Keep Writing!

Students who started the Keep Writing course last week will now be on their sixth day of drumming up two daily pages of raw material. Me too. We’ll find out tomorrow how we’re all getting on, but in the meantime I’d like to post a reminder of why we’re doing this. The aim of the course is to instil the writing habit. The message is: if you want to write, write. That’s it. The process can’t depend on you being in the mood or waiting for a jolt of inspiration. You need to train yourself to write every day, conditioning your mind to come up with the words when you need them.

People new to writing often give up because they expect too much of themselves. They finish a session, read over the work and find it’s just a shadow of what they were thinking at the outset, or bears no relation to their intention at all. They lose heart because they think they’ve failed to achieve what they set out to do. But writers are only partly in rational control of the material they write: the subconscious should be allowed to come into play. When writing first-draft material or just doodling, relax and go where the mind takes you. It’s ok to start with an idea or fixed intention, but accept what emerges. Don’t bin it. After some time has passed you can look at what you’ve produced on its own terms and shape it and put some form on it then.

Over the years I’ve noticed that many students write stronger material in class exercises than they do in their homework assignments. Maybe that’s because the pressure is off in class; it’s only a bit of fun for five minutes so all their big ideas, hang-ups, overworked tics and mannerisms are left at the door. Their mind is free to get silly, weird, or they just write more honestly because they feel free from worrying about what other people will think. It’s only an exercise so what does it matter? Ironically, this freedom often leads to writing that is much more imaginative and more fluently expressed than any of their ‘considered’ work. Unfortunately, most of the time they don’t see this. The exercise only took five minutes so they think the results are worthless, and that’s a mistake. The fact is, the class exercise is the experience that should be replicated in your writing space, away from the classroom.

So, two pages a day or the equivalent ‒say three or four hundred words. That’s all. Write about your day. Write about the people you’ve spoken to. Write about a memory. Write about these things in the third person. Make some of it up. Start with a character and make it all up. You can write in the morning, the afternoon or last thing at night. You can use a notebook, or start a blog, or use a web resource like this: http://750words.com/. Whatever the medium, write in it every day and fill it with images, snatches of dialogue, thoughts, observations, epiphanies, plots, character details – all the things that kickstart more polished work. Yes, you have to find time to do that too, but not every day. For now, stockpile the raw material. The only rule is to write every day.  

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16 comments

  1. Irene Lebeter · · Reply

    Hi David, It’s Irene Lebeter, or Catherine to be formal. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing my two pages a day. The first few days I felt I wrote nonsense, whatever came out but over the last three days I’ve found myself churning out a story, or part of a story. I haven’t looked at them or edited them but today, Wednesday, I will underline the pieces I like best. Have also done my 1,200 from our profile of our partner – great fun. I spoke to Mhairi last night and she has enjoyed the experience too.

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s class.

    Cheers.

    1. Good news Irene – keep it going!

  2. I agree with Catherine, it’s amazing how the subconscious just pours out. I must admit it has been pretty hard to do it as my mind is quite tired from trying to finish off my degree work (finishes next Friday yippee!) For some reason last thing at night seems to be the time for me, I guess with it being the time when the world is asleep is when my mind is ferociously active. Tonight i’ll be writing my character profile and choosing the book I am going to read!

    See you tomorrow,

    Heather

    1. Heather, I think you’ve hit on something that’s maybe harder to find than just the time – the energy! But you’ve found it so well done. It’s all part of the discipline.

  3. Alien Species · · Reply

    Excellent adice oh sage one!

    1. Thank you Alien. Surely I’m still a little young for sage status, but I appreciate the compliment 😉

  4. robina fisher · · Reply

    Doing the best to write two items per days, tally so far 6 not quite two a day. I do use the class exercises and transfer them on to my computer. Some I have developed and some are waiting in the wings. Also assignments from previous two classes have been tweaked and I can see much improvement from the start of my ‘writing’ in October last year. I really love when I feel I have created something, and find writing a great way of expressing thoughts and feelings..

    1. I think it’s a good idea to use the class exercises Robina – every word counts and it’s great to hear you are getting so much back from your writing.

  5. Sheila here!
    I’ve done it and not looked back or edited… still to decide what few lines to read. It was easier some days than others but probably a good habit!

    1. That’s great Sheila. Yes, some days it will be harder but developing a good habit is always better than persisting with a bad one … like not writing. Keep going!

  6. janette martin · · Reply

    Hi David
    Found 2 pages for first few days were difficult and uninspiring then on third day a story appeared and finished next day. Really hard not to re read or edit but did it.
    Have called this exercise ” Daily grind “and intend to try and keep it up! Lots of inspiration
    Here in and around the beaches of Bamburgh. Will be back at tthe class next Thursday.
    Janette

    1. Well done Janette. Look forward to seeing you on Thursday and hearing how the second week of daily writing has gone.

  7. John Keogh · · Reply

    hi david very impressed with the class so far. enjoying the challenge of the two pages a day, pushing the creative juices and watching an idea you didnt know you had come alive on the page

    1. Thanks John – great to hear the course is helping and you’re exactly right – it’s all about finding the hidden stuff we don’t realise is there.

  8. thanks David, having been a Primary one teacher am a great one for consaaaawlidation! just the right thing to read to keep you going. logged into 750 words dot com last night and have just completed my second slot of 750 words. have done it at a different time of day as well and am beginning to think more in the line of finding time to write. I was encouraged by my one page wonder yesterday as it was “What I am thinking about – cats” and I was just going to do a wee wandering thought of what I thought of…cats but then remembered you wanted us to think more in a story type genre so started my page with dialogue “The cats are back” and the next thing I had a picture of someone looking out a window and a dialogue of the wife being too busy to look so ended really enjoying myself and the story sort of writing itself! good fun best get on all the same!

  9. hi David just to say have completed five days in a row now, on About a little thing caled 750 words and have written over 1500 words, got an egg, a turkey and a penguin now and am well pleased! but better get to bed all the same!

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