How to wipe out desperation writing

Do you ever fall victim to the I-must-get-this-done-now statement? Today’s newsletter describes how to eliminate the “must” and find the desire to write.

Are you ever desperate to get something written? And chronically unable to do it?

Well, I have three suggestions for you. But first let me begin with a story from Power Writing subscriber Gwyn Johnson who describes how she was once “roped” into catching a friend’s recalcitrant horses. “I discovered you can’t just walk right up to them with intent in your eyes,” she wrote to me, “unless you want to do a lot of legwork.”

Her strategy? She pretended she was interested in something entirely different, while walking in the horses’ general direction. The horses would then stay where they were or walk towards her, out of curiosity.

Next thing they knew, a rope was around their neck!

I love this story because it underlines one of the secrets to making writing easier. As Gwyn puts it: “You need to get into a totally receptive mode to let the words come to you. Just like things go more smoothly when you’re doing something because you want to, not because you have to — even though you know, deep down, you must.

“Replacing the ‘must’ with ‘desire’ helps,” she says.

So how does this translate to writing? Here is my three-step formula:

1) Begin with a mindmap. (You received an e- booklet on mindmapping when you signed up for this newsletter. If you don’t remember it, read it now!) Mindmapping — which I also call “brainstorming with yourself” — is always the best way to begin a writing job because it’s an open and uncritical process. It also allows you to get everything from your head onto paper. As your hand moves across the page you start making connections and having ideas that would not have occurred to you otherwise.

I must confess that, quite uncharacteristically, I began this column without a mindmap. I thought I knew enough just to dive in and start writing. But after a few minutes, it became clear I was in a muddle. So I stopped my writing and started a mindmap. I had my path clear in 30 seconds and wrote the first draft in less than 15 minutes.

2) Reduce — don’t lengthen — the amount of time you have to write. The composing part of writing is a bit like growing plants in the desert. It thrives on neglect and paucity. If you think the writing job is going to take three hours, give yourself 20 minutes. If you think it’s going to take 20 minutes, give yourself five. Then, when your time is up, set your work aside and pick it up again later. When you reopen your document, you will be so happy to discover you’ve already started that you’ll write at a faster speed.

3) While you write, suspend all judgment about the quality of your work. Remember, the first part of writing is simply getting words onto paper. It doesn’t matter if they’re good, saleable or award-winning words. All that matters is that they exist. Editing is a separate job. Just like you don’t try doing the dishes when you’re still eating dinner, and just as Gwyn didn’t want her horses to understand that she needed to rope them, don’t let your editing brain discover that you’re writing. Your internal editor does not belong at this part of the writing business — even though it will be invaluable later.

But only later.