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Think fast

On Saturday I attended my WRW chapter meeting, and our guest was author Barbara Samuel. During a session on understanding and uncovering your voice, she had us do several impromptu, timed writing sessions, no editing allowed.

What an eye opener. The goal was to help us understand that how we each approach the same topic is what makes us unique, and is the product of our voice.

We wrote about our lives at different ages (7, 12, 18). I loved finding that no matter the focus of the writing, my theme was a match for what those ages often represent. The early foundations of who we are at seven, the feeling of not fitting in at twelve, learning to be independent from our parents around eighteen.

The other thing that struck me was how much I could produce in four short minutes. Somewhere in the range of 150-200 words. Wow! If I could do that on my WIP, I’d be going a smoking 2-3000 wpm. I could write for an hour and call it a day without the slightest guilt.

If only.

My plan is to use this type of exercise any time I feel bogged down in my MS. Just to grease the skids, so to speak. Pick a topic or random photo and go.

Maybe it’ll put the editor back in her box and limber up my creative brain again.

Hmmm. “When I was fifteen…”

Photo credit: YOUNG WOMAN WRITING © Ilya Lobanov |

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  1. Reply

    JSB calls this the voice journal. Exactly as you stated it. One of the things he recommends (and it’s in the Art of War for Writers) is that whenever your stuck in a scene and are not sure how the character would react, speak, etc. you do a stream-of-thought voice journal. No editing, no punctuations, no nothing, just think of the scene and then write. As he puts it, nuggets of brilliant lines will emerge, and the attitude (voice) come across in those writing stints.

    Amazing how all those writers that are “there” converge on the same tools to have breakthroughs.

    • Reply

      Ara: I read the Art of War for Writers and loved it, but haven’t sat down and tried the stream of consciousness thing in that way. So it helped to be forced to do it.

      When I get stuck, I do occasionally write about why I want to have a scene, or what I think might happen next.

      But yeah, there are definitely common themes among successful writers. Worth paying attention to. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Reply

    Great post! Some of my best flash fiction is created this way. I’m often amazed at how much NOT thinking helps my writing. That’s why tools like Write or Die work so well for me. I just downloaded an app for my iPhone that I hoe will function in a similar way by letting me write in those small spaces of time when I’m waiting for a bus or taking a tea break at work.

    • Reply

      I agree, Mary Elizabeth. It seems counterintuitive, but if I could just turn off my brain and write…

      Writing on your iPhone? You’re more ambitious than I am. That tiny keyboard keeps me from typing anything but texts and the briefest of email replies. But let me know how it goes.

  3. Reply

    I love doing exercises like that. They are such a boost and it is one of the few times where you can really let go of your internal editor. You don’t feel at risk. Both my last completed ms and my current wip got started from an exercise just like this one. I just looked at the prompt and wrote for several minutes and before I knew it I had a couple of paragraphs in front of me that were prompting questions of their own – who is she? how did she wind up in that hotel room?. Sometimes I think I might try to create an entire novel this way……

    • Reply

      Ooh, Maura, I think you nailed it with the no risk thing. I have a sticky note on my computer that says “write like no one will read it”, but I’m not good at following my own advice. Probably because I know I’m hoping to submit the MS eventually.

      I love the idea of writing a whole book that way though. Something to try.

  4. KM Fawcett


    I should try this. If only I could write that fast… *dreaming*

    I also liked Ara’s stream of thought journal idea. I’m stuck now, not with what the character would say, but with the changes my agent wants me to make. I’m just not sure of the best way to make those changes so then I get stuck in the fear, and don’t write anything. *heaving sigh* Sorry, I got off topic, I realize this has nothing to do with voice.

    • Reply

      No problem, Kathy. I think the stream of consciousness writing and timed writing are about more than voice. They help open our creative mind and get things moving around in there. I like using random photos too. Anything to remind myself I can write fast and without too much conscious thought.

      Good luck with the revisions. It’s harder when they’re not your idea, I think. BTW, love the new hair cut! 😉

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