Quick and Slow Writing


When I’m teaching writing to my high school students, I often have them start with quick writes. I give them a prompt, an object, a visual or a video and a short space of time to create a response, a poem, a scene, or a story. I remind them to keep the pen on the page or fingers on the keyboard, silence their inner critic, and ignore errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation (we’ll fix that later). Instead, we focus on letting our ideas flow. It’s a great way to jumpstart the creative process.

I practice what I preach. Whenever I begin work on a short story, article or chapter, I often quick write by hand in a journal. Unfortunately, my penmanship outdoes my doctor’s so I rarely reread my own notes. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the stream of thoughts unhindered by expectation that’s essential to my writing practice. I return to it again and again.

Lately, I’ve been reading about slow writing. Like other current “slow” movements, it reinforces the idea that in our hurried world we need to slow down.

Sit. Think. Process. Create. Contemplate.

Revise. Revisit. Reimagine.

And wait.

While it’s productive to create writing goals, I realize I shouldn’t force my writing or restrict it to unrealistic time restraints. Instead, my writing is better served by allowing time — days, months, and years — for the work to grow and change, shift sideways, and circle back around.

While quick writes let ideas spill out and overflow, slow writing allows those ideas to trickle into nooks and crannies, fill spaces previously unseen, merge and transform. I remind my students to give their writing the time and space it requires. Just when they think they’re done I tell them to put it aside for a few days and return to it with fresh eyes.

I couldn’t do without quick writing and its endless source of inspiration, but most of my time these days is spent slow writing and that is far more satisfying. I know that eventually I will get there.


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