Writing in my head

August 5th, 2013

I can’t speak to anyone else’s writing style or ability, but I can speak to mine. So that’s what I’m going to do.

My internal monologue is constantly writing. As I shop, as I do the dishes, as I try to fall sleep at night, if I’m not listening to a podcast or an audio book, I’m thinking. Often times, that thinking is in the form of writing.

This flow of ideas take on words in my mind and flow together seamlessly. Allowing my mind the freedom to create offers an ideal environment for content generation. But this is really only pseudo writing.

There is a lot of friction when it comes to actually committing these words and ideas to paper.

Usually, when I am my most creative it is not an ideal time to be writing. Maybe I’m in the grocery store or maybe I’m suppose to be falling asleep. Whipping out a laptop or notebook to write a few pages is never very convenient or productive toward my current task or context.

There’s a formality of actually putting your ideas down on paper. Creating context so that the concepts make sense can be a barrier. Often times writing down what is in my head so that it is coherent enough to be a well formed and thought out argument will completely change my intended message or content.

Sitting down at a keyboard is daunting. Opening up a blank page can be very scary for a perfectionist. What happens if what I type isn’t any good? What if I make a mistake while writing in my notepad? These are really stupid concerns, but they are very real obstacles for “authors” like myself.

Personally, I like writing in my head, but things always sound better the first time through. When I practice something, or start over from the beginning (even in my head) I am never as happy with the way things sound the second time through. It’s not always that the first draft was terrible, but that the first draft was un-repeatable. As I repeat it in my head or as I type on the page my wording changes. My sentence structure is different. My inflection is different. I am using different words. It just isn’t the same.

Other times I think about a topic and re-write it in my head a few times and by the time I am ready to put it on paper I am tired of thinking about it. It’s old news. It’s not new and exciting anymore. I’ve converted science into manufacturing.

So what about solutions?

So far all I’ve done is explain how hopelessly terrible I am at this writing stuff. What can be done about it?

It should be noted that my advice at this point is mostly from others who have experience with similar mental blocks. I don’t take credit for inventing any of these ideas, but I have started using some of them and they work for me.

Stop being concerned about quality. If your writing is terrible, don’t show it to anyone, but don’t let that stop you from writing. You won’t get any better at something by not doing it. They say that imagining yourself shooting free-throws can be almost as helpful as physically practicing them, but if you want to play basketball you better get out on the court.

Plan revisions. I’m as guilty as anyone else about publishing first drafts. This blog is mostly first drafts, though I am working to change that. Take time away from your work and then come back to it and re-read it. See if things still sound okay to you a week later. If so, pass them along to a trusted friend, see if they have some helpful criticism for you.

Set aside a “writing place.” Some people take this to an extreme, but segmenting your actions physically can be extremely helpful at times. Your brain associates actions and locations in interesting ways. When I am at my desktop I have a very hard time focusing on things like writing because my desktop is where I go to surf the internet, play video games, work on various tech projects. It seems obvious, but if you don’t want to be distracted, go to a place without distractions.

Like many young people these days, I struggle with fear of missing out. FOMO is a whole masters degree unto itself, but it is a barrier when it comes to my writing. I have found that I can be pretty productive if I silence my phone, turn off wifi, and digitally isolate myself from the continuous stream of update noise.

Take notes. I never learned to take notes in high school or college. I remembered what I needed to know for the test and that was that. With everything I’m trying to do these days I would be lost without a todo app and Evernote. When I get an idea for a blog post I will now write down the idea and then force myself to not think about it until I have time to actually write. This is important for me, because if I don’t write enough down I won’t remember what I wanted to write about and my idea won’t make sense a few days from now. If I think about the topic too much I might exhaust my energy on the matter and never actually get around to writing about it.

Write often. The most common advice from any creative type is to get out and do stuff. Even if it’s not that great. You don’t get better at running by jogging once every two months.

So those are my tricks for being “productive” in the writing world. Nothing monumental, but good to refresh your memory on these things from time to time.

What tips and tricks do you use to stay on task?