One of the things I have found out about writing is that the process works best when we don’t consciously write. That’s not to say consciousness plays no role in the process. Quite the contrary. Conscious decision making and analytic skills are of indispensable importance when editing and proof-reading a piece and without it a work can’t be improved on or made better. But when it comes to making something to actually proof-read, conscious effort may be the biggest stumbling block a writer faces. Why is that and how do you avoid just creating a mish-mosh of unrelated images and words with only a tenuous string of thought tying them together?
One thing I found is that conscious thought contravenes open creativity in two ways. The most hurtful and familiar way conscious thought gets in the way of being creative is doubt and self-consciousness. We are all familiar with that I believe. It’s not a little voice telling you this as much as it is a commanding voice intoning that you can’t write, you’re not good enough. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you how loud this voice can get and how difficult it is to ignore it. And after a while, you believe it. This leads to anxiety and anxiety leads to constantly questioning every choice you make. And if you are constantly second guessing yourself, writing becomes a miserable chore. In the end, the doubt takes over, crippling your ability to create. Creativity can’t flourish under such conditions which leads to a vicious cycle. The more you listen to that voice, the more you won’t create, the more you fail to create, the more power that voice gains and can influence you. Related to this, is being overly critical.
When you are writing, you aren’t writing anything more than a first draft so if you are critical of everything you put down, if you need to find the perfect word from the get the get-go, you may be cutting yourself off at the knees. Going for perfection is the fastest way to ensure you end up with nothing. Every time you stop to wonder about the right word, or just the right turn of phrase, you break your momentum and have to build it back up again. Writing is kind of like playing music: you have to feel it and if you think too much about it, you will remove the element of vitality from it. And without that, the writing falls flat and you’ll have to drag every word out of yourself instead of letting it progress naturally. If you wanted to put in a page with nothing but the word, “cupcake,” that’s fine because you have to do a second draft and a third draft and as many drafts as it takes to make it into the best possible story it can be. But that is a gradual process. The first draft is just throwing everything you can at the page and not thinking about it. But how are you supposed to make sure your plot isn’t full of holes if you just write without thought?
This is where outlining comes in. Outlining gives you the opportunity to understand where your story is going and how things are going to fit together before you get to the actual writing part. You can over-do your self-criticism here as well as feel the push and pull of self doubt but at this most preliminary stage, you should feel relaxed enough to just play with the ideas you have. Things will fall into place if you don’t rush things and enjoy exploring what your story could ultimately look like. Of course, this outline isn’t something you have to stick to or even that you should stick to. Surprising things happen on the way to a completed story so you may end up in places you could never have anticipated. Don’t be afraid of that. Look for the common threads and how it can all fit together. Chances are there is one there that you can use as a through-line so don’t worry. Once you have a picture of what your story will be, you can move on to the writing portion with an idea of what leads to what and you can keep that in the back of your mind the same way you’d keep a map in your glove box. It’s there if you need it. But in the meantime, you have to enjoy the ride.
Now you are at the most fun and exciting part in my opinion. Here’s the moment when you can write. And write is exactly what you need to do. Not think. Not analyze and look for the right word. You need to write. You have to move aside and let the words come of their own accord. If you can’t think of what to write, just sit there with your fingers at the ready. In time, the ideas will happen and they will move straight to your fingers. In a way, writing is as much a physical thing as it is a cerebral undertaking. You feel your fingers hitting the keys, you hear the keys click. You can watch the words propagate the screen like ice crystals over a window. And your thoughts? They’re there but as long as you continue to write, they won’t be truly, “visible,” to you. What happens is that every keystroke is the manifestation, the direct manifestation, of a thought, of a word, or an image, or emotion. There is no break between the thought and the finger hitting the key because once you move your conscious, doubting, judging ego out of the way, the thoughts become your fingers. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Perhaps, your fingers become your thoughts and you begin to think with your fingers, judging by way of tempo, intensity, and tactile feedback. More likely, you simply close yourself out of your writing, cast yourself aside which is where you belong. You can’t create from inside a locked box of your own identity since the story is the thing that is coming into being. If you’re there, the story isn’t. But when you get out of the way, stop second-guessing everything you do, and let yourself be carried away by the rhythm and the internal logic that the story uses to weave itself together, you’ll end up writing truly and convincingly and you’ll find that you’ve said everything you needed to say.
Thanks for reading and leave a comment with your ideas about writing and how you get into the “writing zone.”