I am sure many people reading this know about NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, which is now apparently. In honour of this month a friend shared the following page: https://www.writeinvisible.com
This enables you to write up to 500 words without seeing a jot of what you’ve actually written… until you decide to submit it to yourself via email, when you can see what you’ve garbled together, typos and all. Since I’ve been struggling with writing – not for want of ideas, but more from a want of time and satisfaction with my writing – this seemed like a useful tool to me.
The point of the exercise, it seems, is that it takes away the temptation, or rather the tick, to keep going back and re-reading and editing what you’ve written…which thus means you never get further than 50 words in the space of two hours (if you’re lucky). When you can’t see what you’ve written, you can’t be dissatisfied with it!
And since you can see the words counting down, it motivates you to keep going to the end – there is a strange sense of achievement seeing the number of words you have left diminishing as you write. It’s the same concept as filling in those onerous online application forms with twenty boxes to get through, and which also have a word countdown, but which are so tedious and usually time-restricted that you want to fill them in as soon as possible and just hit submit to move on with your day.
Of course, this ‘writing invisible’ exercise is not meant to be tedious (and hasn’t been), but it is supposed to make you work faster without procrastinating or criticising every second sentence. And I have to say it works – at least, in terms of putting down 500 words in a space of a few minutes. I am not so sure about the quality of the writing…the two separate 500 word pieces that I have written so far are quite poor in content and style. I suppose the idea is that once you have at least put something down (usually the hardest bit) you can edit as much as you like which can be (though not always) easier.
I remember one of the best bits of advice I received when embarking on a very long, arduous writing project was to start off writing anything that came to mind and to not worry about the quality – because this process frees your brain from the usual structural and linguistic constraints when committing anything to paper that is supposed to be read by someone else, and instead allows it to focus on cultivating and expressing the ideas, even the mere kernel of one, so that it is does not float away never to be articulated or developed ever again. To write without worrying at all about the quality seems like an obvious idea, but to me back then it was revolutionary.
One of the things that inhibits this very process is the fact that we tend to now ‘type’ on a screen, rather than ‘write’ with our own script on paper. When I have experienced writers block, I have often resorted to old-school pen and paper, and miraculously found the ideas have started to flow again. At some point I will dig deeper to understand the neuroscience behind it, which I would love to know more about. Our brains are programmed to be incentivised by the successful completion of tasks – so the manual connection with pen, paper and ink and the personalised script that flows as a result surely signals achievement more effectively than the staccato manifestation of a rather impersonal script on an ubiquitous white screen. The flashing cursor, hurrying us to write the next sentence is subconsciously stressful, not helpful or encouraging, whereas a pen that patiently waits on a leaf of paper brims with possibility and is far more of an inducement to write. After all, how easy is it to ‘doodle’ on a computer? The answer is, it’s impossible, unless you have a fancy drawing pad attached to it. And yet give a person a pen and paper, how long would it take before doodles appear? The physicality of the pen and paper is a channel for creativity and ideas.
And yet, having said all this, I do also recognise that many times, I have started typing on screen and arguments I hadn’t previously known were there have slowly ’emerged’ and developed and been fine-tuned during the process. Seeing your ideas appear in a more professional form, looking as it might do if it was actually published, could also be an encouragement. When I was younger, and computers were scarce, that was part of the excitement of being allowed to type up your work on the one school PC that everyone had to take turns to use. Seeing your humble words typed up made you feel like a real writer or poet, which is itself a motivating factor I suppose.
Now, this was all meant to be a mere few words of introduction to what I originally wrote using the ‘Write Invisible’ tool…it has become far more expansive than I expected, which seems to be perfect evidence of the importance of just writing. Writing begets more writing – no, it might not all be that great, and goodness knows we don’t necessarily need more pointless word regurgitations in the world (I wholeheartedly include myself in that criticism). But if you, like me, need to write, being in a regular habit of writing without restraint will help us to craft the pieces that matter.
As for what I had written, which was on birds and freedom, I’ll save it for another blog post. This one has, quite miraculously, got quite long already. And maybe this topic is not entirely unconnected to birds and freedom…
If you have any writing tips and techniques, please do share. Very interested to know what routines and strategies others have.