As writers, we all know how difficult it can be to think of things to write about. In fact, it’s probably why most of us don’t write as often as we should. It can be so frustrating to have the urge to write and be creative, and yet absolutely nothing comes out. It’s like hitting a brick wall. You just stare at a blank page until you can’t even think anymore, thrown down your pen, and go watch Netflix. It is so sad, and I know the feeling all too well.
It is so sad when this happens! We do not force ourselves to think, so every time we give up easily, it makes the next time that much easier for us, until we don’t even try at all. Creative writing requires a brain muscle that needs to be worked and flexed in order for it to get stronger and more reliable. No one ever said lifting weights was easy, but if you do it, you will eventually get stronger. If you make yourself write two paragraphs each day, about whatever, eventually that will seem easy to you. Once you are confident with that, add to the length to build that needed endurance so that eventually you will be able to write and write. The daily practice from writing will eventually pay off, as it is always fun to do something that comes easily.
When you are trying to think of things to write about, it seems that you see the world so much clearer. Take time to even think creatively throughout your day, even if it’s not writing specifically. This is not a solely after work activity, though don’t tell your boss I said that! Make up a story about some interaction between people you just saw on the street, or pretend that dog you just passed by can talk, what would it say?
It really is a beautiful way to see the world. It is as if your eyes are sharpened to all the events and details around you – anything could be a source of inspiration when you open your eyes to it. When you have this mindset, everything becomes important, and your brain connects with your eyes in a whole different way. You start to see and think in descriptions, your mind is constantly turning out plot points, and you are just more in-tuned with more than just the surface level of what is around you.
As a human being, you should be aware of your surroundings. If you aren’t, then now is a great time to start. You will be surprised at what the world really looks like. A bird on a tree branch could inspire a short story, or a puddle of water in the lawn could inspire a poem. It is so cool to be able to see and think the way. It is a special thing to be able to view the world around you with much more awe, wonder, and respect than your average human. We as writers have this gift, and it would be such a loss to not take advantage of it.
If you don’t have it, it’s easy to get. Just stop and look. Wonder. Be curious. Use these thoughts and feelings to write and write.
We’ve all had them. Characters that we wish with all of our might were actually real people, because they would be our perfect match. Or so we think, at least. Stories naturally grab at our emotions; it’s what makes us so invested in the book we are reading. One of those emotions is love, whether we like it or not. It’s natural and it’s fun. Here are some pros and cons of having a literary crush. And feel free to add your own in the comments below!
Pro: You become emotionally attached, and therefore keep reading.
Reading is always a great thing. It helps both mentally and emotionally. Life without reading would just be boring. Reading the adventures of our favorite character gets us all to turn page after page, curious for more of what our crush is up to. When reading The Martian, I could not put that thing down, because I had become attached to Mark Wattney and was sincerely concerned about him. When he said in the book that no woman was ever interested in him because he was a geeky scientist, I said “me! Me! Pick me!”. He was my kind of man, so I wanted to keep tabs on his journey on Mars.
Con: They aren’t real.
Unfortunately, authors can take their time to create the perfect character, with the exact mix of traits that would cause anyone to fall head over heels. That becomes a dangerous standard for when you go from the book to looking at the real world. Mr. Darcy may have the perfect amount of broodiness mixed with confidence and sincerity, but the chances are that you would not be able to go out on the street and find a normal person with those exact characteristics that made fictional Darcy so appealing. Dang you, Jane Austen!
Pro: You get to spend a long time with them.
It is so nice when you meet a character at the beginning of a story, and know that you have hundreds of pages to spend with them. You get to know them well, and can even predict their thoughts or actions. It is so nice to look at your book and see that you are only half way through. You will get to spend many more hours in their company to watch their life slowly unfold before your eyes. There is nothing better than reading about every little detail, thought, and action of the character you love. You always want more, and it’s there for the taking.
Con: Your life just seems a little emptier when you close the book for the night.
You spend hours wadding through a story, taking every twist and turn with the character, as if your life was also affected by what happens to the character. When you close the book, poof. It’s as if nothing had every happened. You look up from the pages and they are not there with you. You can’t discuss your thoughts with them, or give them some advice you had. They surely live, but only in the confines of the pages in your hands. The separation can sometimes be harsh.
Pro: They will never change.
Everyone loves consistency. The author captured this character in black and white. Nothing about them will ever change. For the characters you can’t stand, this is bad, because you usually wish for them to have a change of heart. But once a villain, always a villain. The same goes for your character crush. They will always have the arrogance that you love to hate or the steadfast and upright attitude that raises them up in your sight. And they will always say the right things. We can read those lines and give a heart-heavy sigh every single time, because our character will always mean them deeply and earnestly.
Con: You are in danger of becoming too attached.
When reading and reading and reading, being constantly surrounded by that character, you can get almost stuck in the story. I had an experience where I was reading a book where the main character was getting hated on by all the other characters, and I was in a foul mood during the entire few days it took me to read through that. I was so invested that it seeped into my normal life. Real life is out there, and usually does not resemble to story you are reading at that exact moment. There comes a time when you have to separate yourself, for fear of over-attachment.
Pro: They are a great way to find characteristics for a future and real life crush.
Reading lots of books gives you lots of opportunities to be exposed to a wide variety of characters. This gives you a great pool of candidates as well as their many traits to choose from. Now, we know that it is impossible to find every single trait in one single person, as these books often show us that each character has their faults, but there will always be certain things that appeal to us more than others. Obviously, reading about a character with a certain trait is different than any real life interaction, but it is an easy and harmless way to become aware of what suits you and what does not.
If you can create characters that your readers fall in love with, then you are on the right path. You want your reader to invest their emotions into your story, and you can make that happen by creating strong and desirable characters, even if that desire is to hate them rather than love them. Evoke some stronger emotion, and your readers will be hooked.
Though it’s hard, we must all remember that our favorite literary characters are not real. We can love them as we read about them, but we must also love the real people around us. They inspire the stories that we read, and they bring that love to life on the page.
Have you ever written an important email or an assignment and had either been too lazy or so pressed for time that you did not re-read it? I have. And then, as you re-read it after it’s sent or turned in, you see some pretty glaring and obvious typos and grammatical errors. There are few things more embarrassing than making easy mistakes doing a craft that you claim to be extremely well versed in. In our world of spell check, one error could completely throw away your credibility. It’s human nature to make mistakes, but that’s why we need to be both writer and editor in one.
As I’ve said before, I think it is crucial to the flow of your writing process to write drafts without stopping to re-think or edit. But once you have prepared something that will be read by others, you must put on your editing hat and put your best foot forward.
I probably need to take my own advice more than anyone. To me, it is almost painful to re-read my work. I become instantly critical of what I have written, and am always afraid I sound silly. Instead, I live in the fantasy that I just created the perfect piece, and that there could possibly be nothing wrong with it. Arrogant, I know. And obviously, I am human and make a bunch of mistakes. So really, I am just shooting myself in the foot by thinking this way.
I am divulging this embarrassing truth about my poor editing process only because I want you to learn from it. I have made enough mistakes that I should learn from it too. We all are striving to be the best writers we can be, so why not take the extra time to read over what we have written. It might be uncomfortable, but it will save you a world full of hurt after you realize that you would have just sent that text on to a reader without fixing the six errors you just caught after reading it again.
Also, take some time in between when you put the pen down and when you take the time to edit. It is so important to come to a piece with fresh eyes and a new attitude. You will see your writing differently from if you just finished it eleven seconds ago and immediately go back to read it. You will still be in writing mode. Allow your brain to switch to editing mode so that you can focus on reading it word for word, rather than just reading what you know should be there.
If we all take a little more time to edit, we will be able to put forth our best writing possible. No matter what the context of your writing is, I think we can agree that accuracy and mastery of the craft shows just as much talent and dedication as the content of the piece. Do yourself a favor and take the time to edit, you’ll thank yourself for it!
Reading and writing should be a time for relaxation and creative flow. We can never fully enjoy our time if we are in a chaotic setting, or if we are waiting on something, like the boarding of a plane, for instance. If half of our mind has to be still focused on what time it is or if the people around us are talking to us, then we cannot truly abandon ourselves to the literary task at hand.
For your own sanity and enjoyment, I urge you to create a space that is both comforting and calming. Pull up your favorite comfy chair, wrap yourself in a blanket, make a cup of tea, put on some soft music, and then enter into your favorite place; the world of words and stories.
For writing especially, the creative mind cannot work well if its attention is divided. If words aren’t coming, even in this peaceful environment, just sit back and let your mind stew. There is nothing worse for writers block than putting pressure on yourself. You are only stifling yourself. Allow yourself to relax and let your mind wander. It might wander right on to the perfect path.
I find that a great atmosphere greatly improves my reading enjoyment. In the past I have used reading to kill some time before going somewhere, and it is like torture (literary torture, of course)! Keeping one eye on the clock while reading is not fun, and then either you end up not even grasping what you had just read for the last 20 minutes, or you get so absorbed in your book that you are then late. I think it is best to just avoid that situation all together.
There are few things I find more relaxing than knowing that I have a large amount of time to have a good, long read. During these few times that I consider real treats, I strive to put away all technology and other thoughts about my real life, so that I can just enjoy my book and the smell of the nice candle burning on the end table.
You owe it to yourself. You are great, and you deserve to take some time just to focus only on what you love. I think we would all love to sit at home and read all day every day, so why not treat yourself once and awhile. Your heightened sense of creativity and enjoyment will thank you.
What is your favorite way to get the most out of your literary time?
It rarely ever turns out well. I could probably count on one hand the number of movies I have seen that have actually been better than the books they are based on. This means, quite obviously, that 97% of the time, the book is the better version of the story. Because the book IS the story. It was contemplated, written, re-written, and then finally approved as the best story it could be. And if a movie studio has deemed it worthy enough to make a movie out of, then obviously it’s a great story!
So, if the books are great, why do directors, producers, actors, etc. feel that they need to change the story? This drives me up the wall, especially if the writer is on set helping out. I can understand changing costumes or lighting and such so that it produces a better scene, but to blatantly change the plot line? What makes the movie industry qualified to re-write a best-selling story? If the author had wanted that to happen, they would have written it that way!
The most obvious example that comes to my own mind is the sixth Harry Potter movie. I remember being so extremely excited for this movie, because lots of really crazy stuff happened in that book, and I wanted to see it on screen. Now, I know that a lot of avid HP fans have lots of qualms with the movies (which is exactly why I am discussing this subject). I remember feeling actual anger as I left the theater 3 hours later. “Excuse me”, I wanted to yell at the screen, “when did (insert your favorite misconstrued plot point here) ever happen in the book?!”. A movie should not invoke those kinds of feelings.
The plot is all there, in black and white. There are no mysteries or questions. Yet why, WHY, does the story appear differently on the screen than on the pages? I am paying to see a live-action rendering of a book that I liked. If you are going to change it, you might as well call it something else. Obviously I’m talking about major plot differences here, because if the person’s hair color is different, well, that’s not going to make me want to throw my popcorn at the screen.
And please, if you are going to put ‘based on the novel by…’ in the credits, at least add the word ‘loosely’, so that your viewers aren’t completely shocked when you rearrange half the story and change the ending from a sad one to a happy one. I may be exaggerating here, but I just bet I am not alone in thinking this way.
This trend makes me skeptical to see movies of my favorite books. I usually wait until someone I know goes to see it and then rely on their opinion of it to make my final decision. I just don’t like to willingly view the butchering of a great story.
The bottom line is that if movies that are based on books want any more of my money, they will have to stick to the story that is given to them. They picked it for a reason, now show the audience why!
Rant over (for now).
We’ve all experienced something that was so fantastic, touched us so deeply, and moved us so profoundly that it is sad when it is over. For me, this happens the most when I am anticipating a great live theater show. I become excited days and days in advance, take the time to get all fancied up, and then enjoy every minute of the experience. Most of the time, the letdown afterwards is inevitable. There is something about becoming emotionally invested in something that makes you feel that after it is over, you have lost a little part of you. I’ve pretty much gone into mourning over the thought of never having those same experiences again. Dramatic, yes, but if you feel things deeply, you’ll know it’s true.
For us literary minded people, the exact same thing can happen when a beloved character dies, when an unexpected and unwelcomed plot twist takes place, or even when the book is just plain over. You spend so much of your time and energy reading and understanding the story that when it’s over, you are lost. It’s like losing a friend. You want to continue to enjoy their presence, but there is no way to. I guess that’s why many people love series. You can prolong your relationship with the setting, emotions, and characters of the story. But this usually makes the final parting that much more difficult. The depth of my despair after reading the last page of the seventh Harry Potter book was so much! Whether you’d like to admit it or not, you know you’re with me.
To be able to engage your readers to that extent takes effort and skill. Your story will be successful only if you have characters that people can relate to, and are curious about. I’ve read so many books where I wish that I could actually meet the character. Now that is good writing. Your characters must be lifelike and realistic in order to garner that sort of reaction out of your audience. I believe that as an author, you should want to leave your readers yearning for more after they read the final sentence. This is how you create lifelong readers of your work. This is easier said than done, I know. But with that being said, I think it proves that you have to spend just as much time developing strong characters as you do in developing a plot.
We as readers want to celebrate with them, grieve with them, learn and grow with them, and just be with them. I think this is true across any genre. For mysteries or thrillers, you want to create a character that readers want to root for to succeed. For love stories, you want to create a man that all of your female readers would want to marry. For horror, you want to create that one character that the reader continually hopes for to stay alive. Give your characters some spark, some depth, and some personality. Two dimensional characters are extremely hard to relate to. Even if you write a character that you want the reader to dislike, show the reader that they are not worthy.
Creating a compelling story with great characters is hard. But it is these characters that will draw the reader in, giving them a way to become emotionally attached. It is this attachment that creates the sense of sorrow when it is eventually broken at the conclusion of the story. Your goal, author, should be to create something that will give your reader a way to connect mentally and emotionally to your story, stirring them with a provocative and creative art form. After it is finished, your reader will feel a beautiful letdown.
Have you ever been at a loss on where to start writing? I’m guessing you have. Why not draw on personal experience?
It must be part of the human condition to think that we lead boring lives. Every other person’s life looks better than our own, and we wish and dream for change. That’s called discontent, people. It is poisonous and will only lead to trouble and despair. We constantly compare out lives to the movies that we see, or the books that we read. Who doesn’t want to be Elizabeth Bennett or Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s famous character). We read a book and (usually) think, ‘what I wouldn’t give to be that person’ or ‘wow, my life is so boring’, but this will get you nowhere except into a pit of despair.
Instead of hopelessly wishing for a different life, look to the one you lead for inspiration. I just bet that you could take any one experience that you’ve had in your day and turn it into a story. Walked your dog? Write a funny story about how everything that could have gone wrong did. Ripped a hole in your favorite shirt? Turn into an emotionally charged narrative about lose. Tripped on the stairs in front of the person you are smitten with? Turn it around and make it a romantic story. The possibilities are endless.
Please, don’t believe the lie that you lead a life that is less worthy than those around you. You are you, and you are awesome. What you do is unique to you, and you should take full advantage of that opportunity. If you are looking for some inspiration, check out YouTube personality Olan Rodgers. You won’t regret it. He is the perfect example of what I’m talking about here. One of his stories can turn my day right around, and his stories are about the most simple, most strange things. If you watch, you’ll understand. Follow his format if this seems weird. He is successful at it, so you can be too! Maybe not in the same way, but it will certainly add some flavor to your own personal and creative life.
I challenge you to take moments in your life and transform them. Use them as creative fodder and see where it takes you. Maybe even string a couple stories together and make a character that resembles you. Remember, you are great, your life can be the perfect inspiration, and no one does your life better than you.
There is nothing better than coming home from work knowing that a good book is waiting for you. There is also nothing worse than knowing that you have to put that book down for the night so you have at least a minimal amount of energy for the next day. A good book is like having an addiction. When you first open the book again, you breathe a sigh of relief and feel thoroughly happy. When you do not have the book in hand, your mind always strays to it, and you wonder how fast you can get the laundry done, or how fast you can eat dinner so that you can get back to it. The book is something that you know will always be there when you get home, and it won’t let you down (hopefully!).
Ask every avid reader, and I think they would all agree that their dream job would be to read books all day, every day, and get paid for it. If that job is out there, where do I apply?!
What this means for authors:
Most people read books to unwind from the day or to escape into another person’s life for a bit. Readers want to be swept up into the story, and taken away on a journey, whether this journey causes their hearts to beat fast from fear or excitement, or if their hearts swell from witnessing a blossoming romance that they knew was just bound to happen eventually. Successful stories cause the reader to think and feel differently than they do in their daily lives. This is why we as readers enjoy stories so much. They are different.
Readers do not want to have to think long and hard in order to draw some conclusion that the author vaguely insinuates. We want to be lead gently towards an idea or plot point. If you want the reader to figure something out before revealing it in black and white, then give clues, make a path that allows us to follow you to the inevitable reveal without just throwing it in our face. Readers like to guess what’s coming, but we need solid pieces of the puzzle before we can have any sort of notion. All in all, I think it is okay to lead your readers along a little. We aren’t stupid, but you (the author) know every little detail of the plot and how it’s going to end, whereas we do not. The only thing we can go on is what you choose to tell us. Be thorough. This tells us that you care enough about plot/character development that you are not willing to leave anything out, even if you think it is unnecessary. Nothing bothers me more than vague statements that don’t allow me to gain any real information or sense of direction about a character or plot.
Take your time. We can wait for the climax of the story if it means that we get tons of great details and plot points to enjoy before the big action takes place. I personally love it when small details at the beginning of the story turn into big plot points at the end of the story. I tip my hat to authors who can think and plan that far in advance, and it gives the reader another little jolt of excitement. Details that add up will make the height of the story that much more engaging and meaningful if we have had lots of time to get to know the characters and understand why they did what they did. Short books and short stories can absolutely be just as excellent, but I like knowing that I have a thick stack of pages ahead of me, so that I can really invest.
First, start by creating an engaging character. Just the character. Give him or her a backstory and create a present world for them. If your character is someone that you’d want to learn more about yourself, then you’re on the right track. Sorry to say, giving a character a name and a hair color is just not going to cut it. Readers will not be interested. Once you have a character, create a setting for them. Then, create a reason for how they got there. Eventually, the details will start to fill in. And it’s okay to jump around when creating the basic plotline. The key is to be engaging. Make us want to read your story.
A word to aspiring writers: readers read for the ending. I know that sounds silly, but it is so true. It is important to have character development and plot building, but the ending can make or break the entire story. It can make the reader feel joy, sadness, triumphant, or even a little smarter, but it should do just that: make them feel something. I know that the author has succeeded in this goal when I finish a book with a wide eyed expression, a smile on my face, or even tears in my eyes. This is what every author wants to accomplish, and I believe that a well-crafted ending is the key.
I recently finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With the cultural vampire craze, I figured it would be interesting to see where it all started. I thought the book was fantastic, until I got to the end. I had to purposely put the book down at night because it freaked me out, I was on the edge of my seat in suspense, and I was curious as to how and why this character had become such an icon of horror in pop culture. As I was nearing the end, the action was ramping up, and I assumed I was about to witness the ultimate showdown between good and evil, Van Helsing and Dracula (exciting, right?!), but no. Out of about a 350 page story, the ending took two of those pages. It was EXCITING, EXCITING, EXCITING…badum-bum, the end. What?! NO! The ending was what I had expected, but it was lack-luster at best!
In an ending, we instinctively root for the good guy, the underdog, to win against an uncommon foe. If the hero is killed and evil triumphs, what’s the point of having gone through the whole story? Think of your favorite story. What is the best part of it? I will bet that it is the ending when the hero beats the villain, the guy gets the girl, or when the motley crew of unlikely heroes band together to save the day. Even if the ending is sad or unexpected, it can still be good: Nicholas Sparks, anyone?
A “good ending” may be hard to actually define, but as a reader, I just seem to know when it’s right: the ending fits the theme of the book. I can think of two popular examples off the top of my head: Harry Potter and 1984. In the Harry Potter series, though the ending is an emotional roller coaster, it fits with the overall theme of the books: a young and unlikely hero is marked as the only one who can defeat the most evil of enemies. I will not go into any further details or ruin the ending, because I love people too much to do such a thing, but for those who have read it, you will agree with me.
Now, 1984 presents a whole different beast. The ending is shocking. If ever there was a story that I was expecting to end one way that did not, it was this one. Though the whole book seeks to serve as a public service announcement for the world to wake up to what our future could quite possibly turn into, I still wanted good to ultimately triumph. It does not. He does not. In this case, I did not feel that comforting sense of closure that comes when finishing a story that wraps itself up well. I am sure there are debates as to whether 1984 has an appropriate ending for its general message, but I was left almost disoriented with the abrupt and surprising end. It stands out in my memory for this reason.
Dear writers, I am a firm believer in the power of a good ending to make or break the entire story.
You must take your time to craft the ending, because the readers can tell if it is hurried, or even if you do not know how to end it and drag it out for three extra chapters. Endings can be tricky, and I give major kudos to those writers who can leave readers feeling any sort of emotion at the end. The feeling of “well, I guess that’s over” is not one that a writer wants to elicit from their reader.
Try writing a basic ending for your plot line and then writing the events of the story that will lead up to it, which obviously can be changed and molded as new ideas form. I have tried this when brainstorming story ideas and it is almost like running a race: you have a goal and you know where the finish line is, now you just have to do the work to get there.
One of the many freedoms that come with finishing school is that no one forces you to read anymore. Some unfortunate people decide that this will be the last time they ever pick up a book, but for the rest of us, this means that we finally have a say in what we invest our time in. Reading can now be purely for enjoyment! A fantastic concept! Now, there can be no doubt that some of the texts that were forced upon us as students were good, solid literature that could be used to teach lessons or even just to instill a passion for literature. For some it succeeded and some it failed. On the other hand, I think every single person who has gone through a high school English class can think of a book or two that they wanted to throw out the window and never look at again. It is because of these books that some people never want to read again.
Obviously, individuals have different things that they do and do not want to read about. I do not envy teachers for having to pick a reading list, especially when there is bound to be at least one unenthusiastic student out there somewhere. Literature lovers are either made or destroyed because of mandatory reading requirements. No one likes to be told what to do.
Thankfully, we can put that dark time behind us, and forge into territory where we can choose which literary path we take. There are so many books and different types of literature out there that someone who seeks it can never be at a loss for something good, something they like. And, when you find a bad one, toss it! Life is too short to read things we don’t want to. We all got our fair share in high school; it is time to take the reins!
With this newfound freedom, it is important to try many different genres. Stick your toe into different pools and see which ones are the perfect temperatures. Just how different people can handle different levels of spice in their foods, different people are attracted to certain genres and not to others; your brother’s favorite book in the whole world might be extremely dull or distasteful to you, just as yours may be just as boring for him. There is beauty in owning your choice of literature and being proud of it! I personally love both science fiction as well as classic British literature. I am not afraid to try other books, but I know that there are very few in those genres that will disappoint me. I am aware of my interests.
I once promised myself that if I picked up a book, I would make sure I finished it. After slogging through a couple of clunkers, I realized that rather than drawing me in, these books were pushing me away from wanting to read. Everyone loves when they have a book where they can’t wait for the next available moment to crack it open again, and you are excited when you have more than ten minutes to devote to it. Though it is unrealistic to think that every single book you ever read is going to keep you on the edge of your seat, it is worth trying, because the exhilaration of knowing that the story is going to captivate you is something unique and should never be passed up, just because a silly promise you made to yourself (probably while in the middle of some great book that you didn’t want to end).
With jobs, family, and a countless number of responsibilities and things that pull on our time, the book that we choose to stay up an extra half hour at night for (though we may regret it in the morning) should be exhilarating and stimulating, rather than just another drain on our energy. We should look forward to reading before bed to relax, and even the thought of a whole afternoon of reading should be a great thing, rather than a chore. I’ve had this experience as well. I look at the book I am reading and say “oh, great”. Where is the joy in that?
I say that now is the time to take our freedom and use it. I say that you owe it to yourself to find the literature that you can engage in, and read like it is the last book you will ever see! Only you know what you will like, not your 11th grade teacher, so now that you can all make your own choices, it is time to be selfish and read to your heart’s content, because that’s what literature should do: make your heart content.
Just like art, which finds different mediums and different meanings for each person, generating ideas for a written piece can be varied. While some people consider contemporary art forms to be more of an eyesore than actual art, many people today would rather go to the local contemporary museum than an old building featuring pieces older than their great, great, great grandmother does.
In the same way, one way of generating an idea may produce little result for one person while the same method may have another writer overflowing with ideas. This just proves that we as humans are all created differently; different tools produce different results for each of us. With that being said, I want to explore one method that has continuously, and sometimes painfully worked for me: stream of conscious writing.
When taken literally, stream of conscious writing is just that: your conscious thoughts streaming out of your head and down onto the paper. When your third grade teacher told you that you had to write for seven minutes without picking up your pencil, you probably just wrote, “I don’t care, this is stupid, why do I have to do this? I’d rather be doing anything else than this, like going on a roller coaster, or eating pizza, or maybe even both at once. What if they let you eat pizza on a roller coaster? They would have to invent something so that all the toppings wouldn’t fly off when you went down the hill…” and boom, your teacher just forced you to write in stream of conscious and you have created the next step in the evolution of theme parks. Who knew third grade could be so valuable in later life?
As a kid, it seems fun to write out the stupidest things that you can, just to fulfill the continuous writing requirement of the exercise. As adults, trying to continually write is a far more difficult challenge. We seem to have developed an internal voice along the way that says “wow, why would you even say that?” or “what kind of stupid idea is that!?” and suddenly the pencil stops and you're stuck on how bad a writer you are. This voice needs to be turned off, and fast, if this method for generating ideas is going to have any type of success. The point of stream of conscious writing is to create a flow of words and ideas, even if they have to be forced at first and even if they seem silly.
You are not trying to write the next literary masterpiece on your scrap piece of paper, and don’t even expect yourself to, because that’s just setting yourself up for failure. This kind of writing offers you the most freedom, so use it to be creative rather than box yourself in with expectations. You could use only bullet points, doodle sketches, don’t even write in the lines, or even a combination of all three! This is the one space where there are no rules, and you are writing for you and only you.
There comes a time in this process when you have written and written and in a moment, it clicks. All of a sudden, it becomes impossible to put your pen down for fear of not writing down one of the brilliant thoughts that are now flowing endlessly. Our minds have become so used to beginning to work when we are holding something in our writing hand (thanks for that habit, grade school!) but in this case, the movement seems to act as a trigger for our mind. It is a beautiful thing when you go from zero to 100 thoughts a second!
For a frustratingly good example of stream of conscious writing, pick up a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road: The Original Scroll. It is a grammar stickler’s nightmare, but Kerouac is never hindered by the conventions of chapter breaks or even paragraph indentations. These normal rules hinder the true flow of his mind, because humans don’t think in paragraphs and chapters. The whole book is just like reading a print out of his brain, and it’s extraordinary.
No one is saying that your piece has to completely ignore every single rule and convention of proper English style guides, but this method can give you clues as to how you think. Sometimes writing about whatever pops into your mind can lead to great ideas, and sometimes not, but you should never discount an idea right after it forms. Take time to write it out and then decide whether it is worth pursuing. This is a great way to form multiple ideas as well. I once began an idea generating session by writing out the words “I have no idea what to write about, but I know I want to write about something,” and after about 30 minutes, I had three full pages of an idea written out. I could track my process and then later go back and add details or edit my initial ideas, but it was all there on the page.
This form of writing can be frustrating or scary, because sometimes nothing comes, and then when it does, it sounds awful. My advice is to write about anything and everything you can think of: how your day has been, describe the room you are in, what is it about your best friend that you like so much? Also, don’t be discouraged if you seem to be at a loss, great works don’t happen overnight. If every writer were judged on their beginning ideas, the world would have a lot less books, so don’t be afraid to try out all of your crazy or seemingly boring ideas, and let those words flow!
I hope you will be surprised as to where your own unleashed thoughts can lead you!
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