Writing Process
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

How to Write More Than You Thought Possible

That title offers a pretty bold promise, huh?  But I really do believe that what I'm going to write about today will help you write more than you imagined possible.  What might this mystical thing that I'm going to write about be?     Gandhi

Are you ready?

Wait for it.

It is writing practice.  Also known as free writing.

We will define it, for the purposes of this post, as any writing that you do that is not strictly related to your WIP.  It is the writing that you allow yourself to write with abandon, that you likely do to a prompt, that you for sure do fast and without worrying about what words you are putting on the page.  It is, at heart, writing for no purpose.

I've been doing writing practice for the last week or so, inspired by a book I bought on a visit to one of my favorite bookstores.  The book is called Writing From the Senses, and it focuses on "using your senses as prompts."  I like the short chapters and the writing prompts at the end of each of them.  

But what I really like is the permission the author, Laura Deutsch, gave me to do my practice on the computer, and to keep it short, like 300 words.   I, like many of you I presume, have always done free writing by hand.  Don't get me wrong–I love writing by hand and find it very freeing.  But I also never took the time to transfer any of my handwritten free writes to the computer and lots of good stuff got buried in my spiral notebooks.

But Deutsch says it is perfectly fine to write on the computer.  And, yes, 300 words is plenty.  I find that these little short bursts on the computer act as warm ups that lead me directly to my current WIP and allow me to work on it with just as much abandon as I do the free writes. 

I find that this writing for no particular purpose other than to do it takes the pressure off, which allows the words to flow.  And once they are flowing, it is easier to get into the flow with your other work as well.  This, in turn, makes me eager to get to the page.

I am reminded of a quote I read long ago from Mahatma Gandhi.  (I don't have the exact quote and have searched and searched for it.  If you happen to know it, please send it to me.)  He said, in effect, that he had a busy day, so he better spend an extra half hour at his spinning wheel.  In other words, he's making the counter intuitive choice to take time to make time.  By taking longer at the spinning wheel, he knew he'd be much more centered and ready for the day.  

So, too, with your writing.  By taking time to do some writing practice, you'll be better able to make good progress on your current project, because you'll be centered and in the flow.

Some simple guidelines:

1. Start with a prompt, just because it gives you a way in.  I've got tons here on this site, or you can get books full of them, or you can consult the Google.  (For my newsletter subscribers, I also always include a new list of prompts each issue.)

2.  300 words is fine.  500 would be plenty.  

3.  You don't have to stay on topic.  Go wherever your hand takes you.  Let it rip, let it flow.

4.  Keep writing no matter what.  Its much better to get something, anything, on the page, than to stop and gaze off into space.

That's it!  Do me a favor and try doing writing practice and then move right into your WIP and see what happens.  

Do you have a favorite activity that encourages your writing?


0 thoughts on “How to Write More Than You Thought Possible

  1. J.D.

    As always, you offer the most interesting advice. One journal I’ve submitted to a few times accepts nothing over 1000 words. Three hundred seems like good practice. My 2nd favorite activity is mowing the lawn. Just kidding, but I’m praying for a little sun or I will need a machete. Your grass might need mowing if it tickles your armpits when you walk around with your evening tea.

  2. Don Williams

    I agree with J.D, this is definitely most interesting advice. As for me, if I write a lot by hand, for one reason or another, a lot of it seems to get buried and forgotten and wasted ideas are among the least things that I want to lose or forget.

  3. Charlotte Dixon

    We’ve been getting rain alternated with a day or two of sun–just what the grass loves best! For awhile we were sharing a lawnmower with my son who lives across town, so you can imagine how great our grass looked while he had it. Thank god, he just bought a new one this weekend. So no armpit tickling. And yes, the three hundred word limit is great! It is enough to make you feel you’ve done something and to get the brain working but not so long that it gets onerous.

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    Yeah, that happened to me a lot, too, Don. I would write good stuff by hand and then it would be buried in my journal. Which is why I like having “permission” to free write on the computer. Much of what I write is crap–but once in awhile I write something I might want to return to, and if its on the computer I can read it!

  5. Zan Marie

    I’m in a small writers group and we have a long list of SOC prompts. Every weekend, someone selected three prompts at random and we have at it. I find the communal aspect really adds to my motivation.

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    I like that idea of communal writing. Natalie Goldberg talks about writing with friends in cafes in “Writing Down the Bones” and it always sounded like a lot of fun!

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