The writer’s greatest fear – the blank page or screen.
You sit, ready to begin.
You really, really want to write. In fact, you’ve got a great idea, although it’s still a bit...unformed. So you stare at the screen, for a long time, before you finally start to tap.
Five paragraphs (or even worse – five lines,) down, your head slumps forward. You’re pretty sure you’ve written rubbish, and now you’ve even run out of rubbish to write. You hand slides to the mouse and before you know it, you’re playing that stupid game someone on Facebook sent you.
What went wrong? You know that you really, really wanted to write. Why can't you write?
You’ve forgotten something hugely important:
Most writing, starts long before you sit in front of screen or paper. First of all, you have to ‘imagine up’ your writing.
Story, novel, play, poem…any writing at all, begins in our heads. Most successful writers do huge amounts of imagining, thinking and planning before they touch keyboard or pen. For this, they visit a strange place in their heads, which becomes increasingly real, the more they go there.
These methods of enhancing the imaginative process are open to all, and intently useful to those who are about to embark on their first writing.
If fact, you have already done this, many times; we all do it every day. At its least intense, it's called day dreaming. As it becomes more intense, you may find that you reach a level where you're taken far away from your surroundings. Although you are not asleep, you are not fully alert either. The pulse of your brain has slowed, becoming Alpha brain waves. It’s that common experience in the supermarket. Tin of beans in hand, your mind soars off on such a totally different tack that when a passing friend calls your name, you don’t hear them, and if they tap your shoulders, you jump, hopefully without dropping the beans on their foot. Then you apologize, saying, ‘I was somewhere else there, for a moment.’ The friend understands instantly. We all recognize this ‘losing of yourself’, but we don’t make use of it nearly enough.
Entering this slower state of thinking allows you to take advantage of the relaxed, twilight world of the trance, where vivid imagery flashes into the mind’s eye and we become receptive to information (as in self-hypnosis) beyond our normal conscious awareness.
This trance state, is also called by may different names, and you might like to choose one that you’ll feel comfortable with:
- Brown study
- Muse descending
- Deep listening
- Slipping into a trance-like state
- Mental pictures
- Head movies
- Relaxed imagining
You might want to call this ‘meditating’, but a more accurate definition of meditation is that of emptying your mind by concentration on a single thing (such as your breath). However, you might find it beneficial to meditate prior to tapping your imagination, emptying out the normal ‘gabble of thoughts’ for a few minutes before letting your mind settle on what you next want to write.
Once the process is underway, you can burrow deeper and deeper into your mind, until you reach the many voices of your self, unlocking something that you didn’t previously know was there.
I discovered that dropping down into this world was hugely enjoyable. Like most other writers, I’m fascinated by the fact that plots, characters and entire scenes can drop into one’s mind from nowhere. For millennia people have asked whether such creations come from outside us, or deep within. The Greeks had it sown up, of course. The Nine Muses were goddesses who visited those ready to create works of art and dropped the inspiration into their minds.
Consider now if you have a special place or time or activity where you find yourself quite naturally thinking the words that will eventually turn up on the page. What are you doing when you write in your head? For me, it has to be walking alone. Once I’m underway, my feet seem to direct themselves, whether I’m heading to the nearest shopping centre or through a woodland, and my mind flies off on a journey into my project. Thoughts and memories are loosened and released and worlds of possibilities to open up. Your writing will be sharper, more present, more melodic. Your settings will have the tastes and colours and the subtlest background sounds all built in. You’ll be able to stand right beside your characters; you will see their freckles and dandruff, and where they cut themselves shaving. What’s more, they will regard you as their therapist, they will open their hearts and tell you everything that troubles them, from their first memories to their most hidden infamies.
Here is a list of special times where allowing yourself to concentrate on setting up ‘writing before writing’ can really work. For instance, if you already take the train to work each day, and find that you’re mind wanders as it moves steadily onward, then don’t forget to pack your notepad and pen.
Study all the methods below and tick the ones you think would work for you, or already work for you. Add others that might better apply to you:
 Walking alone
 Repetitive tasks, such as housework
 Gardening (especially weeding)
 Lying half awake in bed
 Listening to music
 Sitting quietly (indoors or out) with eyes shut
 A journey on train or bus
Look through your ticks. You can have a go at several of these or you can choose one method you could employ more frequently. For instance, if you like the idea of spending more time sitting with your eyes closed, try to do this on a regular basis, but rather than allowing your mind to wander without any structure, think in terms of the writing you are working on. When you don’t know what to write, the visualizations will send you in search of memories from your childhood or forgotten moments of passion. If you’re stuck at a point in a story, you can go to seek the clues to the puzzles of your plot. You can become your character’s therapist, or watch them choose what they wear, drive, eat. You will soon find that your mind is full of startling revelations and things jump out at you and demand to be written down. Very soon, scenes will play in your mind, characters will speak to each other, settings will become clear, and – perhaps most importantly for the moment you sit in front of a blank scene – you'll hear your narrative unfold in your head.
For some writers, this feels way too unstructured. Dropping the tight grip on the reigns of their writing feels scary. They find it hard to consider 'daydreaming' as part of 'the writing process'. If they're not actually writing, they're not writing at all. But your creative self could gallop at will if only you let it. After all, you can tighten the reigns again during the drafting process when you return to that blank screen, full of ideas. To start with, give your writing horse his head.
Naturally, translating these ‘visions’ onto the page is not always straightforward. Ideas can start to slip away, to fade as we try to describe them on paper. The feelings you had turn out to be difficult to translate into words. The key to this problem is to always have a notebook nearby – if you don’t record these thoughts quickly, they will float away, possibly never to bee seen again. Use your notebook to write down everything that comes to you – even if it feels unusable or incomprehensible or crazy at the time.
Your imagination is where your writing begins - using this technique, you can enter your creative world and roam around it at will. The writing that spills out as you sit up and grab a pen or laptop can become the foundation of your projects. You are recording words and images directly from the interior of your mind.
You are now writing directly from your own inspiration. Enjoy!