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Timed Writing

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Whenever I teach a beginning writing course, most participants tell me that they have wanted to write a book for years. Most just don’t know where to start, though. That first blank page can seem so intimidating. Many new writers (and even some of us who have been around a long time), dread rejection of something as personal as a book we have poured our hearts into. Therefore, we want our words on the page to be perfect—words that grab the attention of almost every reader in America, or even around the world. We want our peers and editors and book reviewers to accept our words and love them from the first page all the way to the conclusion.

First, stop thinking so far ahead! When you are trying to take your first steps with your writing projects, looking too far ahead can seem intimidating. It’s good to plan ahead and sketch out your long-term goals, but when you sit down to write, you only have one goal: get some words down on paper. Those words can be edited later.

Here’s one tip for getting your words to flow if you have been staring at a blank page. If you feel stuck, try 30-second free writing exercises. What does that involve? Set a clock alarm or timer for 30 seconds (or a minute). Write about your subject in pencil without stopping for the entire time. If you are writing about birds, for example, your writing may look like this:

Birds are colorful and musical. They live in my backyard. I saw an owl when I was hiking last week. My grandmother had a pet bird that was yellow. Some birds migrate depending on the season. Big Bird lives on Sesame Street. Robins live in our backyard. Our birdfeeder attracts hummingbirds. I can’t think of anything else to say. I don’t know how to identify bird calls. I saw a pelican by a pier on vacation. It ate a flounder. (Notice that I kept writing even when I had no thoughts on birds—the topics change frequently—some thoughts are about food while others are about children’s TV shows. But now I have some thoughts down on paper that may lead to paper ideas, poetry ideas, story ideas or ideas for an ad.)

You can try this for your character sketches if you are writing a novel or short story. Try to write what your characters like to do, what they wear, or what they look like. You can then write about how they would react in certain situations.

You can also try this for plot twists. Write out several options for how a scene could end. When you are writing quickly like this, some of your thoughts will be completely crazy. You may discover, though, that you have unlocked some new ideas for your writing project.

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