Instead, all you need to do is follow these eight practices:
1. Harmonize the influences within you. Everything you’ve ever read, seen, heard, touched, tasted, watched, experienced and learned. All of this brainstuff is your creative soil waiting to be tilled in those golden flashes of inspiration.
That’s why the art form of writing is so cool. You can’t “prepare” to write – your life IS your preparation. You’ve already done most of the work. All you have to do is listen and take really good notes. All you have to do is start with one true thing at the top of the page, and then respond with everything you’ve got.
As such, writing is more reacting that it is inventing. But only if you learn to make use of that which has already entered into your mind. What do you need to harmonize?
2. Honor your first awakening thoughts. This is the VERY first thing I do every morning when I clock into work at 5 AM. I sit down with my laptop and a nice cup of peppermint tea. And for the first thirty minutes of my day, I just start writing. No structure. No stops. No grammar or spelling checks. I just start writing.
Whatever is running through my mind at the moment. Whatever I dreamt about the night before. Whatever I thought about while I was showering in the dark. It doesn’t matter. I just puke it all out for about three pages, save the entry in a folder, recite my two-minute Writing Incantation, and then go to work.
The process is called Morning Pages, and it’s the single most important element of my professional writing practice. Learn it. What would happen to your writing if you spent the first half-hour of your day at the mental driving range, getting the shanks out?
3. Idea generation without idea execution is idea annihilation. That means you can’t just sit in your office all day and write a bunch of articles. You’ve actually got to publish it – perhaps on your blog or Twitter. You’ve got to share it – maybe by emailing it to a few colleagues.
And you’ve got to test it out – during conversation or during a presentation. Otherwise, you’ll morph into one of those crotchety, curmudgeon, has-been, armchair writers who spends all his time reading other writers’ books only to complain, “But I wrote about that idea years ago!” Yell, well, maybe so. But it’s too bad you never executed that idea, Grampa. How many of your amazing pieces will never see the light of day because you’re too lazy or too scared to publish them?
4. Infect your readers. That’s what Tolstoy practiced. “Art is infection,” he once said. Which means there’s a certain contagiousness to your work. A certain transference of emotion. And whatever the emotion, whatever the virus, it needs to ooze off (or become airborne from) the page, screen, stage, or whatever your canvas is, and seep its way into the body and soul of the reader/viewer/audience. Are you writing or infecting?
5. It’s not where you get your ideas – it’s what you do immediately when you get them. Me? I write them down. I google them for verification. I explode them into a puke list of 101 items. I expand them onto mind maps and flip chart drawings. I buy the domains of titles that I want to protect. I do Wordsmithing. I write about them some more. I release them on the testing grounds of Twitter.
I write about them some more. I add new dimensions. I share them in conversations with people who think completely differently than me so I can see the holes and flaws in my ideas. And I ask questions like, “What stories prove that this idea is true?” “How does this fit into my theory of the universe?” and “What does this have to do with my expertise?” What do you do immediately when you get your ideas?
6. Let your readers breathe. First, by varying your sentence length. Second, by decreasing your paragraph length. Third, by asking the reader questions. Fourth, by breaking the fourth wall by actually talking to your readers, making requests like: “Take a minute to reflect on this idea…” or “Pause for a moment, take a breath, then read on!”
Your readers are NOT going to do it on their own, so they need your help. Remember: The more oxygen your readers get, the more relaxed they become, the more they enjoy their reading experience, and the better they comprehend your work. Are your readers gasping for air?
7. Look into your heart and write whatever concerns you at the moment. That’s your Truth. That’s your experience. That’s what you need put on the page. So, let go of the need to label your thought as “good,” “bad,” “weird,” “insightful” or “brilliant.”
This form of premature cognitive commitment will rob your idea of its true potential. Remember: Idea appraisal is the enemy. At least in the early stages of creativity. When your heart speaks, do you take good notes?
8. Make it your responsibility to go out and find things. “Constantly cast about for new material,” George Carlin suggested. Personally, I take that piece of advice literally as a writer – I go fishing.
Idea fishing; that is. I drive to Borders, pick out about fifty books, sit down in the café, and start taking notes. Not copying. Not plagiarizing. Just reacting to what I read through the lens of my personal philosophy and theory of the universe. Then I write those reactions down, citing sources when appropriated.
Now, on a typical fishing trip, I’ll sit there for a few hours and fill up maybe TEN pages of handwritten notes. Then I’ll walk out of Borders without actually buying anything. Mainly because I’m a cheapskate, but also because Borders is overpriced and they have most of my money anyway.
Hey, I think I’ve earned my fishing trips. Besides, it’s not like I’m a total mooch – I DO buy a chocolate covered graham cracker while I’m there. Cut me some slack. Are you going out to find things?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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Tuesday, August 04, 2009
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