Is your writing feeling a little dehydrated? Listless? Bland at the center? If so, it may be because it’s not terrible enough.
(Sorry, what’d she just say?)
It’s true! The only way to get to the best, most dynamic, most energetic first draft writing is to allow yourself to write freely without thinking or worrying over the outcome. If you’re a perfectionist type who tries to write and edit simultaneously in an effort to keep everything conscious and ordered, you may in fact be stopping your most interesting ideas at the gate.
The most fruitful writing comes to us when we give over to a creative “flow” state.
In this unconscious process, we’re allowing our creative centers free reign to dive into the recesses of our minds where the most interesting material lives.
Slipping into this state, however, isn’t always as buttery as you’d think. It’s far easier to cheat or sabotage our efforts. In such a case, it’s best to call in for reinforcements, in the form of a writing strategy– or 3– to help you access your first thoughts and get you access to your most engaging, provocative material.
Whether you’re working on a blog, an email, or a piece of creative writing, give yourself just 10 minutes, and you will generate great writing that will lead to your best work.
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Why Writing Strategies Are Necessary to Combat the Perennial First Draft Problems of No Time & Performance Anxiety
In “real” life, we’re all accustomed to having to perform- and quickly. Editing while writing a first draft may seem like a good idea at the time- so efficient! Such a great time saver!- but in fact, forcing our first thoughts to behave themselves and perform as they’re first taking shape often cuts exploration and energy off at the pass and instead leads to a tight, conservative affair that’s both unfun to write and even less fun to read.
Fear of Failure
Further, many people worry over seeing their authentic thoughts on the page, the most intimate thoughts they have- perhaps that they haven’t even let themselves think aloud before. It can be difficult to see how wild and rangey your thoughts can be or how entirely inarticulate you are when not “in control.”
Entering the Flow Needed to Generate Great Writing
What needs to happen for anyone who is embarking on writing virtually anything is to allow yourself to sink into a meditative state of creativity called “flow.” When you’re in the flow, you allow your creative center- the specific lobes across the brain that fire off at the same time when you’re in the throes of creating (or giving rise to your unconscious thoughts) to do its thing unchecked. In this state, you are able to tap into and yield some truly energetic thoughts, and in time, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who specializes in “flow,” one can learn to identify the state and use it to their creative advantage. Or in other words, with practice comes a kind of perfection.
To get at the most interesting ideas, the ones that challenge and move others, the ones that are the riskiest and most exciting, you have to go where the energy is, says Natalie Goldberg, author of the seminal Writing Down the Bones. ll good writing begins by letting go.
If just the thought of letting go sounds ego-busting, time-consuming, and scary, you’re a perfect candidate for one of these 3 writing strategies. Each is designed to get you past your conscious worry or fear and into a place of not thinking at all and simply generating the heck out of some great flow-state material. Even in 10 minutes, you will get a fantastic amount of work out of you and onto the page.
- The Birdcage
- The Most Dangerous Writing App
- Dictation to Email
1. The Birdcage
For many, going back over what you’ve just written is par for the course. You’re happily writing along, then pause to read. There they are, staring back at you in black and white, your new, unpolished ideas squinting imperfectly in the light. It’s hard to see ourselves laid out so vulnerably, so naturally you begin to edit what’s there and/or aim to corral the work coming out next.
While many writers learn to work with this technique, for better or worse, it thins out the writing, removing the opportunity for exploration and off-roading from happening at all.
The Birdcage removes the ability to worry over the work from the equation by taking away our ability to see.
G’night, Little Bird:
By covering your computer screen or paper while you’re typing, the idea is if you can’t see it, you’re forced to keep going forward. Invariably you will lose your train of thought or pause and have no idea where you are in the sentence- and not being able to see and evaluate, thereby shifting into a critical right-brained editor, you have no choice but to keep writing.
Initially you may push back against this process, but after a time, most of the time, you will shrug, unable to do anything else and carry on to worry about the mess you’re making later, and soon lose yourself in being present with the work.
Which is exactly the point.
Set a Timer:
The other component that’s necessary to your entering this creative flow state is that you set a timer. By doing this, again, you’re releasing yourself to the writing so you don’t have to worry about managing your conscious self or the world around. Set the timer, lean back, and let your fingers go. Many writers cultivate this stage and consider themselves mere “typists.” So released from having to be “on,” you can enjoy the freedom that comes from going with the flow.
2. The Most Dangerous Writing App
I wrote about this hardball app some months ago for One Lit Place as an incredible way to force yourself into this state if you can’t help but peek under the dishtowel or cheat in some way. This app forces you to type through everything: your mental and physical discomfort, the ringing phone or doorbell, and any thoughts that might snatch you away from the writing.
Once you set the timer on the website and begin to type, you have to keep typing, or the program deletes everything you’ve written. And it’s very mean; you only get a couple of seconds- hardly long enough to scratch an itch- before all those glorious thoughts are gone forever.
You want to ensure you don’t pause to consider anything? This app is your best bet.
My friend and client Lianne Kim, a business coach, used to do this technique for her weekly blogs before she moved onto podcasts: she would take a walk and dictate her blogs into her phone. When she finished her walk and talk, she would mail herself the files, send them to me for editing, and not look back.
If you’re able to talk into your phone (and while doing something else, so much the better- not because multi-tasking is effective (as we all know, it’s not), but if you can remove the focus of listening to yourself, you are in effect putting a dishtowel over your ears and allowing your first thoughts to pour forth into your phone).
I have tried this method myself and have found it a remarkable way to jump start the writing process. There’s no pressure- you can’t see what you’ve said a few seconds before, so you have to keep going- and also there’s no burden to it as you know a) not every every word will be gold (it won’t), or that you have to keep the words once you can see them on the page (out they go!).
This method is great because it:
- a) allows you to take a break from typing
- b) gives you a chance to access the part of the brain that handles the verbal center
- c) once you email the file, you then have a ton of material to work with that arrived painlessly (You don’t even have to listen to your recorded voice afterwards, which if you’re one of those types who thinks your voice sounds weird on recordings is awesome!)
Why Wait? Give 1 of the 3 Strategies a Spin!
I highly recommend you try one of these 3 of the best strategies for accessing those first thoughts and giving yourself the opportunity to enter into that delicious meditative flow state- where the energetic thoughts live- right away. What’s 10 minutes if it means you’re going to generate enough great material to begin the next blog, story, essay, or more?
Then, after you do, please comment below to let us know how it went!
If you’re still stuck after using one of these 3 strategies, please be in touch- we’re here to help you write, any time.
Wow, these are such helpful strategies. I’ve since implemented the timer with success but have yet to tackle The Most Dangerous Writing App!
Thanks, Le Ching! I love that you’ve tried the timer, and when you do get to the Most Dangerous App, you may find (as I have) that you become less invested in your words as in feeling each one matters and ought to be kept and cherished; what I’ve loved about using that app is the idea that there are always more, and they get better the more I generate, and when they disappear (and oh, they do on the longer stints!) it’s OK. With some loss there is gain in this case. Thanks for writing and good luck!