Why are writers generally so bad at writing?
I’m not suggesting that most writers can’t write – but that most writers find it incredibly difficult to start the writing process. If you’re a writer, you’ll almost certainly know what I mean. It’s not that we dislike writing, far from it – we love the writing process. It’s just getting started that seems to be the most difficult thing to accomplish for almost all writers.
It just seems that there are so many other jobs that need to be finished first. We persuade ourselves that we couldn’t possibly concentrate effectively on our writing with the washing up not done, or the car in such a disgraceful condition, or the shopping not completed, or that bill not paid, or the toilet not cleaned or that shelf not fixed, and so on, and so on.
There are some days when so much is achieved, so many jobs completed, that we almost feel cleansed to the point where we are fully prepared to tackle the day’s writing. Unfortunately, we are so tired by this time, we convince ourselves that we would not be able to produce anything like our best after all the work we’ve done, and grant us the rest of the day off.
If this sounds horribly familiar to you, then worry not. You are by no means alone, and almost all writers suffer from this same problem. It seems to make no sense, because most writers adore the writing process itself – it’s why we do it in the first place.
I have come across a little exercise which I have felt to be enormously useful in helping to unlock the writing mind and dive into the writing more quickly and effectively. It’s also a fantastic way of rooting about in your subconscious for wonderful ideas that may well become stories, plots, characters, images and possibilities that drive your writing in new directions.
The fancy name for this exercise is ‘stream of consciousness’ – perhaps you have heard of it. But what exactly is meant by stream of consciousness?
It’s really very simple. All you need to do is to grab a pen and paper, or use your computer if you feel so inclined, and write anything and everything which comes into your head, no matter how meaningless, random and absurd it sounds. Don’t worry about punctuation, sentences, structure or meaning – just write down the words and phrases which appear in your head.
To begin with you may feel rather self conscious, and be inclined to edit your thoughts as you go along. Don’t. The whole point of this exercise is to sit back and let the editor in you take a break. This is often the cause of the problem for writers. It’s the editor lurking beneath the surface of what we do which puts us off writing.
By setting the editor to one side, and entirely ignoring him, we can let our subconscious writer ramble away. The benefits of this are enormous. To begin with, since there are no expectations, no criticisms and no editing, we don’t have to procrastinate at all. it needs no preparation, and can be done anytime, anywhere – on the bus, waiting for your dentist appointment, waiting for the kettle to boil…
Because it allows us to get straight on with the act of writing, moving on from this exercise to the actual writing we need to do can become much easier. But there is another benefit too.
If you glance through your ramblings straight away, you may well see nothing of any value – but keep them all the same. This is important, don’t throw your writing away. If possible, buy a notebook specifically for this purpose. You may be astonished, days or weeks later to have a look through your thoughts, and see patterns, ideas, phrases or concepts that catch your attention and imagination.
It is often the case that these stream of consciousness writing exercises can produce remarkable ideas, associations and images which may well inspire you to great things. You may also consider the need for psychiatric help if you notice alarming patterns and images emerging of course.