How Writing Fast Tricks Your Inner Critic
Jul 09, 2019
These days most composition looks like whatever we write on a computer or touchscreen.
But what if I asked you to think way back. Back to the days when you learned to write by hand in school. What do you remember?
Is it the fat lines with the dotted center? The repetition of letter after letter? Or maybe it's the hand cramps? For me, I think about the callous on my right ring finger and the way I [still] rub it to help me sort left from right. Oh and possibly the way handwriting practice seemed to take forever!
But then one day I learned cursive—the holy grail of writing fast! In fact, it may have been the undoing of all of my careful handwriting practice. But the speed! The efficiency!
From print to cursive to eventual paragraphs, then book reports, research projects, essays, and more, our ‘writing’ education developed from the act of putting letters on a page to the activity of making sense out of words. And for almost everyone that meant a great big halt to writing fast. And from working with enough writers, I'm here to tell you that almost no one wants to be slow at writing. Yet, writing fast also seems to be the cause of unclear thoughts, wrong words, and silly errors.
So. if you’re trying to create something meaningful or if you’re writing for an audience, the question arises: will writing slowly actually make your writing better?
Why? Well first of all, writing isn’t math. You’re not going to write a sentence, catch a mistake, fix it, and then write sentence after sentence this way and wind up with a good piece of writing. That would be like writing in a straight jacket. It might be correct but it won’t be interesting.
There is a place for speed in your writing, but it’s a method not a pace.
When you’re ready to start a new writing project, you can use speed to help you dump out your ideas before your very smart or very insecure inner critic can complain.
We know that it’s impossible to actually record our unconscious thoughts—that would mean to make them conscious. But the closest thing we can do is to write quickly and do what composition theorist Peter Elbow
calls ‘outracing your internal censor.’
What’s the value in our unconscious thoughts? It’s the place where our unfiltered ideas live and often its the place of epiphany, great inspiration, or just like in dreams, the place where we can solve problems that our conscious brains disallow.
If you want to write faster but still sound smarter, check out my next article on Messy Idea Theory which explains where writing fast fits in your writing process and gives you an exercise to get you started.