Are you a careful planner? Do you like to know your exact daily itinerary before you take a trip or do you leave yourself open to exploration and discovery?
In writing as in travel, you may not discover exactly where you’re going until you’re well on the way. If you wait to figure out the entire course, you may never get started.
The Paradox of Planning
You may hesitate to set out on a large project like a book without knowing exactly what you have to say. Fair enough.
Here’s the paradox: until you start working with and exploring a topic, you might never figure out your unique angle on a subject. It’s a dilemma.
What would happen if you moved the starting line?
The inner work of writing doesn’t start when you set down to compose the draft. The writing process begins much earlier, when you dedicate time to research, deep thought, and freewriting.
The work of writing begins with exploration and struggle.
You can be hard at work on your book long before you compose a word of the draft.
In an episode of The Writer Files podcast last year, bestselling author Daniel Pink reported that he prepares several book proposals, then determines which one to develop into a book.
Does he cease to be a writer while he’s thinking? No. I enjoy Dan Pink’s books because of the research and thought that happens before the writing. And if ideas and thoughts are discarded or set aside along the way, it’s a small price to pay for the excellence of the results.
The most important work of writing may be the process of exploration and discovery, and that cannot begin until you commit to the work.
Start writing your book, story or manifesto this year, this month, this week. Today, even.
- Create a plan, a schedule, and set aside the time.
- Allocate and commit time to reading or researching.
- Talk to or interview people about your topic.
- Use freewriting to explore what you already know and what you think.
- Do market research about other books on the subject area you want to explore
- Having done some researching, spend time brainstorming topics and angles that interest you.
These are all part of the writing process. You don’t have to know your exact angle and topic before you start the effort.
Try 750-1000 Words a Day
I write many thousands of words that never see the light of day. Freewriting is a critical part of my process.
Here’s my favorite technique for starting a book. See if it works for your project.
Commit: Commit to writing a certain number of words a day for a fixed period of time. You might decide to write 1000 words a day for 10 days, or 750 words a day for three weeks.
Choose a smaller number, such as 750 words, if writing doesn’t come fluidly to you. Select a number large enough that you quickly use up the easy, obvious ideas, and challenge your mind (your Muse) to find more connections.
(The site 750words.com is a useful way to approach this – it tracks the word count for each day as well as how many consecutive days you manage 750 words.)
Freewrite: Every day, write your words, even when you’re busy or have other things going on. You don’t have to write about topics in any order. Simply explore the thoughts that come into your mind about the subject.
Write without the inner critic. Repeat yourself, ramble, skip around, making typing mistakes. It doesn’t matter – no one will ever see what you write here.
At some point, you may struggle to put ideas down. You’ll barely meet the goal and wonder how you can possible come up with more words for the next day. That’s a good sign – you’ll set your background mental processes to work on the project. It’s part of the process.
Evaluate: When you reach the end of your committed time period, you’ll have a rich source file of thousands of words on your subject area. Read through the file, rearrange the entries. Come up with an outline or angle from what you’ve explored, and return to the file to find ideas when drafting.
You may find that you keep adding to this source file if you discover the usefulness of freewriting as an “inner research” tool.
So, now what’s keeping you from starting on that book, essay or blog post you want to write?