Don't think. Write.

Thursday 11 March 2004 at 05:56

Charles Miller suggests introspection is the enemy of blogging.

Some of these topics have been on this list for more than a year. And I can't say any of them are any less interesting to me today than they were when I put them on the list.

The single attribute they share, however, is that I've allowed myself time to think about them. The inspiration has faded, but in thinking I've given myself even more ideas that I need to perspire over before the article is done.

And that's what kills them.

Unpublished and half-written entries are scattered in text files around my computer like boxes in the attic. Sometimes while rummaging around for something else I come across an incomplete idea that catches my attention anew. Sometimes I'll dust it off and witness myself edit it into something satisfying. Sometimes in my editing I just kick up the dust and end up filing it back in the attic. I'm reminded of a scene from Finding Forrester. Here's how I remember it whether or not it actually appeared this way on film. :-)

William is sitting at one typewriter clacking and dinging away. Jamal is sitting across from him leaning on an elbow, his typewriter silent.

William: What are you doing?

Jamal: I'm thinking.

William: Don't think. Write.

In sophomore language arts in high school, Mrs. Starkey expected us to produce ten pages of free writing in our Big Chiefs each week. We were given five minutes at the start of each class in which we were expected to write -- to keep our pens moving continually producing words on the page. The words and sentences were less important than keeping the flow of words on the page. If we stopped writing she would gently bonk us on the head. William Forrester would have approved. Don't think. Write.

Occasionally we would turn in our Big Chiefs and some weeks later get them back with comments[1], mostly empathizing with our teen aged angst. Some comments would highlight passages that were poetic or used an effective metaphor. Having evidence that she'd actually read what we wrote had two important side effects. As teenagers, we knew that someone in the world knew about our problems. As writers, we had an audience.

Ten years later I rediscovered free writing under a different name. I read The Artist's Way cover to cover and practiced "morning pages" and sometimes practiced the "artist's date". Another ten years have passed and only now have I connected the dots between Mrs. S's free writing and morning pages, though the practices differ only in details. Or perhaps I did connect those dots before and the additional ten years are starting to show. :-)

That second exposure to free writing opened another dimension to writing that I had not appreciated. I spent several months writing for an hour or so every morning. It's pretty well impossible not to notice when the same issue keeps showing up in the morning pages week after week. Free writing became a vehicle for self-exploration. It's an entirely different sort of introspection.

For those several months gymnastics and ballroom dance kept recurring. I finally took the hint and looked for classes in the area. The gymnastics class wasn't being offered but ballroom dance was. I eventually became a member of the UNLV Ballroom Dance Team, through which I was introduced to Lindy Hop. When I moved back to Boulder it was through Lindy Hop I was introduced to Sarah. (Watch out if you take up the pen -- no telling where it might lead. :-)

Free writing has come and gone over the years. For a time my writing changed to journaling which is a different mix. There's more thinking in it. The exercise isn't about recording thoughts on paper in a pure stream of consciousness. Rather, the goal is to record Something Important -- memorable events or interesting thoughts. There's nothing like Something Important to stop your writing in its tracks.

When I started this blog I thought I was going to be able to combine interests -- my interest in journaling with my interest in the 'Net. Turns out not. Blogging is publishing. And besides Something Important, there's nothing quite like thinking about a Public Audience to stop writing in its tracks. Permalinks compound the problem. I expect my writing to remain published here indefinitely so that I don't break other people's links -- part of the social contract of blogs.

Note to self: Don't think. Write.

[1] 10 pages/week x 34 students x 5 classes x 18 weeks/semester = 30,600 pages/semester of mediocre, angst-ridden, sloppy, teen-aged writing. Sure some students wouldn't write 10 pages/week, but a number of my classmates wrote 20. Adjusting to 7 pages (a grade C), there's still 21,420. Nothing I wrote in high school was particularly complex. Even so, it's an enormous volume of reading. And this was in addition to our more formal writing assignments. Mrs. Starkey must have counted pages and read and commented on only a few of them for each student. Either that or she was an incredibly fast reader.

Jim commented

23 March 2004 at 15:25

I think if you recall, she was not interested in content, only that you had words written on the page. I know that Mrs. Hurelle only scanned them and marked the page (so that it couldn't be counted a second week). In the scanning (of some whose writing was neater than my own) an occasional snippet would come up that might elicit a comment, but not often.

I have a confession. At the end of the year we were supposed to compile all of the "Best of Big Chief" I wrote at least 50% of my best of the night before it was to be turned in. I didn't really grok the power of the free writing exercise then.

A question. How many of your current free-writing entries include the words, "OK, I'm writing. This is me, writing. I'm just writing waiting for something to write. . ."? I laugh at how often that shows up in my ramp up writing.