I don’t usually write articles about writing, but there is something about writing that I’d like to share with you. It’s something that I don’t see often on the internet, but I think it’s worth discussing, not just as an interesting topic, but also as a motivator for those who find it hard to get a spark for writing.
Writing is an improvisation. The process of writing is, in many ways, a mystery to me. All I really know is that I just start writing about a topic and I keep typing to see what comes out. I honestly don’t know where I’m going when I start, but I’m usually surprised at what comes out when I’m done. I’m merciful, so I try to stop around 1000 words.
One thing that I try to do is write on an empty mind. This is why I like to write first thing in the morning. No TV, no social media, not even an article to read. I don’t want any outside influence. I just to pick a topic and write about it until I’m empty. In many ways, art, the act of creation, is about conjuring up something from nothing. If nature abhors a vacuum, art is proof of that.
I am reminded of Paul McCartney (some people call him Macca), former Beatle and insatiable musician, and his story about how he came to write the song, “Yesterday”. I’ve seen him in more than one interview recount the story of how it came to him in a dream. And when he woke up, he wrote down the melody. Shortly after that, he had a good rough draft of a song. He saw a spark and went with it to write one of the most played songs on radio in history.
That’s what an artist does. An artist takes something little and uses it for inspiration for his next project. I know this because all day long, if I’m listening carefully, I can hear ideas for articles flitting about in my mind. In a sense, I can literally pick ideas out of the air, note them down and write them the next day.
One other thing that happens to me is that I find myself writing articles in my head around 2 or 3 am. Sometimes I get so excited about the idea that I get up at 4 instead of 5 to start writing. I’ll start the draft to write the idea down and then do my gratitude list and burn through my morning page just to get to the article.
When I’m writing, I’m making it up as I go. I’m writing as fast as I can. I make sure my inner censors and critics are busy with something else. I give them crayons and coloring books. I give them something to read. But whatever I write, I write it, edit it and publish it before any censor or critic has a chance to stop me.
The thing that I love about writing the most is the state of mind I get into when I write. It’s kind of a meditation. I am in a state of peace and joy when I write. I hit something like bliss when something shows up on the screen that surprises me. I’ve been writing long enough to have those surprises show up often now.
When those surprises come, I think of the old Warner Bros. cartoons where we see a small mushroom cloud spouting out the top of someone’s head, but for me, in pleasant surprise, not anger. That’s me, blowing my own mind. I write to blow your mind, too. That is bliss to me.
And all of that is improvisation. I don’t really “plan” my articles, though I’ve seen articles pop up during bouts of exercise. I’ve planned an article while playing ping pong with my wife. I can clearly recall reciting the main points in my head while playing and then getting to the computer to write them down after I’m done playing. I was improvising, to say the least.
I love improvising while writing. It’s completely private as I’m here, on my computer, writing in the dark while everyone else sleeps. I’m sort of a sentinel in that way. I mind the house while I’m writing. I’m available to assist sleep-challenged kids when I write, and I know how to get them back to sleep when they need my help.
I don’t worry about making mistakes when I write, too. I mean, I edit my work, and I do the best I can, sure. But I don’t worry too much about mistakes. That’s because I’ve been trained not to. Years ago, I took an acting class, it was a long running improvisation class, kind of along the lines of that TV show, “Who’s Line Is It, Anyway?” And I learned something from my teacher, Chris Berube, that I will never forget.
Chris would call for three people to get on stage and he’d work with us to set up the scene. And he’d shout:
“Where are they?”
“What are they doing?”
“How are they related?”
And he’d add one more thing:
“Don’t worry about making mistakes! Next week, no one will remember!”
I carry that with me everywhere, even when I’m not writing. Even this morning. There are a lot of people who are afraid of writing. They even hate writing. I think those people are worried about making a mistake while writing and that someone else might read it.
Well, from that improvisation class, I met a stand up comic who taught stand up comedy. He taught me this:
“You learn more when you bomb than when you get the laughs.”
I’ve made mistakes writing and I learned from them. I also survived my own mistakes. This article is evidence of my survival. “Yoohoo! I’m still here!”
There are many writers that I admire. But if they’re anything like me, they also know this, to paraphrase a long lost meme:
“The older I get, the more I realize that everyone else is just winging it.”
It isn’t just writing that is an improvisation to me. Life is an improvisation, too. I just do the best I can with what is in front of me and take the next indicated step. I comport myself in such a way that I can sleep at night, and that makes it easy for me to wing it.
So if you’d like to write, but don’t know how, wing it. Improvise. Just keep writing until something begins to make sense. You might be surprised to see what you can lay down on the page. That’s what I do.