This is my submission for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group for February. There’ve been a few blogs I’ve came across through IWSG in the last two months that I’ve not kept up with, so if I gave the impression I’d be reading your blog regularly but haven’t, it’s a matter of bad time management, not me trying to manipulate you!
Ray Bradbury had a rule, a piece of advice he offered, that an aspiring writer should write a new short story to completion every week, and then send it to publishers, and move on. It’s something I’ve tried (in an adapted form) and will be trying to get back to soon.
While I’m not familiar with all his work, I like what I’ve read. He combines a kind of stylised, 50s Americana with out-there weirdness – Twin Peaks long before Twin Peaks was aired. The Martian Chronicles has a really striking dreamlike quality on top of all that as well.
But there are elements to his stories that still strike me as goofy years after I last read them. One of the short stories in The Martian Chronicles has alien characters named Mr. Aaaaaa, Mr Bbbbbb, and Mr. Cccccc. (I may have the amount of letters wrong.) As far as I remember, these were meant to be their actual names, not their attempts to settle into human society.
But, overall, despite the goofiness, the stories were still hugely emotionally powerful, enough that I was more than willing to overlook this weakness.
I still think that story in particular could have done with another draft, but the idea that it’s better to get something down on paper quickly, flaws and all, is a good one.
There’s something I’m trying to get into the habit of doing, which I think is known as a ‘brain dump’.(That sounds a little to me like it should be linked to a bowel movement, so I may have the name wrong.)
The idea, essentially, is to give yourself a time limit, and get everything flowing round your head down on paper, all the rough ideas, so you can seperate and develop them later, and free yourself of the worry of having to hang onto a great idea for later, to enable you to concentrate on the writing task in hand. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m trying to get into a habit of writing 1,000 words in some form or another every single day. The problem is that the words often come out in drabs, maybe a hundred words over the course of two hours while I half pay attention to other things in the background.
But the concept behind the brain dump is to get everything down quickly, everything in the writer’s head, with no intention of using any of it. If there’s anything there that can be used, that’s a bonus, but the idea is about clearing the head.
Writeordie.com is great for this. It’s a web app that is set up with a target, changeable according to your own preferences for word length and time, and will start deleting what you’ve already written if you don’t carry on writing.
So, in order to safeguard what you’ve already got, you have to stay in motion, rather than becoming paralysed by self-consciousness.
The aim of a brain dump (as far as I understand it) is to both clear the head of the ideas floating around in there that aren’t useful at the moment, and to get the writing muscles loosened up ahead of the proper writing.
But it can also be a good method of getting a first draft down.
A few times I’ve just rambled on for five hundred or so words, and been surprised to find that I’ve actually got a pretty decent first draft on the screen in front of me. It almost always means needing to rearrange paragraphs and ideas so it flows better, but it’s surprising how often a decent first draft can be written that quickly.
Does anyone have more experience in this than me? Any tips to add?