On Writing Freely and ‘NaNoWriMo’

Holding pen

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.

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10 Responses to On Writing Freely and ‘NaNoWriMo’

  1. I’m struggling with NaNoWriMo this year. In previous years, the words have flowed far more freely and I’ve usually been well ahead of schedule. Now I’m stuck in the trap of thinking too much and re-reading what I’ve already written. You’ve inspired me to STOP it. Tomorrow, I’m going to start where I left off and I am NOT going to reread or edit or worry too much… That’s the plan, anyway.

    • earthoak says:

      That’s great to hear – good luck with your writing! The hardest part is often just starting again – but once the words start flowing it gets a bit easier.

  2. Orchid says:

    I loved this. Thanks for sharing.
    I have kept some of my children’s early written pieces of work and they are just so enchanting to read! I can almost picture them back at that exact moment in time, even their little facial expressions! Something I don’t think would’ve been captured if it was on PC.
    In fact much of the advice regarding early years writing is similar to what you’ve spoken about- to let them write anything that comes to mind, don’t worry about grammar etc just let their little minds unleash….

    Looking forward to birds and freedom article, soon I hope:)

    • earthoak says:

      Thanks for your comment, Orchid. Ah that’s an interesting thought! That handwritten works not only help release our personality on the page more effectively, you can actually see the emotions in the flow of the script! It reminds me of Lexicographers, whose skills in deciphering information about a person from the way they write is fascinating.
      Perhaps we should all keep up with the advice from those early years a bit more, no matter our age….but as long as your children are still writing, even by typing, that’s a good thing I suppose!

  3. moo says:

    Thank you for sharing! It’s so true that we constantly reread, and carefully craft our typed words. I didn’t realise that it does affect the flow of ideas/creativity.
    When I had a writing assignment and was at a complete dead end, my friend advised that I change my environment and step away from the writing. Then, before starting on writing again, take a pen and paper (as you said!) and just write whatever that comes to mind for 10 mins. It was hard at first, because we tend to want to write paragraphs that put forward a specific argument. This exercise taught me to just let ideas flow and then, I can revisit it to expand.

    Now Im excited to check out NaNoWriMo and I also look forward to your post on birds!!

    • earthoak says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting Moo:) Yes I agree, that’s the hard part. I think we must lose a lot of original ideas when we structure things from the start. I like your friend’s suggestion to write for short bursts, like 10 mins. I think I will try that!

  4. Lindsay says:

    How strange – I sat down this evening for the first time in ages with a notebook and pen to do just this, instead of staring at a screen. Came on twitter (to arse about for a bit) and this blog was calling out to me! I agree there is something immediate about the old fashioned way. It feels like reconnecting with your thoughts on a different level to typing. Possibly the feeling that there will never be any pressure to ‘publish’ something scribbled in a book in the way there is with digital words on screen, so it is a safer place to form your ideas. Who knows. (Still yet to write a book, but it will happen, one day)

    • Earthoak says:

      What a happy coincidence! I’m glad you felt the post resonated with your own experience. That’s very true, it does remove the pressure, doesn’t it? As for the book, absolutely, never give up on your dreams, I hope you see your work published before long.

  5. Thanks to you, I tried ‘write invisible’ and it felt freeing to not see my words, my focus was on the one task and it made writing 500 words possible in a sort span of time. I also was intrigued to check my email and see the end result. This tool has come at the right time or me, I have lots of writing to do and when I get writers block, this will help me to get back into writing again. Lastly I will add writing with pen and paper to my techniques of helping me get my ideas and thoughts out. Sometimes its the simple things like getting pen to paper that can make the biggest difference to ones own progress. I love your blog, keep it up please. 🙂

    • Earthoak says:

      Thanks so much for the feedback and kind words. I’m so happy to hear that this tool worked well for you! I agree, it’s a good feeling getting to see your writing sent to you via email and reading it for the first time since you wrote it. Good luck with your writing and thanks for visiting! 🙂

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