6

The mental aspect of the physical act of writing is giving me some trouble recently. In other words - I think that I'm thinking too much as I'm writing and it seems to be interfering with my concentration and flow.

The thing is, I have a basic idea of what I want to write and how I'm going to accomplish that, but I keep getting extra input from my mind. It keeps telling me that what I'm writing is u, v and w and that I ought to be writing x, y and z (I'll not trouble your head with the details).

It's as if I have another person in the room (I don't - this isn't a metaphor) looking over my shoulder, reading my prose and offering suggestions all the time.

So my question is: how do I separate myself from my thinking about the story long enough for it to flow from me and yet still remain close enough to the story to retain a modicum of control over its direction?

Or, put more simply: how do I turn off my inner critic whilst writing?

Research: I found a nice question here: How to organize your ideas, how to keep reasonable when writing, which addresses my problem somewhat, but the answers focus on short-term tactics to cope with new ideas coming up about the current piece of work whereas what I want is a strategy to radically change the way my mind is working whilst writing.

And finally, this: I watched Elizabeth Gilbert give a Ted Talk called Your elusive creative genius a while back where she talks about 'genius' being a:

... magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist's studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work ...

It seems to me that my 'genius' has slipped into overdrive (or gone bonkers).

  • 1
    It's not clear to me if you are saying your inner critic or inner muse is is talking. I'd say try a tape recorder for your inner muse and speak what it is saying to you. No idea if that's a good suggestion. Inner critic? Relentlessly tell it to sit down and be quiet. You can revise after the draft is done. – DPT Jun 2 '18 at 13:53
  • At times, @DTP, it's not clear to me whether the voice is critic or muse. Now you mention it, I think that's (a previously unidentified) part of my problem. Thanks for the advice. Care to expand it into a fuller Answer? I think the biggest problem is the critic, so focus on that if it makes it easier. :) – robertcday Jun 2 '18 at 14:30
8

There is a natural tendency in writing to get into flow and allow words to just start falling. It's actually quite good. But, as you said, when you are attempting to write in a focused manner it can create a problem.

I believe there are two helpful things to do in this case.

  1. Create a list of scenes with expected goals
  2. Write like a news reporter

Create List of Scenes With Expected Goals

This is not a detailed outline (though some writers like more detail and that's fine). Instead just create a list of your scenes and the outcome for the scene. Generally in fiction these outcomes should set the character even further behind in her goal to create tension.

Write Like A News Reporter

This is the tough part of writing. I believe it is also why reading fiction often falls so flat. It is also the principle of "show don't tell". Here's what I mean.

Before you write your scene, take a few minutes to imagine the scene through. But it is far more than thinking in words. Instead you should see the scene play out.

Movie-Screen Of Your Mind

You should imagine the characters in the scene and the basic events that are going to happen. Can you see the main character confronting his antagonist. Do you see main character getting angry and throwing a punch. How does the antagonist respond? You must see this play out on the "movie-screen of your mind".

Once you see the scene, you will be far more able to :

  1. stay focused
  2. show the action playing out in front of your reader

The Challenge

The huge challenge here is two-fold. At first you won't want to move from writing to imagining. It'll feel forced. Your brain will resist this idea because it may attempt to convince you it is a waste of time.

Then once you are imagining it really well with strong images you may feel that it is difficult to move toward a writing utensil (keyboard or pen) to physically get the words down.

Once you've imagined the scene however, you will be more like an eye-witness who is reporting events you saw play out and your writing will be far more:

  1. action-based (not just characters sitting around thinking) -- this is truly the show don't tell in action
  2. realistic - because you've seen it play out just as you might've in real life, and you'll be describing it as you saw it.

Unclear Writing: Writing Falls Flat

I mentioned that I believe the lack of imagining the scene is also why writing often falls flat. It's because many writers don't imagine the scene and only attempt to capture words (not images) to explain how something happened. If they took the time to see the scene then they'd be far more able to show the scene play out.

Where The Focus Comes From

I came back and added this section to make the answer more direct. Only write what you see happen in the scene. Do not allow yourself to write anything else. If you've truly done the work to imagine the scene then you will have far more details than you can capture anyways. But you must do the work of imagining the scene in detail.
It will force you to focus and your writing will benefit from it.

6

The greatest challenge for new writers is not poor word choice or clumsy sentence construction. First drafts don't die in obscurity from wordiness or inconsistent voice. The great killer of fledgling writing is... failure to finish.

With all due respect for your inner muses and inner critics and for the important roles which they play during the editing and revising phases of your book's birth, they are a distraction and an extreme danger during its vulnerable initial writing phase. Their input, offered too early and in disruption of your writing momentum, should be unconditionally dismissed and ignored. They will get their chance to affect the finished product later when the ink is dry. But not today.

Treat every word that manage to get written as sacred until the final page is finished. Whether it is perfect or not, it is written so it stays. Contain the desire to go back and fix things behind this absolute law, and you may find that the impatience of your muses and critics actually start pushing you towards the finish line. They desperately want their opportunity to help you create great writing, so let them push the bus rather than stand in front of it.

Leave U, V and then W on the page as if they were written in ink on expensive paper, and let Dobby stick to dusting until the first draft is done. Then free all of your invisible assistants from their shackles and let the red pens fly.

Apply a little discipline today, in joyful anticipation of the editing frenzy to come.

  • Keep Writing!
3

Listen to the voice that says you need to be writing what you aren't writing, it usually knows more than you think. You know u, v, and w, already and can keep them in mind but x, y, and z are often fleeting inspirations so you do well as a writer to get them on paper while they're there. That's how my writing brain goes anyway.

Oh yeah and it doesn't matter a jot what the first draft of those ideas looks like, it can be the biggest mess ever penned; as long as the ideas are there you can polish them later.

2

I like all the answers but mine would probably be similar to Henry Taylor's. I would say though, that if you have a moment of flow, (~muse) go ahead and allow it and save the words elsewhere. In other words, allow your muse if you like if it doesn't derail you from getting through the draft, but definitely silence your critic (Say 'No,' out loud, any time it pipes up. Simple.)

Also, plan PLAN PLAN for your first draft to be crap. I'm serious.

As you write, you might find lots of different 'ways' to write. Morning might be structured, mid day might be wherever your morning led you (less structured) evening might be something else. You might become more familiar with how your brain works through this endeavor.

IMO, Different parts of your story will require different skills. Different stages of your drafting will also require different skills. I can edit for technical details easily when my brain refuses to be creative. Search and replace does not require a muse but getting rid of passive voice is necessary anyway!

Just plop down and write. Push through it. Tell your critic to go away. We all write bad. I sure do. Others say the same.

1

Before you take your pen or put your fingers on the keyboard, take a few minutes to empty your mind. Close your eyes. Relax. Shut up your mind. Listen to your inner silence. DO NOT WRITE A WORD BEFORE YOU CAN FEEL YOU EMPTY FILLED. When you reached this state of mind, do not think, listen your inner silence for a while, DO NOT THINK. When you'll be ready, you will feel it, not know it. Then take your pen or your keyboard and write the first sentence. DO NOT THINK. The first sentence is all.

Once again, the Universe is coming to its end.

Listen carefully your first sentence. It sounds perfect. LISTEN. The second one comes.

But this time is different. This time may be the last.

Well, it works for me. Mediation technics may help. You may also use some sort of peaceful music, which may be helpful with good earphones if you have the challenge to write in a noisy place, like I did. Personally, recently I used some ambiance sound recordings that evokes the placed where my story goes, if possible. There are plenty of them on Youtube. I even made some remixes.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.