Wednesday, February 08, 2012


I follow far too many writers’ blogs, spending more time reading sometimes questionable words of wisdom about the craft than actually writing myself. It’s a procrastination tactic I struggle with daily. But every so often, when the synchronicity of the universe presents the same topic from different angles in a variety of my perusals, I’m sensible enough to take heed. This week the universe wants me to focus on flow – starting it, maintaining it, appreciating it.

Most writers will agree that when they’re “in the zone,” everything clicks. The words do indeed flow almost effortlessly from brain to hand to quill/crayon/pen/keyboard. Psychics call it automatic writing, the sensation of another being controlling the instrument. I’d rather think it’s more an unleashing of deep-seated thoughts and emotions too often buried under the busy-ness of life, or the pain of remembering. It’s that possibility of pain that keeps me from tapping those resources, of letting go of fears of what my words may reveal, how they may be received by potential readers.

When I do manage to get past those emotional roadblocks and write from the depths of my being, my words have power. Hubby has told me on many occasions that he can tell when I write from the heart. If my personal in-house non-fiction reading computer geek can see it, so can more discerning readers. I need to tap that source more often, allow the words to flow unimpeded. But how?

Last night I finished my current study of Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers. She ends this slim but powerful volume with another Zen reference, urging writers to cultivate a “fresh mind.” Sher says, “The real work of writing is, day after day, to discover how to maintain freshness.” Even more compelling to me is the idea of “giving over the part of you that knows to the writing.” Giving over. Surrender. Release. Flow.

From a practical standpoint, author Johanna Harness posted a blog recently about her technique for priming the pump. She uses freewriting, figuring twenty minutes of uninterrupted writing, or about one thousand words, gets rid of the detritus and allows her to find that fresh mind. “I don’t know why it took me so long to realize I need to warm up with disposable words.”

Disposable words – there are few more frightening concepts for me in the writing world. I labor so intensely over each word choice that the thought of deliberately tossing any of them aside, of murdering my darlings, has always been heart-wrenching. It’s the main reason why I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for three years. The month-long exercise encourages me to turn off the internal editor, get the thoughts down on the page, and worry about fine-tuning things later. In the case of freewriting, I may never use those particular words and phrases again, but it’s like opening a spillway, releasing the stale, stagnant water at the top and exposing the unpolluted springs below.

I can embrace the concept of freewriting better than the other technique offered by many writerly blogs, that of journaling. For some reason, journaling triggers memories of self-absorbed teenage angst poured out to Dear Diary. Semantics probably, but if it helps me get past my hesitation, I’ll take it. Freewriting, as Harness points out, is disposable. I don’t keep it in leather-bound volumes for the ages. If the occasional spew seems worthy of further consideration, I can save it; however far too often in my experience, the words have lost their luster by the time I return to them. Disposable indeed, but therapeutic, and useful at the time. I’ve even adapted the practice for my critical writing class, more to teach my students not to fear writing than to encourage narrative flow, but again, useful.

Sher ends her essay with, “What is the best way to write? Each of us has to discover her own way by writing. Writing teaches writing. No one can tell you your own secret.” For me, freewriting teaches writing, and done regularly, may help reveal that secret I can’t or won’t see otherwise.

How do you prime the pump and tap your hidden reserves?


  1. A topic we've discussed before and one I still struggle with. I don't mind so much the free writing, but find more I have trouble Writing without purpose. You did an awesome job with NANO this year and should be proud of what you accomplished.

  2. Thanks, Lori! Your continued support is much appreciated.

    And as for the synchronicity I mentioned above, a post today quotes the same expert Sher refers to, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in a scientific discussion of flow:

  3. Well, now I have an image of you writing with a quill. :) I truly sympathize with you when it comes to murdering darlings. Many times, a story or article is born because of a perfect phrase, analogy, idea. It's sad. I keep a graveyard.doc for every one of them... just in case.

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  5. I've been in that "zone" you speak of, and I've constantly tried to determine a cause and effect when it happens...but to no avail. Free writing isn't the answer for me, but I know there's something that brings on that locked in feeling and I'll keep searching for it. :)


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