First, take a blank page and put it on horizontal surface. Then take your pen and take a second to think of your recipe.
Start small: Begin noting everything that comes to mind. Not everything needs to be connected. Start with the most important stuff and then proceed to the details, if you feel like it. You want it sweet or not? You want it decorated somehow? You want chocolate or you would rather enjoy something with fruits?
Once you get that first draft ready, you are set for the next part of the process: Gather your ingredients. But before you finish gathering, take another blank page and start making use of them according to your first draft.
Now you are ready for the fun part:
Embrace the mess
Maybe you are thinking that the process of making that cake will look something like this picture. Wouldn’t it be lovely? Just take every ingredient and discard the ones you don’t need, putting everything back where it belongs after use and keeping your counter clean and shiny through the whole process. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that give you less to deal with later?
Of course it would…
Well, the reality looks something like this.
But wait! Don’t start running away from making that cake! This is perfectly normal, a part of the process for a delicious treat… And by finishing that part, you will have finished the hardest part of the recipe.
So now that you have everything on your counter it is time for some action.
First of all butter, and then sugar, and then eggs. Mix well until smooth. Add milk and flour little by little. Now the important parts are behind you. The basic ingredients are in. Put in some vanilla to make it smell great.
What you have in front of you is the dough for your cake. You look at it and it does smell nice but other than that, it is not edible. It is not ready. You start to feel disheartened. Well don’t be.
As I mentioned, making cake is a process. And now, you have just finished the first part. We have several more to go before our cake is ready!
Let me clear something out first. This is not a cooking blog. And I am not planning on making one, at least in the near future. This is a blog where an aspiring writer notes some stuff she thinks worth mentioning, while practicing her daily free writing exercise. Now that we got this out of the way, let’s proceed on how to make that cake.
The first thing one needs to make cake, or anything for that matter, is ingredients. You know, the stuff that when combined give you something worth eating. But not just any ingredient will do. This is why you need a recipe. The recipe is the second most important part after the ingredients: It tells you exactly which ingredients you need, measured in the exact needed quantities and used in the exact needed order.
So lets start making that cake. First we need to find a recipe. What do we want our cake to taste like? Sweet? Not so sweet? Creamy? Let’s say we want it to taste sweet. We know a lot of things that can be used to sweeten a cake. But until we find our recipe, we can’t be certain on which of them serves us most.
So before you start gather your ingredients, it is important to find a recipe.
In writing, the research products are the ingredients. The recipe is -or should be- our initial plan for what exactly it is that we want to communicate.
Make an appointment with yourself everyday. Allocate a time where you sit down and write. It doesn’t matter if it is on a notebook or in a computer. What matters is getting these words out of your head, putting them down to paper and then deciding if you will keep or discard them.
It doesn’t matter if someone will read it. Write freely without thinking if someone will like it. This is your chance to empty your mind on a piece of paper, and you really should not think about anything at all.
Ever felt too bad to write? Or to do anything at all?
There is a simple analogy that helps overcome this situation.
Think of your mood as you would think about the weather. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it snows. Other times thunderstorms appear and you need shelter. But ask yourself: do you stop working because the weather has changed? No. You keep working, while you wait for the sun to appear. Do the same when you feel disheartened. Write, no matter how you feel. This is going to give you a sense of accomplishment, a little win while you wait for the sun.
I remember learning about it at school. When I first heard its use, I rejected it, thinking that if someone needs to add a semicolon in her writing, then there is something wrong with the way she structures the sentence. I used to think that comma and period are more absolute and their role in a sentence was clearly defined, so why bother using the semicolon?
Years later the semicolon returned. Only this time, I was a different person. I was trying to learn everything in my reach in order to write better. And in those lessons editing and semicolon stood out. I used it once, a little shy. Then I used it more. Then I used it again. In internal punctuation it became a helpful friend. In other cases, where a comma was not as strong as I wanted and a period would ruin the flow of the sentence, semicolon came to save the day.
I am writing this because there is an opinion that says that the only use of semicolon is to show you ‘ve been to college. Well, I haven’t been to college. And I still use it; and I really like it. Years ago, the way I was thinking was more simple. Now, it is a little more complicated. Now I know that in order to change, you need to try new things. As the saying goes “You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.” (and no, Einstein didn’t say that.)
But do you know what is it that really makes writing happen?
New stuff. And I mean, new everything.
First of all new books. When you read, you want to write. You need to write. Especially when you read good books. And for that, I suggest Charles Dickens. His word mastery is out-of-this-world. I am currently reading the “Tale of Two Cities” and I am amazed.
Then we have the next step. Getting out of your comfort zone. Because, let’s be honest, it may be safe and cozy but not much is going on in there. While outside of it, the sky is your limit. And mine. Because this is an advice I need myself as well. Taking risks, making decisions, doing things require you to put your brain at work. And when your brain works, you get thoughts. And when the thoughts are combined with new data you get new pictures. And with pictures you can write.
Do something different every day. Take a walk outside. Drive to work through a different route. Wake up earlier than usual. Just change something -anything- about your routine. I cannot recommend it enough. It is going to give you a spark of surprise and your soul could really use it.
They say writing happens everywhere. Apparently, in front of a computer when you sit and write. But it also happens everywhere else. While watching a show, while shopping at a supermarket, while driving, while watching the sky… A green leaf can set a series of thoughts in motion. A text you are writing can start evolving a new text in your mind. Thoughts jump around in your head and you try to put them in order.
So keeping a notebook nearby is necessary. Or one can use the “Notes” phone application, where you can write notes, or record voice notes and revisit anytime you need something to write about.
To have a notebook is to own a place in space where you keep some extra inspiration and saving your thoughts for your eyes only.
The fact that I am only writing and not editing does not mean I write without empathy. This is my process:
I write; and while I am writing I am editing. But after I am done with a text, that’s it. I don’t touch it again. This is what I mean by “unedited thoughts.” I try to make that first draft easy to read, and easy to understand. There is no mapping or planning evolved. I just put my thoughts into paper. That is why it is called “free-writing.”
And if somebody reads my project, the best way to see it is like reading a writer’s journal. The day to day facts I deem remarkable enough to put on paper, along with some thoughts and experiments of my own. Although, it is too early to give a description of this project, as I am only on day #4.
There is something strange about writing in a foreign language. Your brain works differently, and I think I know why.
We learn languages by listening the same words and phrases again and again. So, however fluent in our native language, thinking in a foreign language, requires us to bring back memories of phrases we read or heard and caught our attention. These memories may be few or more. But when putting them to writing, what you get is a pretty puzzle of thoughts being made into words, by funneling them through the limited cone of our knowledge or memory of that language.
It feels good though, having written in a foreign language, to know that your writing makes sense. By doing that, you unlock a whole new spectrum of writing possibilities that would be unavailable on your native language. Because to compose you have to think differently. You have to think twice.