Hello and welcome to the 100 Day Writing Challenge, Day 12.
A dozen days! Two hours of intense, focused work you’ve committed to your writing. That’s so cool. It’s a real achievement and I mean it when I say you have every right to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come. You’re planting seeds and who can say how long they’ll take to grow or what kind of fruit they’ll bear.
I should say, because I haven’t mentioned it until now, but it’s worth paying attention to your dreams this week. I find when people start doing freewrites intensely, it’s like you’re injecting your unconscious mind with steroids. Or, to use a slightly friendlier analogy, it’s like you’re visiting the duckpond every day with a bag of bread crumbs, and on day one you chuck some in and a few ducks come, day two you throw the crumbs and a few more ducks turn up, day five, you’re scarcely into the park when this great congregation of ducks, swans, seagulls, pigeons and tiny little robins all come surging towards you expecting food.
Whilst I would never want to commit the grievous neuroscientific folly of anthropomorphising individual areas of your brain and investing them with agency, we can say with a kind of semi-accurate shorthand that there are parts of your mind that actively want to come up with ideas. That want to speculate and hypothesise and produce. And you can get pleasure from the activity, once you stop inhibiting it.
So the downside to that – or not really a downside, just an unintended consequence – is that once you turn the inspiration spigot on, it’s on. So you may find yourself staring at an elderly lady on the bus and making up an elaborate life story for her. You may get a whole idea for a novel at 3am. Your dreams may become more vivid, you may remember them more, they may take on a somewhat gnarly quality they’ve hitherto lacked.
I woke up with the fragment of a dream two nights ago. Just the tail end of a much longer thing, and all I could remember was I’d dreamt about this secret facility, this lab or centre called ‘Callicoe’, but Calico with an e, like toe, and they’d been doing some kind of experimental training on people there back in the 60s or 70s, and all I could remember was a line from a textbook about the place, which said, ‘what you have to remember is, there were people there who desperately needed their brains fried’. And ‘needed’ was italicised.
I don’t know what any of that means, and it might not be particularly resonant to you – other people’s dreams rarely are – but it’s ever so slightly lingered with me. I think the ambiguity of dreams, their inherent meaninglessness, with these big semantic lacunae, gaps that aren’t explained, make them great fodder for kicking off little writing exercises. It’s like your brain starts automatically throwing ropes across the great chasms between ideas, trying to build bridges and connect them all into some sort of coherent whole.
Right, so today I’m asking you to do another freewrite. Because we’re building up our tolerance, and conditioning the mind so you too start to get odd nocturnal hallucinations. And, you know, more importantly just doing some exposure therapy when it comes to making mistakes. If you can get comfortable in the freewriting space, where your words come out weird and awkward and oftentimes emotional, any perfectionist tendencies will start to wither. We learn through doing. We’re training.
So ten minutes, writing about absolutely whatever comes into your head. Could be fiction, freeform, whatever. No deleting, no backtracking, be as cliched, derivative, sentimental, rude, messy and incoherent as you like. Just keep that pen moving.
Are you ready? Go.
And that’s it. That’s another full-on ten minutes of training in the bag.
How was it today? What have you ended up writing about? Any moments in there that catch your eye? A turn of phrase that interests you? Anything surprising?
I hope I’ve done enough so far that you’ll trust me a bit on this. I know it’s a leap of faith to ask you to come back to the freewrite and repeat it – though no one ever really does the same freewrite twice – but it really is where I see writers make the biggest gains, even if they don’t enjoy the freewrites themselves. It’s a form of exposure therapy, and it lets you experiment, take some big stylistic risks, and it just feels very different to our normal way of engaging with fiction writing and trying to get it right.
If you’ve got quite a strong inner critic, you might find yourself rebelling against that a little bit. And that’s ok. I definitely have that tendency. For now, just notice your reaction, whatever it is.
Right. I think we’re done here. Thank you for your hard work. I’ll see you tomorrow.