Even writers disagree about what the process of writing should be, but the truth is, it isn’t always visible, it isn’t always solitary, and it isn’t always focused.
One NLP workshop method, for instance, involves taking a leisurely, unfocused half-hour walk and noticing what happens to interest you—at the mall, outdoors in your own neighborhood, or in a different setting entirely. It’s like window-shopping. Then jot the three or four items down that drew your attention the most.
Then later take a look at those items to intuit what they have in common. Those items are linked to what was on your own largely unconscious mind right then. If you are in the middle of writing a book or article, they can provide insight into what you want to say or how you might go about saying it.
Meditating also means not thinking about the matter at hand, but letting it go instead. This kind of unfocused time is not only healing, but helps you connect to the collective unconscious. Sometimes, ideas you didn’t know you had will surface later.
Putting something down on paper doesn’t have to start at your computer, either. You can carry a tiny recorder walking along the shore and just talk your ideas into it. On Cape Cod and on Anna Maria Island when I’ve been there on working vacations, there have always been others doing the same thing I was doing there in the same way—working on a manuscript.
And the first draft is just that—the first draft. As it happens, Peter Drucker, the prolific business writer, even called the initial attempts the “zero draft.” After that one, you can start counting, he advised. In between, try hitting a tennis ball against the wall or some other repetitive action that doesn’t need conscious thinking—biking, swimming, jogging--while coming up intuitively with places in your manuscript where you might want to make changes. Your mind will remember these even though you aren’t behind the desk, and often they will be fresher and more innovative.
Starting at the beginning? Not necessary. Just start where your mind takes you. Even before moving paragraphs around was easy, writers used this tactic to get started. And sometimes writers don’t know until they are into the topic what they actually want to say about it, and it comes as a wonderful surprise.
Sure, editing, interviewing, researching, and reporting require other skills and time, and they are definitely part of the book or article you want to complete. But what most people think of as "writing"--getting the words down the way you mean them--is different. And for most people, it is the most daunting part of the equation.
There have been days when guests wondered if the writing process was underway here because, they said, there aren’t any outlines on my desk. But if you see me browsing at Lord and Taylor, watching the waterfall at the Glen, or having tea and an apricot pastry at Nosh, it’s probably because the outline is in my mind and I’m at a place where I want to get unfocused.
Linda Chalmer Zemel is the Buffalo Books Examiner and the Buffalo Alternative Medicine Examiner for Examiner.com. She teaches media writing at SUNY Buffalo State College. She has taught Adolescent Education in the Graduate School of Education at Medaille College and the Practicum Course for prospective English teachers at Daemen College. Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org