The Formula for More Writing
Writing that title made me feel like I was penning the sequel to The Secret or something. Like I was going to write something akin to “Just follow this simple formula and all your writing block problems will be forever solved!”
Which isn’t what I’m saying but I am saying that it’ll definitely help you the way it’s helped me. But just like exercising to lose weight, it’s not about whether it works or not—it’s about us actually doing it consistently. That it works is a given.
The other day M and I were driving to her hometown, as we do so often leading up to the big day we get married. Only this time her friend was in the car because we were giving her a ride. So I took the back seat and they chatted away. I’m used to being a good co-pilot (no reading, no falling asleep) so this was the first time I could really do whatever I wanted to while M drove.
It was fantastic.
I had forgotten why I like riding the train so much (the bus is OK too)—simply staring out the window and letting my mind run free is something that feels good to me. Weird, maybe, but good. So I did that and I did my fair share of reading (catching up on those accumulating issues of The New Yorker). And after all that navel gazing and stewing in my head (total of around nine 4.5 hours), here’s my formula that I came up with:
Reading + “Quiet Time” = Creative Writing Ideas
And these are all directly proportional to each other so the more time you spend reading and thinking, the deeper you’ll get into the “writing mindset.”
Reading: Read all kinds of different things, but make sure you’re liking it and it’s stimulating. On this particular drive I read a fantastic short story (which is rare in the NYer) and a couple interesting non-fiction articles. I devoured three or four of the magazines and then when I was done I put them away and stared out the window.
Quiet Time: A good analogy here is cooking. Reading is the preparation: cutting up the peppers, seasoning the meat, boiling the water, etc. Once all the “work” is done, you throw it into the oven, the grill, whatever, and just kind of wait. Quiet time is simply letting your mind process and run free with all the “stuff” you’ve given it from reading. It’s hard to describe (and understand) because it isn’t a conscious process. And when you’re talking about the unconscious things can get vague in a hurry. But you have to trust the process and let your brain do the work without you getting in the way. A watched pot never boils.
I wasn’t following this “formula” on purpose by the way, I came up with all this afterwards. Why? Because as I was staring out the window watching the trees and fields whizz by, my mind started percolating and ideas started to come. I let my mind wander and the ideas started getting larger and better defined. This is all basic “creativity” stuff, but it felt like I hadn’t done it in a while.
So I pulled out my trusty Moleskine notebook and started scribbling away. Two short-story ideas came to fruition and I scribbled out all the framework for them as the light started to fade in the car. I actually wrote a couple of pages in the dark hoping I would be able to decipher them when I got back home. I was able to and the story’s first draft is almost finished.
Why does this feel like such a big deal? I’ve been neglecting my writing for a while now and I’ve felt really guilty about it. How do I expect to get any better if I’m not actively practicing? This was the first time in a long time that I went through the whole creative process of writing something new that I was excited about.
To someone who isn’t into writing or doesn’t see the allure, this whole post may sound like a bunch of nonsense. In fact, it may remind you the crap inside The Secret. Which is fine because there are a whole bunch of things that I just don’t understand or want to understand in this world (like why people watch According to Jim). But that’s OK. If you’re curious about writing though, you could do a lot worse than my little formula—sitting in front of a piece of paper and going “What should I write about right now?” isn’t going to get you anywhere. It would be like turning the oven on to 450 degrees when there’s nothing inside and expecting a meal 40 minutes later. Not gonna happen.
So I’m excited about my writing breakthrough and now I have a good recipe for the next time I hit writer’s block or just plain stop writing altogether. Now I have to go through the toughest part: the editing and rewriting. Ugh.