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.