Tag: Write Faster

Write Better. Write Faster. Be Unconscious

“Every day I try to be in communication with the universe in an unconscious way.” 
—Paulo Coelho

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John Steinbeck, 1963

Writing faster and writing better is not a matter of techniques or shortcuts or writing secrets. Sure, there are a few tricks you can learn that will increase your writing speed at the margins: You can eliminate time-wasting habits, use voice dictation software instead of typing, and so forth. I talk about these tricks in my books, and they can help you become a faster writer. But these tricks won’t make you more a more brilliant writer.

There’s only one writing insight you can learn that will make you a faster and more brilliant writer: You must learn to write unconsciously

In other words, you must learn to write in flow or in the zone. Great writing does not involve thinking. Great writing comes from a deeper part of us than the conscious intellect. It comes from the unconscious mind.

John Steinbeck, in a 1962 letter to an aspiring writer, said, “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.” Steinbeck warned the young writer not to stop and edit or rewrite while in the creative process. “Rewrite in process,” he said, “is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”

When you are first drafting (or “fast drafting,” as I prefer to call it), always move forward, never look back. By writing freely and quickly and without inhibitions, you tap into the writer’s most powerful engine of imagination, the unconscious mind.

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Ursula LeGuin, 2008. Photo: Gorthian

Ursula K. Le Guin has described her writing process as “a pure trance state. … All I seek when writing is to allow my unconscious mind to control the course of the story, using rational thought only to reality check when revising.”

In Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande talks about a creative faculty we all possess, though few of us are aware of it — ”The higher imagination, you may call it; your own endowment of genius, great or small; the creative aspect of your mind, which is lodged almost entirely in the unconscious.”

Brande underscores the fact that this faculty is the UN-conscious mind, not the SUB-conscious mind, because “sub-” suggests that which is low and inferior. Far from being inferior to the conscious mind, Brande says, the unconscious “has a reach as far above our average intellect as it has depths below. . . . The unconscious must be trusted to bring you aid from a higher level than that on which you ordinarily function.” In fact, she says, “the root of genius is in the unconscious, not the conscious, mind.”

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One of Dorothea Brande’s most famous disciples, Ray Bradbury, often said that conscious thought is poisonous to the creative process, and that true creativity springs from the unconscious mind. In a 1975 speech, he said, “I have had a sign by my typewriter for the better part of twenty years, now, which says, ‘Don’t think.’ I hate all those signs that say ‘Think.’ That’s the enemy of creativity. . . . Intellect can help correct. But emotion, first, surprises creativity out in the open where it can be pinned down!”

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Ray Bradbury receiving the Commander of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 2009. Photo: Caleb Sconosciuto.

What is the unconscious mind? Where in the brain is it located? Is it in the right brain or the murky region of the limbic system? Is the unconscious, creative mind the result of the synergistic functioning of many regions of the brain working together? Or does the function of the unconscious mind extend beyond the boundaries of the brain? Is it a creative activity of the immortal human spirit — a human reflection of the creativity of God?

I don’t know. No one knows. The term unconscious mind is a convenient label for a phenomenon we can’t explain. We don’t need to know where the unconscious mind is located or how it works, but I can tell you this from my own personal experience:

The unconscious mind is the key to unlocking our incredible creative powers.

 

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Discover the uninhibited creative power to write faster and more brilliantly than ever before. Read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.75]

MuseOfFire-Medium350x550And for a 90-day supply of inspirational and motivational writing insight, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $2.99. [Trade paperback edition $14.95]

Discover how to conquer the eight most common writing fears. Read cover-1writefearlesslyjdWrite Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.99.]

These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.

 

Your Time to Write, Part 1

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”
Doris Lessing

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The year 2014 was one of the most difficult years of my writing career.

That was the year we moved for the first time in more than twenty years. The sale of the house and the moving process occupied at least eight weeks of my life. Also that year, my father — a good and great man who was always a hero to me — died unexpectedly. So it was an emotionally wrenching year as well.

I had a number of books lined up for several different publishers, plus an assortment of short-term projects. After the move in March and the death of my father in May, I found myself falling behind on deadlines. After I delivered one book late, every other book on my schedule became a race against time.

I wasn’t used to being so far behind schedule. I wasn’t used to asking editors for deadline extensions. I wrote quickly and worked productively, producing more than half a million words for publication that year, averaging almost 1,500 words per day — and those averages included the two months during the house sale and move, when I got almost no writing done at all.

How did I get so much writing done during that year of adversity? I adopted a schedule that was insane and almost suicidal. I don’t recommend it. In fact, I offer this account not as a brag, but as a confession. I think I scheduled my writing year very stupidly, and I have vowed never to do that to myself again. More on that in a moment.

Let me share some time management principles that I knew, but lost sight of during that difficult year. Here are some ways to be a productive writer while maintaining your sanity, your relationships, and a balanced perspective on life:

First, change the way you think about time. People have strange ideas about time. We tend to think (especially when we’re young) that we have all the time in the world, that time is an inexhaustible resource. But time is a finite and precious resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. None of us knows how much time we have. As Joan Didion reflected after the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”

You cannot buy time. You cannot save time. You cannot stretch time. You cannot make up for lost time. You must use each moment to the fullest; there’s no guarantee you will ever have another. Whatever you want to accomplish, do it now.

Wise King Solomon offers this insight into the true nature of time: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 KJV). This is your season. Writing is your purpose. Now is your time.

Second, commit yourself to living a balanced life. I paid a heavy price to re-learn this lesson. During 2014, I stacked my writing projects and deadlines too close together, and I didn’t leave enough cushion in my schedule to allow for the unexpected. And it turned out to be a year of unexpected events. There was a period of about six months when I averaged four or five hours of sleep per night, seven days a week.

It was a nightmarish existence, in which I sometimes found myself dreaming (perhaps even hallucinating) at my computer. I found it hard to stay awake during the day, hard to get to sleep at night. I soon realized that my overtaxed brain was acclimating itself to this ungodly schedule, because I was regularly waking up a minute or two before my alarm went off, after only four hours of sleep.

I consumed the elixir of more than a pound of coffee beans per week. My judgment suffered. My friendships suffered. I was so immersed in sleeplessness and stress that, following the death of my father, I delayed the full onset of the grieving process. When my deadline stress finally subsided in the summer of 2015, grief over my father’s death began to hit me harder than ever, more than a year after his death.

Throughout 2014, I produced a lot of words, a lot of books, but I mistreated my brain and neglected my family. That’s no way to live. And that’s no way to write.

So, from now on, I’m committed to living a balanced life.

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Clearly, I have accumulated regrets from that difficult year. But here’s something I don’t regret: No matter how many mistakes and poor choices I made in 2014 (and they were legion), I made sure I left nothing unsaid, no unfinished business with my family. I made sure I said “I love you” to the people I love.

The night before my father died, I called my Mom and Dad on the phone and we talked for about forty minutes. My dad had no major health problems, and I had no reason to suspect that this would be my last conversation with him. We laughed and shared memories. It was a good talk, as so many of our talks have been.

At the end of that conversation, I said, “I love you both.” And they said, “We love you, son.” That wasn’t unusual. We often said those words to each other.

None of us knew that those were my father’s last few hours on earth. None of us expected that he would be gone the next morning. I’m glad we spent that last conversation laughing and remembering and saying “I love you.”

This life is all too short, and time is a nonrenewable resource. Invest each day wisely.

“Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 12:12 KJV

Next: “Your Time to Write, Part 2”


For more insight on how to write faster, write freely, and write brilliantly, read my other books for writers:

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Discover the uninhibited creative power to write faster and more brilliantly than ever before. Read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.75]

MuseOfFire-Medium350x550And for a 90-day supply of inspirational and motivational writing insight, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $2.99. [Trade paperback edition $14.95]

Discover how to conquer the eight most common writing fears. Read cover-1writefearlesslyjdWrite Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.99.]

These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.

To Write Better, Write Faster

by Jim Denney

I used to write slowly. And badly.

In 1989, I quit my day job, took a leap of faith, and became a full-time, self-employed writer. That same year, I contracted to write a nonfiction book for Multnomah Press, then an independent publishing house in Oregon (now an imprint of Random House).

The advance would cover three months of living expenses, so I scheduled three months to write the 80,000-word manuscript. Unfortunately, it took me four months to write the book. I was writing slowly and losing money.

But it gets worse.

In those early days of my writing career, cash flow was an acute problem. I desperately needed the second half of my advance. I sent the manuscript to my editor, hoping he would accept it quickly and cut me a check.

No such luck. Instead, the editor called me and said, “Jim, we’ve got a problem.”

My heart plummeted. “How big a problem?”

“I’m flying out to meet with you in person. I’m afraid this book needs a major overhaul.”

Not only would my check be held up, but I’d be spending additional weeks getting the manuscript into publishable shape.

The editor arrived for our all-day meeting. He had prepared flip-charts showing the existing chapter flow, the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, and a proposed restructuring plan. As we talked, I had to agree: His version was much better.

It was a painful learning experience. I trashed about a third of the original manuscript, rearranged the rest, and wrote two new chapters. The rewrite took a full month to complete, but when I turned in the revised manuscript, the editor told me I’d nailed it. As a personal favor, he made sure my check was issued promptly.

In the end, I had spent five months of my life on that book. I couldn’t afford to let that happen again. In fact, I seriously considered hanging up my word processor and finding honest work.

Over the next few years, I gradually improved my writing skills. I never turned in another manuscript that needed a complete tear-down and restructuring, but I was still writing far too slowly and I struggled to make ends meet.

Then, in 2001, I had an experience that transformed me as a writer: I discovered my superpower as a writer.

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I talk about this experience in detail in my books Writing in Overdrive and A Writer’s Superpower, but for now I’ll briefly say that I contracted with a publisher to write a series of adventure novels for young readers. The contract specified an insanely short deadline plus a $100-per-day penalty for late delivery. In the process of writing those books — and delivering them on-time — I discovered a brand-new approach to writing that has served me well ever since.

Later, I discovered that the writers I admire most — Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Ursula Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Greg Benford, Orson Scott Card — were already using this approach. They had discovered their own writer’s superpower. They had learned the secret of writing quickly, writing freely, and writing brilliantly. Let me tell you how my own writing life has been transformed by this discovery.

Just prior to writing A Writer’s Superpower, I wrote a nonfiction book for an independent publishing house. I started work on Friday, September 2, 2016. I completed the first draft on Monday, October 3, thirty-one days later (averaging more than 2,500 words per day). I spent less than a week on my second draft, and sent the final manuscript to my editor on Monday, October 10. The final manuscript was about 73,000 words long, and was completed in thirty-eight days.

My editor read it, and said it was the best of three recent books I had written for her. She was sending it straight to copy-editing — no revisions needed. You see? By writing faster, I learned to write better.

The ability to write in overdrive is a real-life, honest-to-gosh superpower.

To learn more about how you can write faster, write freely, and write more brilliantly than ever before, I invite you to subscribe to my FREE monthly email newsletter and get a FREE ebook copy (PDF format) of A Writer’s Superpower (also available in trade paperback for $6.99). Just click the yellow box at the bottom of this page.

I think you’ll also want to read my other books on writing in overdrive. First, of course, there’s Writing in Overdrive, my most complete examination of all the skills and insights you need to write faster and write freely. Then there’s Write Fearlessly!, which examines the eight most common writers’ fears that hinder our success — and the practical strategies for conquering each fear. And there’s Muse of Fire, consisting of more than 90 motivational readings — more than 90 days of high-octane inspiration for writers. These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.

God speed you on your journey to success!

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Welcome to WritingInOverdrive.com!

ABOUT THIS WEBSITE: I created WritingInOverdrive.com to help writers discover how to “write in overdrive” — that is, how to write faster, write freely, and write brilliantly. Here I will share with you the superpower I discovered by accident. I hope this revolutionary approach to writing will become your superpower as well.

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LET’S KEEP IN TOUCH

See what other writers are saying about my books: Here’s the Goodreads page for Writing in Overdrive. And here are the customer reviews for Writing in Overdrive at Amazon.com.

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@WriterJimDenney.

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Tell me about your writing struggles and perhaps I’ll post the solution to your problem.

Come back often. Let’s get acquainted.

—Jim Denney