Monday, July 8, 2013

Streaming Notebooks

In September last year, I mentioned an experiment where I’d asked a handful of writers to join with me and undertake a creative writing technique, called Morning Pages, to see if it boosted a writer’s creativity. (You’ll be able to read about in more detail in a future issue of Writers’ Forum magazine.) The post explained Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages technique where she encourages writers to wake up and before doing anything else, write three pages of anything that enters your head, to clear it ready for a day of productive writing, whilst also capturing any ideas that you might have had overnight. (You can read the post in question here:

The idea of such stream-of-consciousness writing is that you don’t evaluate what you write, you simply write, and when you’ve written your three pages, then you review and see what’s there. Hopefully, you’ll discover some little gems of ideas for you to develop.

However, this stream-of-consciousness writing technique is not just for first thing in the morning. I’ve had a couple of projects recently where I’ve got stuck and not known what to write next. One was a novel, one an article and one a short story. So I simply picked up my notebook and just started writing. Why am I stuck? What is it that isn’t flowing? Why can’t I get going again? What is missing? By asking (and writing down) a series of questions, I then began answering them - simply jotting down any answers my brain came up with - and every time a solution became apparent. I literally wrote my way out of the problem. When you begin writing Perhaps I should … or what about if I … and what would happen to X if I let Y do this? you might surprise yourself with the answers that flow from your pen. Particularly with the novel, thoughts came to me that tied up neatly other aspects of the novel. And with the article, I realised that a whole different structure was needed. Sometimes, this stream of consciousness writing reveals what our subconscious has been thinking.

I found that my answers usually came to me after about ten minutes of writing. Once I had those answers I stopped and got on with my projects. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself doing this more and more. If I get stuck, or the words just don’t flow, I pick up my notebook and start writing, simply putting my thoughts down on paper. When the answers arrive, I go back to my projects and continue. I don’t write three pages - I write enough to get me going again.

I still do Julia Cameron’s Three Pages technique many mornings a week (not every morning, though). One of the criticisms of the technique is that the goal is three pages - you have to keep going until you have written three pages, which isn’t always easy. Sometimes I’ve felt that after two pages I’ve cleared my head and solved some problems for the day. As a technique, though, it generally works well for me. But looking back now, I can see how I’ve also adapted it to suit my needs during the day, too. If I get stuck, I start writing about my problem, and then, somehow, capturing these thoughts writes me out of the difficulty.

Next time you find yourself getting stuck, pick up a pen and some paper and write. Ask yourself what the problem is. Write down why you feel something isn’t working. You might be surprised what you end up writing. And when you’ve found your solution, go back to your project and use it right away - whilst the excitement of having that solution is still within you. 

Good luck.