MSA 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 Bollow.

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.

Jeff Bollow 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, etc).

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 figure.

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 for screenplays.


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 that yet."

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 that information.

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 phases:

- 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 before.

- 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 work.

- 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 easier.

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 fast.

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 it.

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:


Turn 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 count.


The more comfortable you are throwing crap onto the page, the faster (and better) your writing will become.


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 formulaic stories!

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 through it.

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 quit.

The solution is to get your head around the FAST System, and then apply it, every single time you write.


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 writing.

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 them.

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 Talktation.


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 to you.

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 be terrible.

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 mind?

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 ideas.

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 idea.

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 it!


16. How do you go about polishing a project once the rough draft is written?

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 Tweak phase.

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 it!

Take it step-by-step, and you'll fly through your project.


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 words!

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 think.

Thank-you, Ansel, for giving me the opportunity to introduce your members to the FAST System.

Until next time... Keep on writing... FAST!

Jeff Bollow
Embryo Films

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