John Updike, 1932-2009

Techniques for Writing Flow

The Big, Scary Beast and the Ancient, Frail Feline are both asleep (in separate rooms, I might add) and so I have a moment to ponder techniques to keep access to the muse alive and well.  This is on my mind because at the recent Loft orientation, my fellow mentor and old friend Betsy Woods gave me the details on a new-to-me technique.

It is called a Weather Journal, and its a bit like writing morning pages, only more so.  With Morning Pages, you write down a stream of consciousness account of anything and everything, just to get it out on the page.  A Weather Journal is more crafted, more reactive, more of the moment.  With the Weather Journal, you start from where you are at the moment you sit down, and you write about that place, every blessed bit of it, starting with the things you are experiencing through your senses.

This invariably leads to more writing, perhaps an account of something that happened to you the day before, or an inquiry into an emotional upset.  The Weather Journal is very Zen in that it starts in the present moment and assumes that the entire universe exists in that moment.  And, well, every writer knows that its all in the details.   Keeping a Weather Journal is an excellent way to begin noting the details.  I've noticed this magical effect of the Weather Journal, which is that when you start by noting the details of the present moment, it is much easier to put on the page details of the scene that happened to you the day before when you were at the coffee shop and the barista with the red hair gave you a Frappucino with whipped cream on it instead of your usual grande latte.

While I'm at it, I'm going to run down a list of my Top Techniques for Writing Flow.  So here goes:

1.  Weather Journal--see above.  And let me know if you come up with a better name for it, would you please?

2.  Morning Pages--I did these faithfully for years.  They are the brainchild of Julia Cameron, who advocates their use in her book, The Artist's Way.  To do Morning Pages, often called MPs by devotees, you get up, grab your coffee or tea, and sit down with paper and pen in hand.  And then you write three pages, no more, no less, and get your ya-yas out so you can get on with the real business of life.  MPs are also a great way to track the desires of your true self.  So, if over the course of a month you realize you've written, I want to move to Africa and be a missionary, 5 times, it might be time to start checking airfare to Rwanda.  My problem with MPs is that they tend to devolve into a laundry list of things to do, and thus they end up feeding an obsessive thinking trait I'm trying to end.

3.  Free Writing--Sit down with your journal, set a timer for 20 minutes, choose a prompt and write until the timer goes off.  No lifting the pen from the page, no stopping, even if you are writing I hate free writing over and over again.  There is no shortage of books chock-full of prompts for free writing.  Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones,is probably the most famous advocate of this type of journaling.  The problem with free writing is that it is easy to get lost in it and end up with a bunch of useless writing that goes nowhere.  One way to get around this is to take prompts from your own current writing project.  This can be a great technique for solving thorny plot or character issues.

4. Lists--The lazy writer's way to keep a journal.  Not surprisingly, I love this one.  Say you find yourself on vacation in the Yucatan in Mexico and everything is exotic and different.  But you're on vacation and you end up spending most of it on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas from the beach-side bar.  Who has time to write in their journal in such a situation?  Especially when there are silly floor shows to attend every night?  And more Pina Coladas? Should you find yourself in such a jam, remember the benefits of writing a list.  It can be words or phrases, or whatever you want it to be, related or unrelated.  The key is to just get down descriptive words that you can later go back to and write from.  (And can I just say that I'm glad I visited Chichen Itza, back in the day, not so long ago, when you could still climb to the top of the ruins, even if I did only get halfway up before my fear or heights kicked in.)

That's it.  That's all I got on techniques for writing flow, and I think you'll find all of them useful in different situations.  If anybody has any other good ones, leave a comment so we can all steal it and use it!