By Geof Miller and Troy Hunter
Writer’s block: the epic struggle with the blank page. The writer sits at the typewriter in despair, a wastebasket overflowing with crumpled-up pages. Writer’s block sucks. Of course, there’s an even more insidious ailment for aspiring writers. It called “not writing.”
You can banish writer’s block and not-writing. You can fill a blank page with useful material—scenes, treatments, character bios—anytime, anyplace. You can turn your writing on like you turn on a light switch. What is this miracle? Psychotherapy? Hypnosis? Bourbon? Nope, it’s this:
Digital kitchen timer. $12.99 at Walgreens. Keep it in your messenger bag or briefcase or whatever you haul your stuff around in. Oh, and a spare set of batteries.
In a second, we’ll see how to use the timer but first, a bit of history.
Writing practice is a technique pioneered by Natalie Goldberg in her seminal book, Writing Down the Bones. Jack Remick and Robert Ray are two Seattle-based writers and teachers who make an annual pilgrimage (their words) to attend one of Natalie’s workshops in Taos, New Mexico. They use writing practice in their writing classes, including those at the UW Extension, where we taught screenwriting. We learned writing practice from them, used it in our own class and with our own writing.
There are three rules of writing practice:
That’s it. Let’s see how it works.
Do this whenever you can. In your home office trying to write? Writing practice gets your mind into the writing space. Stuck on how to start a scene? Writing practice helps you drill down on the fundamentals of the scene, fast. Waiting in the car while your spouse/friend/kid runs into 7-Eleven for a Slurpee? Get out your stuff and write for 5 minutes. Anytime, anywhere, writing practice helps you turn writing from a dream into a habit.
How does it work?
Your subconscious mind is really smart, and it knows a lot. While your conscious mind is busy planning, scheming, Tweeting and eating lunch, your subconscious sits back and watches the world.
Writing from your subconscious is a powerful place to start. The problem is, your conscious mind is a control freak. When you’re writing, your creative subconscious mind has all sorts of stuff to say, but your conscious mind, the editor, wants to start editing before your subconscious can finish the thought. We’ve all been there. You start to write a sentence—“The cat in the hat”—and then you think “Cat in the hat? That’s stupid.” And you do that over and over. And then you go drink.
Writing practice does an end run on your conscious mind. By forcing you to keep writing, by not giving you time to edit, it overwhelms your editor. At first, your editor will just throw up its hands (so to speak) and quit. As you do more and more writing practice, your critical editor and creative subconscious will learn how to work together—a state of creative flow.
The more writing practice you do, the easier it’ll be to drop into the flow. Soon it’ll be like turning on a light switch.
That’s it. It’s that simple. Go get your timer. Most Walgreens are open 24 hours.
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