Interview with Jeff Bollow
Seeing that Writing
FAST could be a great help to creators
of original website content, Ansel Gough of MembershipSiteAdvisor
requested an interview with the book's author, Jeff
Revealing plenty of tips and suggestions -- not to mention
his passion for writing -- Jeff's interview is a must-read
for anyone interested in Writing FAST.
Below is a reprint of that
17-question interview, used with permission.
Write Anything up to 10 times faster
-- Hollywood screenwriter shows how...
Exclusive Interview: Use this Hollywood
screenwriter's unique 'FAST' method to write anything
in record time. Published author Jeff Bollow shows you
how to boost your writing skills by up to 10 times and
tackle any size project without a problem.
is an award-winning filmmaker and acclaimed screenwriting
teacher. He has appeared in movies such as... Don't
Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, Lost Valley,
Pink Lightning, and 6,000 Miles from Hollywood,
as well as dozens of television shows and commercials.
1. Jeff, could
you tell us a little bit about your background (what
films you have been involved in, what work you do now,
It's funny. The work I do now is about
as far from what I SHOULD be doing as I ever thought
I'd get! What I should be doing is making films. But
I can't. Instead I'm teaching people how to write. Go
See, the past four years have been a blur.
I've been teaching screenwriting across Australia and
New Zealand through my company, Embryo Films. All because
I couldn't find any screenplays that were worth producing.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles --
movie central. And from the very beginning, that's all
I ever wanted to do. I got into acting when I was about
12, with bit parts and supporting roles over the years
on TV, in commercials, and in movies like "Don't
Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead", and a "Columbo"
movie of the week.
But I really fell in love with the movie-making
side of things. I've worked every job I could, on all
sides of the camera, to know this business inside out.
I've written, directed and produced short films for
myself (including one called "The Duel" which
won the IFC New Filmmaker Award), and produced short
films for other people that have shown in festivals
around the world.
In 1996, I was presented with an opportunity
to visit Australia, and I jumped at it. Little did I
know I'd fall in love with the place, and decide to
stay! But after I was here for a year, I realized there
weren't many people writing screenplays... so advancing
my independent filmmaking career was gonna be tricky.
I wrote a screenplay for a movie, a friend
and I could self-produce, called "6,000 Miles from
Hollywood". Once it was in the can, I started looking
for follow-up projects. I read hundreds of screenplays,
but couldn't find anything. So I started teaching people
how to write commercially-viable screenplays.
2. How did you
become involved in filmmaking/screenwriting?
Filmmaking: I honestly don't remember
a time when I WASN'T involved in it. Even as a kid on
my paper route in L.A., I was already dreaming about
it, and tinkering with my dad's Super8 film camera.
I bought a video camera before I bought a car.
Screenwriting: That's another story.
I got involved in screenwriting out of
necessity -- first to create an acting gig for myself,
and then secondly to show other people how to write
material to feed my vision. See, I've got this vision
in my head I just can't shake. I'm trying to build an
independent feature film studio that produces 3 - 6
films per year. But that's a bit difficult when you
can't even find ONE good screenplay!
The real irony here is that I hate writing.
Well, that's not exactly true. More accurately, I USED
TO hate writing. I've grown to see it for what it is
-- a molehill people turn into a mountain.
Look, I've met so many writers, and seen
so many people struggle with it, I discovered that people
universally fear the writing process. The act of teaching
it, has helped me see exactly WHY it has this power
over people, and exactly how to beat it.
But it all evolved out of a simple need
3. You've recently
published a new book titled "Writing FAST:
How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed."
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I needed a way to get my students writing.
And I mean REALLY writing. Every time I'd follow up
with them, I'd get the same set of excuses. I'd ask,
"Are you writing?" and they'd respond with,
"I've been busy." Or, "I got halfway
through, and got stuck." Or, "A screenplay
is such a huge project, I don't think I'm ready for
Now, you've got to understand, my workshops
consistently get a near-perfect recommend rate. I've
had over 600 students in 6 cities across Australia and
New Zealand, and nearly 100% of them RAVE about my workshops.
They walk away with a real, practical knowledge of screenwriting.
And they PROMISE me they're going to write!
And yet it turns out, less than 5% of
them were actually APPLYING what they learned! When
I sat down to figure out where I had gone wrong, I realized
that I was filling their heads with INFORMATION... but
I wasn't giving them a SYSTEMATIC approach for APPLYING
So that became my new goal: To develop
a systematic approach to the PROCESS of writing. To
make SURE they could actually do it. And do it well!
Originally, I was creating a home-study
screenwriting system called "FASTscreenplay",
which is essentially going to be a whole package, with
all my screenwriting knowledge combined with this new
approach to writing, I call "the FAST System".
But as I was developing it, I realized
that the FAST System applies to ANY kind of writing.
In fact, I was USING the FAST System to create FASTscreenplay!
So I decided to take a step back, and
develop a more general-use book -- something that could
be used by anyone... to write anything. Because the
more people out there that discover how ENJOYABLE writing
can be (even if you start out hating it), the more people
are likely to try their hand at screenwriting.
4. As a membership
site publisher your title interested me, as we're required
to have a continual production of content, articles,
cases studies, etc. Your book is based on what you call
the 'FAST' system. Can you explain the basics behind
this system and provide a breakdown of the acronym?
The FAST System is a simple, step-by-step
approach to the process of writing. What I discovered
as I was teaching this stuff is that writers -- even
those that had been writing for a long time -- consistently
wrote in a way that was almost DESTINED to get them
stuck. FAST is about writing fast. Getting it written
-- and written well -- as quickly as you can. I believe
you'll actually write better... by writing faster...
because I've seen it time and again.
The "FAST" acronym stands for
Focus, Apply, Strengthen, Tweak. And what we do, basically,
is break down any writing project into four distinct
- First, you FOCUS
your idea into a plan. You turn that vague idea
into a specific, detailed roadmap that allows you
to swiftly fly through your writing.
- Second, you APPLY
that plan with speed-writing techniques. You get
the words on the page considerably faster than ever
- Third, you STRENGTHEN
your writing. When you use the FAST System, your
writing is pretty solid by this stage. But here
you'll quickly lift it up a notch, and make it really
- Lastly, you TWEAK
your project and control the speed of the read.
One of the biggest mistakes writers make is that
they try to Tweak it while they're in the other
phases. With the FAST System, each phase builds
on the previous one, making the entire writing process
What's really great about this system, is that it fuels
itself. The more you use it, the faster you get, and
the better you become. In "Writing FAST: How to
Write Anything with Lightning Speed", each of these
phases is broken down into three basic movements, and
each movement has five easy steps.
5. How does someone
prepare to "write fast"?
Well, frankly, I think that's the problem
right there. I'd suggest that you DON'T prepare. In
fact, preparing is what slows us down in the first place.
Rather, I'd say we need to "let go" to write
Perhaps a better way to answer the question
is to look at why people write "slow". We
write slowly when we're unsure. When we don't have all
the information. When we're not confident about what
we're saying. Basically, we slow down when we judge
ourselves -- by thinking too much!
So writers do exactly the WRONG thing!
Either they just leap into their project before they're
ready (and then they get stuck halfway through)... or
they spend SO much time preparing every little thing,
that they get suffocated by the details. Both mistakes
lead to the same thing: SLOW WRITING.
Think back to a time when you wrote quickly.
When, without even worrying about it, the words seemed
to be flying out of your fingers and onto the page.
You were in the zone. Your head was overflowing with
ideas, and it was all you could do to just dump them
onto the page before they disappeared.
Well, "Writing FAST"
is about systematically creating that scenario EVERY
time you sit down to write. It's about
conquering the writing process itself, so that you do
it FAST automatically... without even thinking about
The best way to "prepare" to
write fast, is to tackle your project systematically,
starting with the Focus phase.
6. Do you suggest
any exercises or special preparation before you sit
down to write something? For example some writers draw
pictures before they write. Others do physical exercise
or some just literally put on their writing cap.
I've met over a thousand writers so far,
through the workshops, the assessments, the submissions
and so on... and every one of them is different. The
first thing to acknowledge is that you're unique. So
if any of those gimmicky things work for you, don't
let somebody like me tell you not to.
However, I don't think you need any of
that stuff. That type of preparation only serves to
make the writing process more formidable. You're telling
yourself writing is this big, bad, mean, ugly challenge
you have to somehow "conquer". It gives it
too much weight. Too much power.
Make it easy on yourself. Just write.
Let words pour out onto the page instead. When you approach
writing the right way, the words come automatically.
They're not always perfect, but that's why writing is
a PROCESS and not an activity. Typing is an activity.
Writing is a process.
If you really feel the need to do an exercise
before you write, here's what I'd suggest:
on the computer. Open up your word processor to
a blank page. And give yourself three minutes
to write as many words as you possibly can. Do
it every day, and try to beat yesterday's word
The more comfortable you are throwing
crap onto the page, the faster (and better) your writing
7. How does writing
fast make you a better writer than writing how we're
taught in school?
School is a mixed blessing. We're taught
the elements of good writing, yes. Things like sentence
structure and grammar and classic prose style. And to
some degree, we need that awareness. But the rules that
were beaten into you by Mrs Crabapple were also tremendously
crippling. It puts the cart before the horse.
The problem with the way we're taught
in school is that it over-emphasizes literary and grammatical
correctness. Too often it's at the expense of your own
unique voice. And the internet has changed the vernacular.
Writing is different today than it was twenty years
ago. It's gotta be lighter.
Writing FAST (both the system *and* the
speed) gets you in touch with your own style. Your own
voice. We keep the cart behind the horse, and we get
that horse galloping. We don't ignore any of the stuff
you learned in school... we just don't worry about it
until the Strengthen and Tweak phases.
It's one of the most important lessons
of the whole book: If you keep all your attention on
the "rules", you'll get in your own way. Break
the process down into steps -- into phases -- and look
at the rules when you reach that phase. By doing so,
you give your writing speed a chance to take off.
8. Most people
are intimidated when it comes to writing big projects.
What's the best way to tackle a large project, say a
book, report or even a screenplay?
Why, the FAST System, of course!
Seriously, the FAST System was developed
for large projects. I realized that my screenwriting
students were daunted by the scope of a two-hour movie,
and I needed to give them a way to simply and easily
break it down -- a way that didn't force them to write
When I realized that it applied to ANY
kind of writing, I used the FAST System to write the
book -- my first. It was really the first chance I got
to see the system in practice, and I've gotta say, it
surprised even me. Every time I slowed down -- every
time without fail! -- it was because I was ignoring
the principles of the FAST System. All I had to do was
stop, get back on the FAST System, and I'd zip right
But I think you're looking for a specific
tip, here, so I'll say this...when you want to tackle
a big project, the very first thing you've got to do,
is to break it down into bite-sized chunks. I call it
"Chunking" your project. I can't explain the
whole thing here, but in a nutshell, you need to realize
that a large project simply cannot be completed in a
day. The first step to tackling it, is planning the
project around how much you CAN do in a day.
You might think writing is all about the
words, or the ideas, or how good your sentences are.
But TIME is an equally important factor. It takes TIME
to write. And it takes MORE time to write a bigger project.
If you don't deliberately decide to write FAST, it will
automatically take more time. And if you haven't anticipated
that, you'll slow down, get stuck, get frustrated, and
The solution is to get your head around
the FAST System, and then apply it, every single time
9. What can be
done when you feel you are running out of ideas or inspiration
for a project?
Well, for starters, if that happens, you're
not using the FAST System. And I'm serious about that.
Because if you're using the FAST System, you'll actually
have more ideas than you know what to do with, and you'll
never get stuck halfway through.
You run out of ideas, or out of inspiration,
when you leap into a project before you know where you're
going. In other words, you haven't FOCUSED your project
yet. The very act of Focusing your project will show
you exactly where the holes are before you ever start
And when you do that, you're very deliberately
setting yourself up to SPARK ideas during the writing
phase (the Apply phase). You're basically putting yourself
in a position where you TRIGGER ideas at exactly the
moment you need them most... and then you blast through
When you put yourself in that position,
you have exactly the opposite problem -- keeping yourself
on the right track when you've got too MANY ideas in
your head. But the FAST System even incorporates techniques
to harness those ideas, and use them later.
Most people approach writing completely
the wrong way around. And that's why they run out of
steam. If you take it in phases, you'll write so quickly,
you won't have TIME to run out of inspiration, and your
mind is moving so fast, the ideas keep generating themselves.
10. Can you explain
your proprietary technique called Talktation? Can you
give an example of how you might use it?
Talktation is essentially "talking"
your words onto the page. Think of it as "dictation"
without the Dictaphone or the secretary transcribing
it. It's a conceptual technique that actually gets your
fingers typing (or hand-writing) the words more quickly
than you can right now.
The goal is to write as quickly as you
can speak. And if you've ever tried writing and talking
at the same time, you know that you talk much quicker
than you could ever type. Well, unfortunately, in that
lag time between your fingers and your voice, your head
gets in the way of your writing. It comes up with ideas
that throw you off course... or it reviews what you've
written, forcing you to stop and get out of the flow.
Talktation is a simple approach that gets your fingers
in sync with your thoughts.
Once you understand it -- once you get
your head around the concept -- you'll use it forevermore.
It's not a question of when or how you'd use it -- it
simply becomes the way you write. And you'll watch your
writing speed rocket forward.
Think of speed-reading. Once you understand
how to do it, you just always do it. The same goes for
11. How does an
"idea tree" work? We use a similar technique
which we also call an "idea tree" when writing
sales copy or articles.
It's a little difficult to explain out
of context. (Bear in mind that the FAST System is an
integrated whole. Each piece works with each of the
other pieces, and that's why it's so effective.)
But basically, when you write with the
FAST System, you'll regularly have too many ideas --
ideas that can often get in the way of your writing.
But they're valuable ideas... so you don't want them
to slow you down, but you don't want to lose them, either.
So we harness those ideas with one of the techniques
in the book.
Well, at certain points in the process,
you'll review these ideas you've harnessed, and you'll
discover that there's usually a strong link, or a running
throughline that you haven't included within your project.
The Idea Tree is a simple way to connect those ideas
and find the hidden links your brain is trying to reveal
See, the truth of the matter is that your
brain knows what to say. The only reason writing is
so difficult is that you can't get it from your brain
to the page without interference.
The Idea Tree is an exercise you'll do
at one of your resting points to see how all your stray
ideas connect. Some people will literally draw a tree
with branches; others will create an outline or a diagram.
But the key is to find the base ideas, and see which
of the other stray ideas connect to it. And then you'll
use the Idea Tree when you go to Strengthen your work.
Like I say, it's difficult to explain
out of context, but it's basically a way to USE those
stray ideas that used to slip away.
12. What is the
single most important technique for overcoming the fear
of writing and writing great content?
Realizing that it doesn't have to be perfect
the first time you write it. Fact is, you'll gradually
get to the point where it IS perfect the first time
out, but that comes after you instinctively understand
how to write fast, and write well.
But, particularly when you're starting,
it's absolutely vital to keep from judging yourself
too early. Judging yourself doesn't come until the Tweak
phase in the FAST System -- and you'll notice that's
LAST! Everything you do before then MUST be free to
If you demand perfection, you'll never
write. And if you never write, you'll never improve.
Every one of us has GREAT content inside,
just waiting to get out. The problem is that most writers
don't realize that it doesn't come OUT great -- it BECOMES
great when we use the process.
13. What are some
idea generating techniques you use to stimulate your
As I've spoken to hundreds of students
over the years, I realize I'm a rare animal. I'm one
of those people that has no shortage of ideas -- at
least for the kind of writing I like to do: screenwriting.
So I'm not sure I'm the right person to ask!
But if I were to suggest ways for your
readers to stimulate their minds, I'd have a few ideas.
Firstly, brainstorm. Don't just look at the idea you've
got -- look at all the different "angles"
and "connections" to that idea. Every idea
in your head is capable of sparking a thousand other
ideas. You only run out of ideas when you follow the
same spark over and over again.
Another great technique is to look at
other industries, and ask yourself how it applies to
your own idea. Writers of one kind of writing always
seem to focus on their own industry or interest. Cross-pollenation
is such a powerful source of stimulation, I'm surprised
more people don't actively do it. For example, if your
business is selling bicycles, you read all the bicycle
trades, learn about all the latest bicycle-selling techniques,
etc. But why not look at other, completely unrelated
industries? See what the latest advances are in the
medical imaging industry. And then ask yourself how
you could apply that to bicycles. I guarantee, your
mind will find creative answers that take you in directions
you weren't expecting.
The best advice, though, is just to think
outside the box. It's such a cliché these days,
that a lot of people say it... but very few people DO
it. Look around the room you're in right now. Find an
average, everyday item that you take for granted. Now
ask yourself how you could use that item in a way it's
never been used before. Then just start writing!!
14. You talk about
amplifying your work. Can you explain what this means,
and how do you go about doing it?
Amplifying your work is the third step
in the Strengthen phase. To really understand it, you
need to see how the Focus phase prepares you for the
Apply phase, and how Talktation gets the words written
quickly. I can't really explain all that here, but here's
a simplistic version of it:
Talktation is like spilling raw data from
your mind onto the page. You've prepared yourself to
write quickly (during the Focus phase), and then poured
it out (during the Apply phase).
Well, some of it's gonna need work. (But
since you know that going into it, it won't slow you
down.) Now, here in the Strengthen phase, you take that
raw data, and figure out exactly where it fizzles. Amplifying
your work is where you deliberately magify the underlying
I'm not sure if that's clear, so let me
put it another way. This is the stage most people call
"editing". But to my way of thinking, "editing"
is a very specific PART of the Strengthen phase. "Amplifying"
is what you're doing... and editing is one of the ways
you do it.
15. Is brainstorming
with others a major part of collecting your thoughts?
Traditional brainstorming is done with
other people, and I think it's a fantastic way to spark
ideas and launch you in new directions with your work.
I'm all for it. In fact, in my workshops, we often brainstorm
as a group, and the process is very enlightening to
people that haven't done it before. It's a great way
to demonstrate that ideas really do spark ideas, and
that the first thing you think of is rarely the best
But I don't think you need anyone else's
help to write what you're trying to write. And I don't
think you should avoid this technique if you've got
no one else to do it with. Writing is simply the act
of taking what's inside you, and putting it on the page.
Communicating your ideas. And that's why I generally
use brainstorming as an introspective technique -- something
you do by yourself, to see what's really inside you.
I always say "Ideas spark ideas".
In fact, in the first or second chapter, I show how
this spark works. It's just the nature of the human
mind. Ideas always spark ideas. And that's why you'll
never run out of them, if you allow yourself the freedom
to roam. Brainstorming is the act of letting ideas spark
ideas deliberately and consciously. Do it alone, or
do it with a friend! But whatever you do... just do
16. How do you
go about polishing a project once the rough draft is
As far as I'm concerned, this is a common
mistake writers make right here! Never ever ever polish
a project after the rough draft! In fact, that's one
of the surest ways to slow your writing to a crawl:
trying to polish your work too early.
Focus, Apply, Strengthen, Tweak. If we
had to call one phase the "polish" phase,
it would be the Tweak phase, although technically, "polishing"
is only a part of what you do in the Tweak phase. And
you've already gone through three phases before you
ever get there!
By taking your work through the Focus
phase, you'll know exactly what you're writing before
you ever write it. That way, when you Apply your writing
plan, and get the words on the page, the ideas will
be bubbling over, and entirely on track with what you
have in mind.
Then, you'll go back and Strengthen those
words, amplifying them to solidify the project. And
only after it's solid, do you ever even consider the
You'd hardly call it a "rough"
draft at this point, and yet by using the FAST System,
you'll have reached this phase a whole lot faster than
you ever reached the "rough" draft before!
In "Writing FAST: How to Write Anything
with Lightning Speed", I've got dozens of specific
tips, and ways to Tweak your writing. But the most important
thing to remember about "polishing" your work
is that it's got to be ORGANIC! It must come AFTER you've
done all the other work that makes it solid.
The goal during the Tweak phase is to
control your reader's eyes. To grab them, and pull them
down the page. You can see how it would be impossible
to do that before you've Strengthened your work -- and
even more impossible to do before you've even Focused
Take it step-by-step, and you'll fly through
17. How long should
we expect it to take to write a book, or even a screenplay?
I don't make ridiculous promises like
"you could write a book in 14 days" or any
of that kind of nonsense. I mean, after all, I don't
know how fast you write NOW, so I have no way of promising
that kind of thing.
But I DO promise you'll write ten times
faster than you do now. Look, this might all sound a
little complicated, but it's really not. The FAST System
is very simple and efficient. Once you understand it,
it becomes second nature.
Let's put it this way. When I wrote "Writing
FAST", I had never written a book before. I Focused
it (created the entire plan for the book) in 2 days.
I Applied it (wrote it with the new speed-writing techniques)
in 4 weeks. I Strengthened it (took the raw material
and made it stronger) in 3 weeks, and Tweaked it (what
you might call "polishing" it) in 1 week.
Eight weeks for my very first book. And
now that I've DONE it, I can see how I could write another
book in less than 4 weeks. And I'm talking about 60,000
Maybe you can write faster than me. Maybe
you're slower at the moment. That's not the point.
The point is to turn YOUR ideas into solid,
powerful writing as quickly as possible, isn't it? To
write FAST. Whether you need content for a website,
a new book to sell, a screenplay for an independent
producer (yes!), or anything else... the FAST System
is a systematic approach to writing that simply changes
the way you write. Forever. You write faster, better,
and without getting stuck. And early reviews are overwhelmingly
positive (better than I expected, even).
One of my readers sent an email a couple
days ago telling me he set an ambitious target of 60
pages for the weekend, and he finished 51 pages on Friday
alone -- four times his normal output (consider that:
he was already writing about 12 pages a day!).
Your speed may vary. But it fuels itself.
So you'll be writing fast a whole lot quicker than you
Thank-you, Ansel, for giving me the opportunity
to introduce your members to the FAST System.
Until next time... Keep on writing...
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