20 Ways to Make It Better (#3)

#3 Get It Down

Just Write Board Game

The most important thing about writing? Writing. Getting the words on the page. How to do it? Keep your pen moving. Or your fingers dancing on those keys. Never mind if you don’t know where you’re going. Just go. If you trust yourself and the process, what you want to write will show up on the page. Not in its final form, not all polished and pretty and ready for glory, but somewhere within the mess you made will be that image, that phrase, that line of dialogue. What you’d never come up with if you’d tried to “think” it on the page.

Begin anywhere. Write anything. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. You can clean it up later. Don’t stop to re-read or edit or fix. When you do, you move from that white-hot place of intuition and imagination and into a cerebral place of judging, evaluating, analyzing. There’s a time and place for that, but not in the first flush of creating. One of the advantages of keeping the hand moving is that you can keep ahead of the editor, the critic, and the censor. And maybe, if you’re very lucky and very fast, you can even outpace your ego.

There are dozens of methods to just getting it down: timed, focused writings; free-writes; writing in group; writing against deadline. Try setting up word counts or pages or time limits for yourself, make writing dates with someone else, or with yourself (put it on your calendar — in ink). Use writing prompts or writing exercises to get started (I know a great book that has a prompt for every day). Get writing assignments from someone else, or from any number of writing books. (My current favs are Naming the World, Now Write!, What If?, and Abigail Thomas’s Thinking About Memoir.) Having someone else — a coach, a writing buddy, a writing group, to report in to can help, too. Making bets, giving yourself rewards, bribery. I do some of all of these. (I especially like the rewards part.) Find out what works for you and then, as the saying goes, Just Do It!

What’s your best bet for just getting it down?


Is Your Imagination Present?

Rainbow Tunnel

Rainbow Tunnel by Mark Chandler

Someone said all you need to be a writer is an imagination and curiosity. (Add to that, stamina.) Your imagination is in the unique, individual way you see the world, the particular and specific details you notice, and the connections you make. More than merely your experience, it is the way you contemplate and interpret your experience. Henry James said, “[Experience] is the very atmosphere of the mind; and when the mind is imaginative . . . it takes to itself the faintest hints of life, it converts the very pulses of air into revelations.”

How can you tell whether the imagination is present, not only in your writing but also in your life?

• You feel a strong urge to create — to write, to paint, to play music, to dance, to make art.

• Your writing is bold, full of passion and life. “Violent passions emit the Real, Good and Perfect tones,” William Blake said.

• You experience great freedom in your writing, leaping from image to image as if your words were Baryshnikov and your notebook the stage.

• You work innocently, not from the ego and not to please or impress.

• You are comfortable doing nothing. For long stretches of time.

• You trust your writing and your experience.

• You live in the present moment because you know that is where imagination will look for you.

• You meander rather than stride calisthenically; you notice the form and colors of leaves, the shape of clouds, the curve of a hill.

• Your writing (and your life) surprises you.

• You try some new thing rather than doing the same old same old — even if the tried and true was great.

• You believe you will never run out of ideas.

• You don’t plan what you are going to do — you just do it; the planning comes later. And even the planning is creative, lively, inspired.

• You go forth (in your writing and your life) with no fear.

• You gaze out windows for long periods of time and stare into treetops; you’ve been accused of daydreaming.

• You write new, raw, wild stuff instead of rewriting the same piece endlessly.

• You converse about your characters as if they were fully alive.

• You are completely yourself. That’s when ideas come, according to Mozart, who knew these things.

• You make up things with the abandon of a child. Spontaneity thrills you.

• You write without the need to prove anything.

• You live your life fully, submerging yourself completely in the experience of it.

You cannot force imagination to be present, but if you are in no hurry, “free, good-natured and at ease,” it will appear, according to Brenda Ueland, who said, “The imagination is always searching in us and trying to free what we really think.”

Do any of these descriptions fit you? Excite you? Go… do it!

Excerpted from A Writer’s Book of Days