really fast
According to author Dean Wesley Smith, “Most professional writers can average about one thousand words an hour when going on a novel. Not in the struggle of the beginnings, but once the novel is underway. So, simple math says that to write a 90,000-word novel, you have about 90 hours of work.” This formula provides 2 novels per month assuming 180 hours of work per month. I do not actually know anyone who could do this.
Agatha Christie wrote professionally for many years, say 60 years. During that time she wrote 66 detective novels, 155 short stories, 15 plays, 5 radio plays, 6 romantic novels, 5 more books. This is roughly 4 novels per year. And this is considered to be A LOT. For comparison, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels write 50 volumes in 60 years. The complete work of Alexandre Dumas is about 34 volumes with 13500 pages, which is equivalent to 75 “novels”.
Typing itself, it is not so hard to get above 2500 words per hour. Reading and research for me are very fast to negligible. Most of the time goes to formulating my thoughts about subjects and switching between subjects. I guess with the right attitude I can further triple my writing speed. I wonder how many pages I need to write to become actually good at this task.
Starting to write
Every time I need to start writing a new article or a new section in the book, I feel a strong writer’s block. I give it 2 minutes. Either I get inspired or I switch to some lower priority writing on a subject that inspires me. I literally have hundreds of titles in my planner waiting for me to start. It does not really matter which of them are done today, and which will be done a week from now. I do need inspiration when writing each and every article.
In 2014 writing used to be very hard, and I used to write how I fight to get the right time and the right inspiration. What used to inspire me: students asking difficult questions. Today, I almost do not get questions. My students simply query my blog and my books. It took me several years to prepare an all-you-can-eat buffet of subjects to write about. Every time I need to write a new article it’s like asking: do I want a salad, a hamburger or sushi?
I will follow this article discussing the main writer’s blocks.
The fear-of-failure block is driven by perfectionism and excessive self-criticism. These writers can feel their imaginative juices bubbling under the surface, but they are crippled by the sense that nothing they produce is ever good enough.
The basic idea of dealing with this is power-through. Do not aim for the stars. Publish mediocrely formulated thoughts on a blog that nobody reads and improve all the time. If you are an experienced writer, take a break from a particular subject, or even from writing in general.
Rather than self-criticism, the fear-of-rejection block is driven by a concern for others’ criticism. Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother.
I started to write answers to specific questions by specific students. Without these questions, I am not sure if I could handle the fear of rejection.
The fear-of-success block is driven by a writer’s worry that her success will negatively impact those close to her. Writers who suffer from this block tend to put others’ needs ahead of their own, so the thought of success leads to guilt, fear of change, and worry that their loved ones will become envious or resentful.
This is probably a real thing. My wife is always annoyed by me being busy one day every weekend, and the sound of a mechanical keyboard drives gets on her nerves. She cannot build new training routines as fast as I can outline interesting subjects and occasionally gets anxious about advanced routines I developed for my own use. Yet she does everything in her power to provide me the peace of mind required for my work.
The lack-of-motivation block is driven by a sense that your creative well has run dry. You find yourself unable to daydream, to stitch together a coherent sentence, or even find the right words. There are generally two reasons why you might experience this block. Either you’ve fallen out of love with writing itself or you’ve fallen out of love with your current project.
I may add being constantly interrupted by kids, having not enough sleep, being too tired from the previous writing. Somehow after 4 hours of constant writing (with short Pomodoro breaks) I feel that my brain starts to melt, and I do house chores or go to sleep. I can have one session of 4 hours and 2 sessions of two hours per day, otherwise, I get too tired. Recently I learned that if I can write for months non-stop, dual core polyphasic sleep allows me to rest every time I get tired.
Writer’s block is something I face almost every day, usually 4 times per day, so by now it is not a big deal.
Another true issue I face quite often is a fetish of structure.
Usually, I start my thinking following some sort of a rule of five. I break my subject into main elements and for each element, I try to think of a formal approach:
2: Review of the literature
Then I start creative thinking, add and remove branches to my outline and gather more information. I do not think that any of my articles in a finished form follows this structure. My courses have between 6 and 10 sections each between 8 and 16 lessons. If something gets wrong with the size, I reorganize the structure.
When I form the main idea as a mindmap or a mental palace, it is quite hard to give up. The mental structures are very fast to build and revisit, but when writing them down extra thoughts tend to enter the mind. The initial processing in my case tends to be very visual but the writing uses other brain areas.
The writing itself is fully subvocalized. This means I hear in my mind 2-3 forms of each sentence I want to write before I write it. The visual cortex is too busy controlling the typing vs the text on the screen to do something useful, except for the Pomodoro breaks.
No good structure can handle this sort of pressure. Additional paragraphs and ideas are built on the fly, and this is a good thing. I can address the subject from multiple perspectives, searching as I work for new data sources. Then I can revisit the data sources I originally planned to use and add more paragraphs.
During the editing stage, the structure fetish is reborn. Editing is mostly visual, trying to check the distribution of words and ideas, fixing errors reported by spell-checkers. For my books, I actually use human editors, but I cannot do this for every post.
Reinstalling structure adds more ideas for writing and makes my creative juices flow.
After years of experimentation I found my own style. It is somewhere between an essay, a diary, and a guidebook. I try to solve several issues in each piece. If you read this, you probably enjoy my writing.
- I use my writing to solve my own issues as a sort of brainstorming on paper.
- This blog is a sort of reading diary. When I find several articles discussing the subject I need, I write a sort of review addressing the main issues.
- Since many of my readers are also my students, I need to provide some practical tips. Occasionally my old tips are valuable for me as I look for the best technique for each challenge.
- I try to review each subject from multiple perspectives. This is not a university essay. Usually, I do not come up with a fixed thesis but review a subject from multiple angles, asking questions, and giving extra information.
- Occasionally I use this blog to make promises. This is mainly for my own sake, as I tend to honor my promises. I am also more likely to try good habits since I am typically planning to write about them.
- Everything is written as one piece. I do not have enough time for extra editing cycles. It’s research-organize-write-reorganize-schedule cycle for me. Most of the text appears raw as I formulated it in my head.
I assume that the reader interacts with the text as he would interact with me. So I ask myself questions from the reader’s perspective and answer them. Then I ask again from some other perspective. I believe that my text is a sort of dialogue.
My writing is also a manifesto. I believe in lifelong learning and I think everyone should join. I am also on my private quest for productivity. While this is my own personal quest, I enjoy sharing the results. I find new ways to do things I was not able to do previously, addressing and attacking new issues.
To be brutally honest, I enjoy communication with smart, interesting, and well-educated people. So I do my best to see more people with these qualities.
Where do I get my ideas?
I use many simple processes:
- Read many articles. chunk groups of articles with similar subjects and generate a review.
- When building an outline of my knowledge notice an anomaly. Find a hole in my logic and perform research on the relevant subject.
- Get a question from a student and write a long answer.
- In a burst of creativity try something new. When it works, try to find an explanation for it.
- I stumble upon some idea that needs to be added to my knowledge tree. Next I decide to build the relevant associations in writing.
- Some psychological conflict or issue is bothering me. There must be a great answer at the distance of 10 google searches and one visualization sequence.
My wife says that I do things differently, and people love to hear about that. Occasionally I describe how I handle simple challenges. Even that often takes above 1000 words.
What do I plan to do next?
As I am not getting younger, I really need to write faster and establish better connectivity between the articles I already finished. It becomes increasingly harder to find materials in my blog even for me. I am developing a matrix of projects and disciplines with courses spanning the matrix both ways,