Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Method to madness: order in chaos

Writing can be a chaotic experience. If you’re like me, ideas tend to pop up suddenly and it’s best to have a good capture tool nearby to make sure that idea doesn’t go anywhere. Although that in itself is another post, once you have an idea, developing it fully and fleshing out the details is another challenge in and of itself.

Think about it, how many Hollywood movies start off with a fascinating premise, a great 15-20 minute start and then all downhill from there? I’ve actually lost count and am not about to start because with every new mark on the chart, I’ll get frustrated.

That’s when discipline, methods, habits and strategies come in.

So you have the end all of ideas in your head and you were actually able to put it down to paper (quite a feat and I salute you for it). What now? Some people have this silly notion that inspiration will run in one large burst each and every single time you create something. Not the case, although I’ve been able to capture a full story in one sitting, it’s happened only twice and that was because A.) I was lucky and B.) I dropped everything and obeyed the desires of my limbic system. Every other project I’ve worked on has required a lot of work on my part, be it research, structure, method or what have you.

The most important thing to remember is that you are unique, your makeup is unique and what will work for you is unique. This means that doing as I do will be as much a guarantee to your success as the numbers that appear in a fortune cookie will be in your winning the lotto (meaning that sure, it may work but there are no guarantees).

If you’re having a hard time finding what works for you, I suggest going at it in a scientific or almost medical fashion. In science, when you want to test for variables you vary constants individually to see how that affects the outcome. Say you want to see the effect of temperature and wind velocity on the descent of an object, there you have various things you can play around with to see the effects (a. temperature, b. wind c. velocity, d. trajectory of descent, e. mass of object, f. size of object, sg. hape of object, etc.). Here you can literally have your base reading and then vary each and every single factor to see how it affects the outcome. be ti time, word count, approach, method, pages, etc. If this is a bit too complicated an explanatoin, then let’s go the medical route, it sounds harder than what it is. If you know someone who has severe allergies you may have heard of them having to eat nothing except X or Y thing and slowly introduce new foods into the equation to see what triggers the effects. With writing, it’s the same, you can set yourself a time limit, a wordcount or page count limit, a topic limit or whatever other limit you want to see how that affects your writing and vary it up until you find your own formula.

If you want some more tangible and specific strategies you can try out, here are seven things you can try to see if they work:

1.     Schedule to write in the morning every week for half an hour.
2.     Commit to writing 500 words in ten minutes.
3.     Take a walk every afternoon and write under a tree or at a bench for fifteen minutes.
4.     Go to your local coffee shop three times a week, buy the same beverage and a typical snack and sit down to write 5-10 pages (try to always set the same amount).
5.     After lunch every day, write 500-1000 words.
6.     At 8 PM every night snap your fingers 4 times in a row with each hand, repeat the phrase “I will write four pages” 5 times and sit down in the same spot with the same notebook to write 4 pages.
7.     Every time you receive a text or check twitter force yourself to write 100 words.

Each one of these exercises is to gauge how much structure you need. Some factor in time, others quantity, others reactions and others establish rituals to put yourself in the correct mindset.

Neuroling├╝istically speaking, you can hotwire your brain to gain better structure and discipline. Specifically look at exercise #6. Here you are basically giving tribute to BF Skinner and his conductive theory (one which I actually hate, although it does have merit and value when used responsibly). Here you are using most of your senses to basically prepare to write and by creating a habit out of it, it’ll be like what fighters use to effectively psyche themselves up for before a match. In other words, if you do this often enough, you will accustom your brain to NEED to write every time you snap your fingers four times or see that the clock chimes 8 PM.

Fun fact, example #7 has more of a Pavlov approach to it because you prompt yourself to always have a reaction when something happens and if you’re in a block you can basically ask someone to text you from time to time and will be surprised when it works. Regardless, classical or operant conditioning is conditioning and you can use it to your advantage.

The last thing to take into account is habits. Habit is a nice way of saying casual discipline, something you do out of instinct. That’s why so many people practice their craft, basically to condition and prepare their bodies and minds to react at lightning speed when facing stimuli. That’s why a batter can hit a baseball he doesn’t necessarily see, that’s why a tennis player will know to swing their backhand even when they are off balance, and that is why a boxer will instinctively know when to throw a counter left hook when their opponent throws a lazy jab. So practice… a lot. Every day. Don’t ALWAYS work on your story, work on other things, vary your method, now always write, and write more.

After all, if that’s what you want, then do it.

Thanks to @Writer_Phill for input on the writer chaos concept.


  1. Great article! And thanks for the shout out! A solution to the Chaos Writer Jedi Robe Conundrum.

  2. Anytime Phill. Keep the Jedi robe handy and keep writing. You're welcome for the shoutout and feel free to keep in touch.