Why it’s Essential to Unlearn How to Write

The Value of Deconditioning

Practice can lead to improvement, but we don’t automatically get better as we write.

Experience alone doesn’t lead to improvement. If we do the same thing over and over, years may go by and we don’t get better.

If you drive your car in circles, you’ll put plenty of miles on your odometer, but you won’t get to your destination. Similarly, if you constantly struggle with the same things, you can spend a thousand hours battling the same obstacles. You get worn down instead of improving.

I don’t want that for you. I want you to be revitalized by your writing. I want it to fuel you and inspire you.

I want you to become a better person by doing what you love to do.

Facing familiar struggles? Change something.

I have noticed that when I am struggling on a project and I just power forward, two things happen.

  • It’s still hard to actually produce work
  • What I produce is not good.

In other words, I skipped a step. By choosing to blindly power forward, I’m not listening to my feelings, and so I am not being fueled by them. If I don’t like what I’m doing, it’s going to show in my writing. If I don’t have a good relationship with what I’m working on, why am I spending my energy doing it?

Don’t get me wrong — it’s priceless at times to really make yourself follow through even when you don’t feel like it in the moment.

The beauty of committing to freewriting as a go-to writing style means that I can ask myself questions in my actual writing. Those questions can shift my perspective and get me on the right track.

  • Am I being lazy, and not valuing my own purpose?
  • Am I sabotaging? Am I trying to convince myself of something that isn’t in my best interest? What does my gut have to say about all this?
  • Am I on the wrong path here? Do I no longer believe in this?

Deconditioning needs to happen from time to time. Things need to be unlearned. When a blocking pattern becomes familiar, it's high time to assess the situation from a place of altitude and clarity. Click To Tweet

Learning to simplify

I wish that I had learned to write the same way I learned how to draw. I learned how to draw by drawing still lives. My instructor taught a few fundamentals (such as the use of line) and he did so very well.

He emphasized seeing. I was encouraged to spend as much time as possible looking at the still life, not at my drawing.

And I was not encouraged to “express” myself. When looking over at the drawings made by my classmates, it was clear that we all had differences of style, and much of this came from differences of seeing.

If he had emphasized expression, it would have encouraged us to become eccentric, to exaggerate our perceived differences. I much prefer the honest approach, because it wisely understands that one’s uniqueness is best cultivated unselfconsciously.

In other words, focus on the work. Keep your eyes on your subject as much as possible. Strive for clarity and ease, strive for your own truth.

When I was taught to write, most of the focus was on what to avoid: grammar mistakes, namely. It wasn’t fun, and it also conditioned me to be overly concerned with the letters and words I put on the page.

In still life terms, I was encouraged not to see, but to stare at my page. This enabled me to create functionally correct, self-critical essays that lacked soul.

When I learned how to draw, I wasn’t told to worry about incorrect lines. I was advised to make my initial contour lines light, so that I could disregard them if they didn’t turn out to be useful.

An analogous technique in freewriting is the use of the sketch.

Creative writers deserve to be taught a better writing process. The one taught in school (brainstorm, prewrite, two drafts) works fine for short essays. With longer imaginative works, where you are challenging yourself uniquely to write something that exceeds your abilities, it can get frustrating or downright maddening to try and work this way, because you can’t ever fully know where you’ll end up when you begin your first draft.

And anyway, the creative process is not always so straightforward because you’re trying to put something of your real self into it.

So, in nearly all cases, the academic writing process becomes “recursive;” it goes back and forth. For awhile, you work on the draft. You write 100 pages. Then, you hit a snag, and you spend some time thinking about your characters. You delete 50 pages. You make some discoveries and write 200 new pages that no longer seem to have much to do with the original ones. You start fresh, but gloss over some of the subtext of a few important scenes, and eventually lose track of why you wanted to write the story in the first place.

Recursion can be a menace. If it sounds like I’m speaking from personal experience here, it’s because I am. I have spent my fair share of time wrangling unmanagable drafts, overly attached to sections that don’t fit.

The question I ask now to determine whether material gets cut: is there life in it?

To some extent, bouncing around may be unavoidable. Each writing project requires its own unique approach. A given project may require the strangest things from you. Sometimes, to make progress, you have to take a step back.

But it sure would be nice to have a writing process that was more rigorous and less bouncy.

Unlearning an overly tangled writing process

Return to a simple technique that is also adaptable.

The problem with stop-and-go writing is that it insists that you write /correctly, not that you write /as you are.

Freewriting brings presence and vitality into your writing process.

It’s not just getting a job done. It’s about who you truly are. The more you write with a sense of spontaneity and immediacy, the more you naturally show up — your words, your voice, your vision.

My depth freewriting course is designed to bring writers to a place where they can strike outward from their center. It’s designed to make writing a cleaner, more direct and fulfilling practice.

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