Ute Carbone, a writer who discovered us on Twitter, submitted this rich post about a method of writing.
The first step in writing is getting it all down. This can be hard.
Words can be elusive; you see them glimmer in your peripheral vision. When you turn to stare they disappear.
That wonderful turn of phrase that was just right there, right in front of you, is gone. How do you capture those capricious words?
I use a method of first draft writing called timed writing. It’s been called by other names, most notably ‘practice writing’, which is the term Natalie Goldberg uses in her book Writing down the Bones. In broader terms, it’s part of ‘pantsing’ or flying by the seat of your pants. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worked wonders for me. I’ve written the drafts of novels this way. At any rate, it can be a terrific way to break through writer’s block and get those elusive words recorded onto the page.
To start, you need a pen, a notebook and a timer.
If you don’t have a timer handy, you can use a wristwatch or a clock that you can see from your writing space. Set the timer. Ten minutes is a good amount of time if you’re new to writing or if you haven’t written in a while. If you’re a more practiced writer, you can go for a longer period, twenty minutes, an hour if time allows.
I use pen and paper to write all my first drafts. I wrote the first draft of this blog that way. Currently, I’m using a journal with green pages and a harlequin cover. I like to change up journals, when I’ve finished one I move on to a different one. My last one was tall and skinny, with words like Monet and Impressions written all over the cover. I use an ink-jet pen because it’s light weight and it lets me write fast, though too fast can mean that I won’t be able to read my handwriting later, so I try to be careful.
I find that there’s something freeing in the physical act of writing. I prefer pen and paper because it allows me to play more, to not worry quite so much about how the words look when I’ve first shaken them awake and out of a dream.
Lots of writers open a blank document and begin typing away. I’ve known a few writers who take pen and paper to the other extreme- they use markers and Big Chief writing pads. You might want to experiment, different pens, lined or unlined paper, a new font on your computer screen. Whatever works for you.
Set the timer and begin to write. Keep the pen moving on the page. Don’t stop. Don’t re-read. Don’t look back. Keep writing. Write as fast as you dare. Outrun your inner editor.
I call mine Zelda, she’s got a long nose and she likes to chew up red pens. She does a lot of tisk-tisking whilst reading over my left shoulder. Once I have a draft written, I let Zelda have a go at it. She gleefully points out dumb mistakes and clunky sentences. She’s invaluable for re-write but I try not to let her catch up to me when I’m first-drafting because she scares off metaphors and makes lovely sentences go and hide under the bed.
Don’t worry about tense changes, grammatical errors, or misspelled words. I just heard Zelda tisk-tisk. Let me rephrase. Don’t worry about tense changes, grammatical errors or misspelled words for now. These are things you can and should fix later. But for now, just keep the pen, or your typing fingers, moving.
Sometimes you get stuck. I’ve heard runners talk about hitting the wall.
When runners hit the wall, they keep running until they get a second wind. Writers need to do the same. If you get really stuck, you can write “I don’t know what to write” You can keep writing “I don’t know what to write” for the entire writing period. I doubt that you will. “I don’t know what to write” gets tedious after three or four repetitions. Consider that re-writing the same sentence a hundred times over is a time-tested method of punishing wayward fifth graders. I can almost guarantee that after three or four repetitions, your brain will devise some better use of time.
When time is up, stop writing. If you’re on a roll and time allows, ignore the timer and keep going.
After you’ve finished, take what you’ve written and stash it away for awhile. Go walk the dog and fold the laundry. If you can, leave it be for a few days or a week. Then take it out and read it through. Now is the time to let Zelda have a look. Allow her to use the red pen to correct the missteps and misspellings. Remind her to be gentle. If you have some brilliant turns of phrase, underline them and don’t let Zelda touch them. If she insists, store them away for use later.
Now you’re ready for the next part. Get the timer. Get your pen. Begin again.
Have you tried this method for writing? What works for you?
Thank you for leaving a comment for Ute and the other readers.
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Category: On Writing