Keep the Pen Moving

I have a fresh, blank document opened on my laptop. I have turned off my internet connection and my mobile phone. I have fed Blenkinsop the cat, twice. I am not to be interrupted. I set my timer to thirty minutes * and enter the word gym, ready to develop my bum glue.

What do I write about?

The short answer is: anything I like.

The long answer is more helpful, but it is much longer, spreading out over several blog posts like a river bursting its banks, and it begins with taking a step back.

This series is entitled ‘Writing for Fun’ and that means you can write about whatever you want. What is important is the way in which you tackle the writing.

I’m going to make two suggestions. First: write non-stop. Second: don’t judge the quality of what you write.

Let’s look at that first suggestion of writing non-stop.

When I say write non-stop, I mean non-stop. If you’re using pen and paper then you keep the pen moving at all times. You don’t suck it or insert it in your ear and twiddle it while searching for the next word. If you are using a keyboard then keep those fingers tapping away and keep that cursor moving forwards. That’s right soldier, no retreating to change a word or stick in a cool phrase or delete a mistake. You misspelled a word. Forget about it. Attack the next word and advance the cursor.

You will be amazed by what happens when you try this approach. Having to keep the pen moving, or the fingers tapping, forces your mind to be creative. You come up with ideas you never knew you had inside you.

It also means you capture your first thoughts. We learn by experience that we should question our first thoughts. First thoughts might suggest that bungee jumping from the roof of your garden shed is a great idea. Second, third and fourth thoughts will tell you otherwise. However, when writing, your first thoughts often have an originality and raw creative energy that your more refined and respectable second, third and fourth thoughts lack.

“What happens if I dry up part way through the session?” I hear you ask.

You keep the pen moving. This might mean you write “What do I write next? I can’t think of anything. Blah. Blah. Blah. This is so boring. This is so fi,n smf dyi[jof and rats I’m hitting the wrong keys and I can’t go back and change stuff and I’m so frustrated and …” At this point, the writer’s head may explode, followed by the gentle patter of blood drip, drip, dripping on the keyboard, as bits of brain slide slowly down the screen covering up those annoying spelling mistakes.

If you dry up, the first thing to do is relax and stay calm. We are writing for fun, not to produce head-exploding anxiety attacks. Remember my second suggestion above: don’t judge the quality of what you write.

If you relax, you will find that fresh ideas and inspiration arrive. One thing I do when I dry up is to ask myself a simple question, something with a definite answer rather than anything philosophical or profound.

I tried it just now with a notepad and pen. “What am I having for dinner tonight? Beef burgers. I’m eating a cow. What’s my favorite cow? I like the French one that laughs on packets of cheese slices and the one that jumped over the moon in the nursery rhyme. When I was little we went on camping holidays in the Lake District and we stayed in a field next to a farm. I wandered about the farm and saw the cows in their stalls that smelled of cow poo and I saw them being milked.”

I’m off again writing and I could go on for hours about camping holidays and hill walking and playing cricket in a field where the ball would spin off cow pats. All these memories were sitting there inside my head, but they spilled out because I had to keep the pen moving.

I’ll give you some more tips in future blogs on how to keep writing if you dry up or can’t get started, but in my next blog I’ll be talking about my second suggestion: don’t judge the quality of what you write. I want to introduce you to your inner-critic who is like the school bully that beats you up from inside.

* I like to do thirty minute sessions of non-stop writing. When you’re first starting out with this, and you have the merest smear of bum glue holding you to your chair, it’s fine to do ten minutes and then build up gradually.

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