#FirstDraft60 Day 14 — Don’t Think. Just Write.
One of the hardest parts of marathon writing—what we’re going to attempt to do starting October 1—is shutting off the analytical side of our brains and allowing the creative side free rein as we’re composing our first draft.
When I was under contract, I was really bad about not keeping to a daily word-count goal and letting that deadline creep closer and closer and closer—until I was mere weeks (or days) from deadline with tens of thousands of words left to write to complete the story. I never thought I’d be pulling all-nighters well into my late thirties and early forties, but there were several while I was in the throes of getting those manuscripts completed to turn in by deadline. And you know what? During those panic-filled, marathon-length writing sessions, I wrote some of my favorite scenes in those books. Because when I have thirty thousand words to write in just a couple of weeks, panic and adrenaline allow the the right side of my brain to take over and shut down any self-doubt or criticism that comes from that left-side inner editor/critic.
In other words . . .
Don’t think. Just write.
Try to shut off the left side of your brain when writing. When you’re writing you want to tap into your creativity—the right side of the brain.
The more we learn about craft, the harder it gets to write. That’s because learning about craft strengthens the left side of the brain. And that’s a good thing. Really, it is—except for when you’re trying to get your first draft finished.
And that’s one of the reasons I’m talking about this now, in the middle of doing our prep work for our story.
The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.
–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
The left side of the brain is the self-analyst, the self-critic, the self-doubter, the little voice that says you’re not good enough, not talented enough, and that you’ll never be able to write the story the way you see it in your head. This is the side you want in charge after you finish the first draft when it’s time to edit and revise. This side isn’t very helpful when it comes to writing the first draft.
The right side is the creative side. The side that wants to make believe and play and laugh and spin around the room until we’re dizzy. This is the side of the brain we need to tap into when writing that first draft. We don’t need to analyze. We just need to tell a story. In writing.
In the creative act we can experience the same freedom we know in dreams. This happens as I write a story. I am bound by neither time nor space. I know those distant galaxies to which Meg Murray went with Charles Wallace and Calvin. But this freedom comes only when, as in a dream, I do not feel that I have to dictate and control what happens. I dream, sometimes, that I am in a beautiful white city I have never seen in real life, but I believe in it. When we are writing . . . we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions and opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize.
–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
Imagination gives us the ability to distance ourselves from oppression or stress. Over the past twenty years, multiple studies have been conducted on the efficacy of creative writing as therapy (the emphasis being on creative). Results have shown that college students’ test scores increased an average of about one letter-grade; blood pressure and heart rate can decrease; it can improve immune function and reduce the rate of minor illnesses such as colds and flu; it can reduce psychological distress over a traumatic experience by reducing “intrusive” thoughts about the event; and so on.
I know very little about how this story was born. That is, I don’t know where the pictures came from. And I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he ‘makes things up.’ Making up is a very mysterious thing. When you ‘have an idea,’ could you tell anyone exactly how you thought of it?
–C.S. Lewis, qtd. in The Christian Imagination
Where does inspiration come from? Well, in Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle wrote that inspiration “far more often comes during the work than before it.”
Have you ever used an old-fashioned water pump? If it hasn’t been used in quite a while, you’re going to have to work long and hard to get anything out of it. But if it’s used regularly—every day—when you go to it wanting a drink of water, the pump is already primed. The water is right there, waiting to pour out.
Inspiration comes when we prime the creative pump. It is not thinking about a final product that gives us inspiration. What gives us inspiration is what leads us to write in the first place: the joy we take in imagination and creativity. When we are in the creative process and inspiration hits, everything else falls away. We lose track of time; we’re deaf to anything going on around us; nothing fills us with more joy than creating a story from our imagination. Or, as Gordon Dickson put it, we “fall through the words into the story.” That’s using the right side of the brain.
When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.
But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work, getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily. . . .
We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it. . . .
Inspiration comes much more often during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.
–Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
What you’ve been doing for the past two weeks—adding details to your Story Bible, casting your characters, writing out character backstories—is imaginative, creative work. There is no right or wrong when you’re imagining, when you’re making something up. You know that what you’re doing right now is flexible and easily changed later on down the road.
And that’s the feeling that you need to carry through with you into the writing portion of this sixty-day challenge. Just because you’re writing something down in your story doesn’t mean it’s permanent. It can always be changed later, in the revision process after you complete the full draft and you know the whole story. But until then, remember the feelings that you have now—the feelings of being a child and turning to your best friend and saying, “Let’s pretend . . .”
Time for you to do some left-brain work:
|Writing (try longhand)||Trying to find the “right word”|
|Character casting||Trying to figure out how to show what emotion the character is experiencing rather than tell it|
|“What If-ing”||Trying to figure out how to do an action/introspection tag instead of using “said.”|
|“Listening to the voices”||Trying to apply GMC to every single scene before writing it.|
Assignment: What are some other activities you can add to the “Creative” column that will help you in preparing to write your story? What are some other “Analytical” activities you are doing that are hindering you from being able to have fun and be imaginative in creating your characters and brainstorming ideas for your story?
L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.
Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1994. Print.
Ryken, Leland (Ed.). The Christian Imagination. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2002. Print.
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