My brain shifted over the past year as I’ve taken to daily writing. Before, I’d sit down to put words on the page, and find that my brain shut the process down before it began. We each have two different parts of our brain that fight with each other during the writing process: the creative brain, and the critical brain. Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley-Smith, talks about this; emphasizing the importance of shutting the critical brain out of the entire process.
When I sit down to write I think of my time as practice. I’m not creating a perfect thing, intended for the world to enjoy and sing my praises. Instead, my goal is to get thoughts onto the page and try to share an idea in a way that benefits me, and hopefully helps others.
If I continue on this path of writing at least six days per week, I’m hoping that my brain will continue to adapt for a practice creation mindset. Writing in fiction feels like a different game for me at the moment, and non-fiction is still taking some time to get used to with this method of creativity.
The change has been profound. Where before I’d stare at a page and try to figure out what to say, try to perfect it and create just the right combination of thoughts in my head, now I just start typing and my brain figures it out as I go along. When I keep typing, keep pressing ahead on the keyboard, my critical brain doesn’t have time to cause any problems; it’s just my creative brain flowing and putting all that together.
This is something I’ve also experienced in my design work. Sometimes I need to just put my work onto the page, and stop stalling for more information, details, context, etc. Practicing in this way is rather freeing, and helps to bring anticipation to my work. Knowing that I’ll sit down each day, write out a thousand words, and then move on, removes a lot of weight from the process.
So for writing, I pull up a full screen on my device and start hammering away. I’m fortunate enough to have a device that’s mostly dedicated to this, using Ulysses on my iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard, but in the past I’d just clear out my laptop’s desktop, and open up a full-screen window. It also helps to write in a space separate from my other work. Writing in the same spot as my work desk is a creativity drain. For that reason I bought a cheap desk, put it beside my main desk, and move over to that area during the 20-30 minutes of writing time each day.
I’ve had opportunity to chat with friends about this process, and share how I work; it’s helped to inspire a few, and also cements my thinking. Learning about others over the past year, through books, podcasts, and online discussions, has helped with understanding the different methods of writing. The most important thing for me is to find what works, and adjust as needed. Most styles of fiction writing are along a scale, where writers lean more towards the planning method, or just diving in and figuring it out along the way. On the one hand, we call the planning type of person a plotter / outliner. They want to bring some organization, thought, research, and forethought to their work ahead of writing the manuscript. On the other hand, we have discovery writers, sometimes referred to as pantsers. They move forward with stories, focused on specific aspects such as dialogue, character, or plot, and type page after page until a story forms. Others take this further and write out the complete story in one go, with minor revisions along the way.
Most writers fall somewhere on that spectrum. Similar to how few people are 100% extroverted, or 100% introverted, few writers are 100% on either side of the discovery / plotter scale.
My novels have been on the discovery end of things, where I’ve figured out the story as I go along. That is a lot of fun for me and helps keep the story fresh and interesting as I add to it each day. It’s not for everyone, and some writers prefer the planning, but that daily excitement and motivation drives me forward.
With that said, I may adjust a bit as I continue to write. I want to get to where I feel that I have a basic grasp of the mechanics of storytelling, and can use that to propel my discovery style into an interesting and cohesive adventure. For me, it’s about telling the stories I wish someone else wrote. The other part of this, along with the fun of learning new stories as I go, is the realization that I can continue to learn the craft of writing for years to come. There is no planned end date where I expect to arrive, and believe that I know all there is about fiction, and that’s a good thing. Pushing the boundaries of my work is important, as it gives a reason to continue to learn and be curious.
The natural progression of writing is that I may expand beyond fiction to other areas and bring my experience with me. That might mean other types of books as time goes on, and I’m excited to see what happens there.
Now, to be completely candid, I don’t write fiction every day. Sometimes I feel too tired, or worn out, and don’t want to add to my stories. I give myself a pass on those days though, and bring the true meaning of practice sessions to my writing time.. This blog post is an example of that other writing. I want to just share ideas, but not hold to a specific expectation on every single day; this allows some level of variety.
When I started reading in more earnest as an adult, I developed the habit of setting down books before finishing them. If the book no longer interested me, I wouldn’t force myself to finish. As a result, I read far more books, to completion. Even though I expect to finish the books I start, that experience is something I’ve considered for writing as well. We’ll see how this continues to unfold.