Writing Hacks: You Have Something to Say

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable. So’s writing.

What is the most important thing about writing? A broad vocabulary? An engaging story? Rich, memorable characters? Extraordinary ideas or foresight?

The great science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany wrote in his indispensable book About Writing that the most important part of writing can be summed up in

“…what the early German romantics called Begeistrung – the sin qua non for the artist, more important than intelligence, passion, or even imagination, and the foundation for them all. Literally ‘in-spiritedness’ and often translated as ‘inspiration,’ it carries just as strongly the sense of ‘spirited,’ so that it is more accurately designated as the English word ‘enthusiasm.'”

We all have passions. We all have subject that bring out all of our energy. But it can be difficult at times to access that energy. It can be difficult to find enthusiasm.

Here’s a way to use freewriting to get to the content you are most enthusiastic about.

Take note that content that brings enthusiasm isn’t the same thing as content that overwhelms. If anything comes up that might be too much while doing the exercise, veer away from that content. There’s a Goldilocks point with intense content. Strong enough to get you going, but not so intense that you can’t work with it.

Approach this like a freewrite. Timer. The only rule is keep the words coming out. Write free.

Timer at 5 minutes for each prompt. Yes, it’s not enough time. So go fast.


A List of 40 things I Want to Write About

A list of 40 things I don’t want to write about

A list of 40 things I am afraid to write about

Circle some of the things on the list in the Goldilocks spot.

Start a freewrite using one of those things as a prompt. Try to transform the topic into something you can see, or to a memory, or make it active. For example, if the topic is “melting ice cream,” try: “When I see ice cream melt” or or “My first memory of melting ice cream is” or “”When I think about melting ice cream I see”

When you’ve done all that, try to apply some of this content to an arbitrary story structure.

If you go through this, and don’t find any topic that gets your enthusiasm going, then do it again — this tie double the timer and the number of things. Keep going. You have something to say. Just find a topic that will motivate you to hold on to it, shake it around, turn it over, and find new ways of looking at it.

Check out previous Writing Hacks!

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