Escaping the editor
Today on the Twitter chat called #writechat, we were talking about different tools that spur our writing along. I referred to the “wild mind” technique given to us by author Natalie Goldberg in her book by the same name. I’ve used this tool for 20 years and it always does something good for my writing brain. Sometimes it even does good for my work-in-progress.
The idea is to keep your pen moving so that crusty old editor sitting in your head doesn’t have a chance to stop your flow. This is no simple feat, but it can be cleverly eluded with wild mind writing.
Use home base words
I don’t have Natalie’s book in front of me but here’s what I’ve been doing all these years. I come up with three words that will be my “home base” words. The best sets of words are mostly nouns, some verbs, and rarely a conceptual term or descriptive. Try looking in the newspaper for ideas. I once kept a brainstorming journal with words for Wild Mind. Nouns that are more on the specific side are cool, such as sandal instead of shoe. It’s really great when they seem to have no relation to each other or even look silly together. I write the three words across the top of the page. Then I set the timer. I like going for ten minutes for a couple of writings and then doing a big twenty minute session. Even five minutes can be quite a ride.
Now I have my words and I say, “Okay, handstand, elephant, and sandal for ten minutes. Go!”
If I don’t immediately have a sentence form in my head, I just start writing the words. The creative brain has plenty to say, so if you bore it by writing the words a couple of times it will jump in and take over. Or you can start with “I don’t know what handstand, elephant and sandal can possibly do together on this page but I’m trying wild mind writing since Suzanna says it’s so great…” Just write terrible, boring things. Natalie says to write the most terrible stuff you can. Soon you’re off and running. It is not about speed, it’s about continuity. Keep the pen moving.
Wonderful things happen in wild mind writing. The inner editor tries hard at first, badgering as usual, “This is stupid! Why write this? What a waste of time! Put a comma in there! It’s time to empty the trash! The dog needs to go out!” But if you stick with it for just a bit, it will give up and you may find yourself lost in the writing. Heaven! You may not know what you’re writing half the time. Even better!
Your writing process might be stuck in a loop. This is very common. In that case, you may be annoyed with what you’re writing, and feel it is worse than ever. You might be writing things like “My sandals are on the porch. The elephant is in the room.” You might feel quite dreary about it. But guess what. There is story in those simple sentences. Keep going. Any time it slows down, go back to writing the home base words over and over.
When I feel dreary, I try to to take a big breath, shake it off, and do this exercise as often as possible. Your creative mind just needs a chance to break the surface. Even a little hole in the ice will let your imagination come streaming through and – voila! – an eruption of words.
Write the crap
I believe Natalie Goldberg said, “You are free to write the worst crap in America.” Imagine how the inner editor hates statements like that. Try doing the writing in unusual places. On the bus. In the car. In line at the grocery store.
Ideas from Little Shifts
My book, “Little Shifts,” has a chapter called “The Force of Your Voice.” There I talk about 10 minute writings to connect to imagination. I made a list of words that could stimulate imagination for the timed writing. Here are some of those (all descriptive):
lavish * gleaming * roomy * quicken * plush
and a few “moving” words: caper * locomote * frolic * glide * zigzag
Doing this exercise with a few other people is extra-satisfying. It’s so fun to hear what others come up with, and laugh at how different our minds are.
Enjoy your imagination. It’s the biggest part of you.