Saturday, November 30, 2013

Writer's Block: An Exercise to Jumpstart Creativity

Vomiting on the Page

The timed writing exercise can help a writer jump start the creative writing process.  Pam Jenoff, in her articleThe Self-Assessed Writer: Harnessing Fiction-Writing Process to Understand Ourselves as Legal Writers and Maximize Legal Writing Productivity, 10 JALWD (Fall 2013) describes the technique:
Keep your hand moving. Frequently, a writer pens a sentence, then stops to consider it and edit, losing the flow of the idea. This exercise requires the writer to commit to writing without stopping for a specific period of time. 
Lose control. Write without fear that the work is not good enough — a common problem that can stop writers mid-project. This underscores the idea, which many of us already teach in both legal and fiction writing, to “get it out there” and then fix it up later.  
Be specific. Even on the first draft, look for language that gets to the heart of what you are trying to say and that captures the essence of the idea. 
Don’t think—get below discursive thought to the place where your mind is original, fresh. Just write and let your hand flow without stopping to edit or worry about the quality of the work at the initial stage. 
Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar. These can come in at a later draft stage and should not hinder free-association writing. 
You are free to write the worst junk in America. Write without fear in starting a new writing project. 
Go for the jugular. Go deep, something that may be difficult at first draft stage. 
In short, for a predetermined amount of time, the chief rule is that the hand must keep moving — no editing or stopping to think.
Janoff takes this exercise from Zen Buddhist author Natalie Golberg's book: Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind (2005).

When I taught Legal Writing to our 1L students, I told them to jump start the writing process by "vomiting" on the page.  Even if it stinks, your are making progress.

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