Writing as an Act of Discovery

Here's something I forget:


 We write to figure things out. 

We write to discover what we know. 

We write to uncover what we don't know.

And yet.

We sit down to the page and think we have to be experts.

We sit down to write and think it has to come out perfect.

We sit down at the computer and agonize over every word.

When, really, the best thing to do is sit down and have at it, without concern or care toward what comes out.  Because writing is rewriting.  And the real work of shaping a story comes in the second, third, or ever fifth or tenth draft.  Which gives you a glorious excuse to throw caution to the wind and have a wonderful time writing what comes out of your head and through your fingers.

Don't expect yourself to know everything because you don't.  But you can figure out a whole heckuva lot by writing.  It's why we journal–to figure out stuff about ourselves.  It's why we write memoirs–to figure out stuff about our lives.  It's why we write fiction–to figure out stuff about the world.

I was interviewed on a radio show this past weekend (link is at the lower right, it's the Blog Talk Radio banner) and we talked about how when you are laboring over every word, you're clinched up, like you've made two fists and your entire body is tense.  When you're writing freely and easily, the exact opposite is true–your body is relaxed and so are you.  Isn't that a better way to go? 

What is your writing process?  Do you allow yourself to write freely or do you tense up and make certain every word is perfect before moving on?  Does your current process work for you?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Choose a topic, any topic.  It might be something to do with your current project.  For instance, this morning I worked on backstory for my main character.  Now take pen and paper and write until you've exhausted everything you know on that topic.  And believe me, more will come to you as you write.



Photo by Gerbrak.

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13 Responses to Writing as an Act of Discovery

  1. Zan Marie 03/05/2012 at 10:50 #

    (Now where did my comment go?)
    What I said was:
    Unless I tell my Inner Editor to get some tea, I get tied up in knots. Dang the Lady! She’s a meddler of the first order.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 03/05/2012 at 10:58 #

    Sorry bout that, Typepad comments can get wonky sometimes. And, I’m glad you at least know to send your Inner Editor to get a cup of tea! That’s the first step.

  3. Don 03/05/2012 at 12:08 #

    “We sit down at the computer and agonize over every word.”

    That is so TRUE! In fact, I find that I can worry so much about every word, every sentence, paragraph, etc., that in my search to write the perfect document that in the end, what I end up is anything but a perfect!

    I now think I should print out, and then post above my computer the words:

    “Because writing is rewriting. And the real work of shaping a story comes in the second, third, or ever fifth or tenth draft. Which gives you a glorious excuse to throw caution to the wind and have a wonderful time writing what comes out of your head and through your fingers.”

    So, for that….. thanks for that advice as I think it’s a biggie!

  4. Don 03/05/2012 at 12:11 #

    I do wish I would fret a little more and check my comments before I post them, however, because I find I always will post something like, ” …. a perfect!, instead of “…. a perfect document!”, etc., etc. Oh what a silly Don I be at times!

  5. Charlotte Dixon 03/05/2012 at 12:26 #

    Don, I hope you do find this advice helpful. I know it helps me a lot to pause and remind myself that I don’t have to be perfect the first time through. It is really helpful when I actually require that I be as bad as I possibly can for a rough draft–that is very freeing.

  6. J.D. 03/06/2012 at 04:50 #

    Yes, this is helpful. I don’t agonize. Sometimes I do forget my motivation (assuming I know what it is). When I started I wrote as you say to figure out what I know and who I am. It is easy to slip from that to attempting to forge something that will attract an agent. Elmore Leonard, essentially a pulp fiction writer, can write books that border on genius. Even after all the words he has recorded, agonized over or not, there must be something of him in all of them; I don’t believe he considers the opinion of his agent.

  7. Charlotte Dixon 03/06/2012 at 07:37 #

    I think that’s just it, J.D., the more we write, the more we get away from allowing ourselves to write for discovery. Instead we get caught up in what people (i.e., agents and such) will think. I’ll have to go back and read Leonard again, it’s been awhile.

  8. Melissa Marsh 03/06/2012 at 08:04 #

    I needed to hear this today.

    I’m trying really, really hard to adopt this process. I got to into editing my last WIP that now I feel like I am one big ball of frustration when I sit down to write. I want to write freely and in fact, I actually have to force myself to do that.

    Sometimes I wish I could figure out how to quit over-analyzing everything. I think it’s a product of my mixed brain: my father is very analytical while my mother is very creative. They left me with both!

  9. Charlotte Dixon 03/06/2012 at 08:18 #

    Melissa, you’re not the only one who struggles with this, so don’t beat yourself up. One good way to get the writing flowing is to free write. Set a timer and for that amount of time, move pen across the paper without stopping, no matter what crazy stuff you’re writing. I know you know about this–but sometimes a reminder can help a lot. I have to remind myself about this all the time.

  10. Milli Thornton 03/06/2012 at 17:26 #

    Ee! My comment disappeared too. Not sure if it was Typepad or me being wonky hitting the Submit button. Darn.

  11. Charlotte Dixon 03/06/2012 at 17:38 #

    Oh dear. I’ll check the “known issues” page on Typepad and see if this is something that’s happening. Very frustrating! Thanks for coming by anyway.

  12. Milli Thornton 03/06/2012 at 17:41 #

    Charlotte, it seemed like something to do with the Preview function. (But maybe it was just a coincidence.)

  13. Charlotte Dixon 03/06/2012 at 17:45 #

    Thanks for letting me know. I’ll see if I can find anything out.

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