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Monday, August 01, 2005

Get Into the Mindset of Writing

Shift to right-brain thinking for writing, left-brain thinking for polishing.

Most writers say to lay down a bad first draft and edit later. There’s actually scientific reasoning behind it.

Right brain is creative stuff like writing prose and brainstorming. Left brain is editing your prose and sifting through which brainstorm ideas you should keep or chuck. When you use both at once--like brainstorming and editing at the same time--the brain can't keep up with the switching back and forth. Your creativity can stall or your analysis can be way off.

This is why many writers recommend turning off your "internal editor" when writing the first draft. Don't correct, don't second-guess that word, don't fiddle with that phrase, don't decide that action is too bland, don't stop and do research--just make a note and move on. That editing is left-brain work, which would short-circuit your creative right-brain work if you stopped to indulge in it.

So only do creative stuff for one chunk of time--force yourself to be in that zen mode of writing or free association. Then switch to analysis of what you did. The times can be as short as five minutes each, but just make sure the activity times are clearly separated. This will improve efficiency when writing and developing a story.

One trick to try is closing your eyes. The senses of blind people sharpen to make up for loss of sight--your creativity might enhance when you remove your sense of sight. It can also remove the discouraging picture of the blank page. Block out distracting thoughts like work, housework, kids. If you can, type or write with your eyes closed, forget about misspelled words or the pen writing on the desk--oops, well, I guess you kind of have to watch out for that.

Another trick is to try writing as fast as you can. This forces you to just go with your gut and stall your analytical side. Plus this is often a necessity for busy writers with only fifteen minutes to write.

Check your attitude. Let's face it, most writers are paranoid, insecure, and cranky. It might be the long stretches of time we're suck in creative mode. But if you're aware of your attitude, you're better able to keep from going off the deep end.

Not everybody is against you. Because really, it's not all about you. It's about God and how He'd like to use you.

Actively work to develop a thick skin. You won't please everybody all the time. Learn to know your writing and your style, to know which advice or reviews to listen to and which to chuck.

Be humble. It's not all about you. Give other people a helping hand.

Trust God with your self-esteem. Your self-image is based on what you think the most important person in your life thinks of you. If the most important person is your audience, you're done for--not everyone is going to love your writing. But if the most important person is God, well--He loves you like crazy! Your self-esteem (and also your thick skin) will be healthy.

Learn your limitations. Just because your friend can write a whole novel in six days doesn't mean you can or should. Don't compare yourself. Work the way God made you. Push yourself and set goals, but don't get carried away striving to keep up with somebody else.

Trust your writer's instincts. Learn when to listen and when to stick to your guns (prayer is probably a good thing around this time). It's YOUR book, it's YOUR writing style, and YOU are the writer. Nobody else.

Battle writer's block. Swain gives a few tips. Pick and choose. You know yourself well enough that you'd understand which would work for you and which wouldn't.

Freewrite. Anything.

Go back to the basics. Motivation-Reaction. Motivation-Reaction. Or examine character--if hero is like this, would he do that?

Research more. Sometimes when you draw a blank, it means you need to do more research about the scene or the aspects of it.

Search out fresh ideas. Go out and observe people. Scan the papers. Read about a new topic.

Just do it. Sometimes we're the victim of inertia--if we're stalled, it takes EXTRA effort to get started again. Start writing--even just nonsense--and you might find the momentum to start churning out good prose. Force yourself to write, even badly.

Finish every story. I agree with this. Even if you never use the story for anything--even if it collects dust under the bed, never to see the light of day--the fact you finished gives you a sense of closure. Too many unfinished threads can nag at your thoughts and distract you, especially when you're writing something else. Unfinished stories can sometimes feel like failures. In contrast, a finished story proves you had the guts and the willpower to complete the darn thing, which not everyone can say they've done.

Keep a list of your weak areas. Why? Because we tend to repeat our errors. A list may help you understand why you've got writer's block, or why the story has stalled.

Give yourself a break. That speaks for itself.

A word of warning: Avoid crutches. We've all heard the stories of brilliant writers who were drunks or drug addicts. But it makes you wonder--how much more brilliant might they have been without their crutches?

Now, it's just the blank page and you. The world is your oyster.

NOTE: Information in this article is taken from the classic "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight V. Swain.

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