One technique people use when writing a first draft is to just let the words flow. Don’t stop. Don’t edit. Don’t overthink. Just get a rough idea of thoughts and words on paper.
I’ve never worked well this way. My approach is just the opposite. I may write out notes or an outline, but when it comes to writing my first draft, I work very slowly and deliberately. I think about each word, I go back to the start and reread, then add another sentence, then reread again. I change things around, start over, try to get things perfect. This is not what people often suggest for a first draft, but it works for me.
Years ago I worked with an amazing group of singers in Washington DC. Eight of us decided to work through Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. We worked through it all. We had weekly meeting to discuss our progress on our daily pages, artist dates and other assignments. The benefits were tremendous. By the end I was freed, inspired, grateful.
I couldn’t have done it on my own, having the group accountability was absolutely necessary. This was especially true with the morning pages. Every morning I would wake 45 minutes earlier than normal to write. Free flow thought. just write without stoping or editing. It didn’t matter the topic or even if made sense, just keep writing. I understood the purpose was not to write well. The purpose was to clear the mind and give you more consciousness for your day.
Even though I was faithful to the assignment, never missing a day, it didn’t feel right for me. Weeks of, basically, gibberish. I never saw the growth and self discoveries that other people seem to have. Please understand – This is no fault of the theory behind it. It was just against everything natural to me. My brain seems to have its own speed and path and does not like changes.
But This is how the morning pages worked for me. I saw that not everything works for everyone. Everyone’s brains works in different ways. My brain can’t focus without pauses to calm it. That’s my brain. Good to know, especially as I now embark on this journey to become a published author. Know thyself.
Why I bring this up … I was working on an idea this week which I really liked, but I was having trouble fleshing out the story. Even for me, I was having too many breaks. Too much stopping and starting. Too many changes. To much indecision.
So I thought I’d try the flow technique. Just write. Don’t stop. Don’t overthink. I did it. I wrote the story. Beginning to end. It was difficult, but every time I felt myself slipping into my usual writing style, I picked up the pencil and just started writing. If I thought of a change I wanted to make to an earlier part of the story, I’d make a quick note and just keep writing.
Now what do I have? A mess. A crazy convoluted story. There are bad word choices, awkward transitions, and poor plot and character development.
I know many people would argue that this is what a first draft is. But for me it is not any more useful than my normal notes or outlines.
Here are the good thing that came from this:
1. I got the story out of my head and onto the paper.
2. It only took me 30 minutes.
3. I can see all of the things that don’t work.
4. I can see all of the things that do work.
5. I know there is a usable story hidden in there.
And most importantly
6. I better understand my writing process.
For me it is important to feel good about what I get on the paper. That’s what keeps me motivated to continue with a story.
I would love to hear if others have more success with the stream of consciousness approach.