Write Fast Enough to Stay Ahead of the Doubts

In his Hollywood noir novel A Graveyard for Lunatics, Ray Bradbury writes a scene in which the unnamed narrator-protagonist (a fictionalized version of Bradbury himself) hands a movie script to Fritz the movie director (a composite character based on Bradbury’s friend, director Fritz Lang, and Bradbury’s Moby Dick nemesis, director John Huston). The shocked director gulps his glass of wine and can’t believe the writer has produced this script in less than a day.

“Cut the comedy!” Fritz says. “You couldn’t have written that in a few hours!”

“Sorry,” the narrator replies. “Only the fast stuff is good. Slow down, you think what you’re doing and it gets bad.”

This is not just a scene in a Bradbury novel. This is the essence of Bradbury’s philosophy of writing, and it’s the way he approached every story, novel, and screenplay he ever wrote. As he told Writer’s Digest in a February 1976 interview, “The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘Don’t Think!'”

And Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, also wrote about the need for speed: “With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job. It’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There is plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”

It’s true. The faster you write, the more confidently you write. You must write fast enough to stay ahead of the doubts. When you write quickly, you’ll find you write brilliantly.

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

Detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler put it this way: “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”

Let your words pull you. Let your creativity and confidence flow through you. Write brilliantly. Write fast.

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Quick to Learn, Slow to Judge

I have a longtime friend who has followed my writing career for more than twenty years. Today, he asked me about the writing projects I’m working on. I told him I have a book due in six weeks, but it’s a short book and that should be plenty of time to get it done.

In reply, he said something he’s said to me at least half a dozen times over the years, something that irritates me to pieces whenever he says it:

“Well, you always work best under pressure.”

Every single time he’s said that to me, I’ve explained, “No, I hate pressure. Deadline pressure is corrosive and destructive to my creativity. I don’t work best under pressure. I’m self-motivated, self-disciplined, and extremely productive without pressure. I don’t need deadline pressure to help me write quickly or write well. Your impression of me is 100 percent wrong.”

I’ve told him this many times in the past, but he never remembers. I know it’s not that big a deal, and that my friend means no insult. But it tells me that he thinks that, unless I have a deadline bearing down on me, I’m lazy, unmotivated, and undisciplined as a writer. It’s a slur on my character and an insult to my professionalism that he thinks I “always work best under pressure.”

It’s a minor issue, but by sheer repetition it has become like fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul. Though I’ve corrected him many times in the past, this time I just let it slide. I’m sick of trying to acquaint him with the reality of who I am as a writer and a human being.

It frustrates me that people tend to form judgments and opinions about others, and no matter what you say and how many times you say it, you can’t shake them out of their views. People judge each other based on the scantiest slivers of experience and information. Once they think they’ve got somebody pegged, their opinion hardens like concrete—and they filter out any new information that doesn’t support their prejudice.

I think we owe it to each other to really try to understand each other instead of forming snap judgments and closing our minds. We should always be open to new insights and open to revising our impressions of each other.

As motivational psychologist Steve Maraboli explains, “Judging prevents us from understanding a new truth. Free yourself from the rules of old judgments and create the space for new understanding.” Especially as writers, we have to continually be observant and open-minded, always willing to look at other people with new eyes and see truths we’ve never seen before.

Be quicker to learn than to judge. Keep all opinions subject to revision. Observe. Question. Understand.

Then write.

“It is well, when judging a friend, to remember that he is
judging you with the same godlike and superior impartiality.”
—Arnold Bennett