Stop thinking. Start writing.
I came across an essay on writing by Chuck Palahniuk a few days ago. (He's the author of Fight Club and about a million other bestsellers.) I've never been a huge fan of his hyper-masculine writing style, but I put his writing advice to the test today and found it helpful.
Here's the gist: For six months, you stop using the word "thought" and all related verbs. This includes wants, realizes, believes, knows, loves, hates--you get the picture. Instead of writing, "I realized they'd been talking about me," you might write, "Amanda looked at me and then flicked her eyes away. Her lips went taut like she'd gotten a taste of something delicious but didn't want anyone to know. I slunk back to my desk."
Instead of writing "She hated him," you might write, "She always arrives late to his meetings, if at all. Once there, she passes the time playing Candy Crush on her phone, the volume not quite turned down all the way."
"Thinking is abstract," Palahniuk explains:
In other words: show, don't tell.
After reading Palahniuk's advice, I went through the first few chapters of my memoir and searched for thinking verbs. When I found one, I either rewrote the sentence or cut it out entirely. It tightened up the language and made the scenes feel a bit more vivid.
I came up with a solution for working in shorter snippets of time, too. I started a list of topics I want to free-write about, and whenever I only have five or ten minutes to spare, I'm going to put pen to paper. I seem to find my focus faster that way, and it's a good way to stay in touch with the subconscious vitality of a narrative thread. I find insights through free-writing I wouldn't have found through slow, methodical typing.
Now if I can only put Palahniuk's advice to use in the editing phase without starting to self-critique every word of my rough drafts, I'll have a best-seller written in no time.
One can dream, anyway.
What are you working on these days? Dreaming about? Learning or trying to unlearn? Leave me a dispatch in the comments section.