I’m still at it: Everyday I use rituals to provide me with the focus I need to write. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be able to write regularly for the first time in my writing life. Making a date with one’s self to write and using rituals to signal my brain that it’s time to write literally feels like carving out writing space in my life. And I want more!
As I explained in another blog post, I never attended writing school and my writing career was launched by chance. Now that I have decided to do more writing other than journal writing and blogging, I feel the need to study and learn more…oh, there are so many lovely books on writing waiting to be read!
I want more writing time. I need more writing time. I also have to learn to write more freely. When I was a feature writer, our publisher used to tell me that I occasionally suffered from cerebral constipation – and I think I am suffering from that now, especially after all the years of not having written professionally. So I have decided to learn how to let the mind go free and heal myself of cerebral constipation through free writing.
I first learned about free writing while reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. From Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, I learned how to do it by writing “Morning Pages.” I’ll revisit those books sometime soon and try free writing using Goldberg’s and Cameron’s techniques. But for now, I’d like to write about Dorothea Brande’s methods featured in her book, Becoming a Writer, which was published in 1934. Amazon’s review of her book reads, “Decades before brain research ‘discovered’ the role of the right and left brain in all human endeavor, Dorothea Brande was teaching students how to see again, how to hold their minds still, how to call forth the inner writer.”
Early Morning Writing
Brande refers to this method as “effortless writing,” which can be achieved by harnessing the unconscious. She writes: “To begin with, you must teach the unconscious to flow into the channel of writing.”
So if you are to have the full benefit of the richness of the unconscious you must learn to write easily and smoothly when the unconscious is in the ascendant. The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can — and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before — begin to write.
Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before, a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. The excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet. As a matter of fact, you will find more value in this material than you expect, but your primary purpose now is not to bring forth deathless words, but to write any words at all which are not pure nonsense…
You may, if you can, write in a notebook, sitting up in bed. If you can teach yourself to use the typewriter in this period, so much the better. Write as long as you have free time, or until you feel that you have utterly written yourself out.
Brande explains that “early morning writing” trains the writer to simply write, because it is done “in the twilight zone between sleep and the full waking state.” She continues, “It makes no difference to the success of this practice if your paragraphs are amorphous, the thought vague or extravagant, the ideas hazy.” She emphasizes that the inner critic must be forgotten because no one would read what had been written.
This sounds very much like “Morning Pages,” without the requirement of writing three pages by longhand. For me, this exercise was stress-free. The rule, “Write as long as you have free time, or until you feel that you have utterly written yourself out,” is certainly liberating, especially during the first few minutes of the day, when you’re fresh from a deep slumber. I tried “Morning Pages” a long time ago, but dropped the habit. Thinking back, it must have been the 3 pages-a-day quota that killed it for me. Call me lazy, but I simply didn’t enjoy the thought of filling up three pages upon waking up.
Using Brande’s method, one is encouraged to write a little more each day, stretching the comfort zone one paragraph at a time, if you so desire. That works for me – slow and easy.
The Steps to Effortless Writing
Brande’s method involves several steps. The first two are geared towards effortless writing. This is the second step in early morning writing:
The next morning begin without rereading what you have already done. Remember: you are to write before you have read at all. The purpose of this injunction will become clear later. Now all you need to concern yourself with is the mere performance of the exercise.
After a day or two you will find that there is a certain number of words that you can write easily and without strain. When you have found that limit, begin to push it ahead by a few sentences, then by a paragraph or two. A little later try to double it before you stop the morning’s work. Within a very short time you will find that the exercise has begun to bear fruit. The actual labor of writing no longer seems arduous or dull. You will have begun to feel that you can get as much (far more really) from a written reverie as from one that goes on almost wordlessly in the back of your mind. When you can wake, reach out for your pencil, and begin to write almost on one impulse, and you will be ready for the next step. Keep the material you have written — under lock and key if that is the only way to save your self from self-consciousness. It will have uses you can hardly foresee.
As you take up the next exercise, you can return, in this morning task, to the limit that seems easy and natural. (But you should be able to write more words than when you began.) Watch yourself carefully; if at any time you find you have slipped back into inactive reverie, it is time to exert pressure on yourself.
I’ve been doing effortless writing every morning upon waking, and so far, aside from experiencing the free flow of words, I’ve realized that it helps me remember dreams I’ve had during the night, which of course flows out from my consciousness…effortlessly.
The next two steps are designed to help the writer carve out more writing space in her/his life and those will be covered in the next post. Till then…..