Saturday, February 13, 2021

Hitching the Brain to the Writing Arm

Note: This post was written toward the beginning of the year. I'm only just now getting around to posting it. 

It's that time of year when we all start making New Year's Resolutions — of course, some resolve not to make resolutions, but that's another story. These resolutions usually take the form of action items for improving an area of our lives where we feel lacking. Well, dear readers, let me tell you, I've certainly been lacking in the writing department these past several months — maybe longer, if I'm honest. In thinking over how I might increase my writing productivity this year, I was reminded of something Dorthea Brande says in her excellent book on becoming a writer, Becoming a Writer. Brande talks about freewriting and "hitching the brain to the writing arm." 

Now, freewriting is an area of my writing life where I actually do a halfway decent job. I'd say I do some freewriting, either by hand or typing, more days than not. Freewriting certainly has its benefits. Lately, I've been doing it by hand so as to get back into the habit of writing in cursive (and improving my penmanship). I've used it to certainly "brain dump" all the things I needed or wanted to get done in a day or over the course of the week; to work through long-term goals; and as a sort of gratitude journal. (I gave up the gratitude journal aspect because it was getting so repetitive. Certainly I have much to be grateful for, but my daily routine is somewhat set and I found myself looking around the room and naming things like Steve Carrell's character in Anchorman: I'm grateful for lamp. I love lamp.) 

Brande's idea for freewriting was to "hitch your brain to your writing arm." In other words, to get used to thinking in the written form. Now, to be honest, I don't know that freewriting has ever had that effect on me. Maybe. But my freewriting seems to be more or less just a running transcription of my thoughts, with little sense of structure. I suppose there is some benefit to that else I wouldn't have kept it up as long as I have. But save maybe when I've been brainstorming on a particular story idea, I don't feel like the freewriting has made me a better writer or made the writing of fiction come more easily. That said, it does seem to me that the people I know for whom writing comes most easily are people who write a lot. And while those folks, for all I know, might be writing endless reams of stream-of-consciousness freewriting, they are also writing prose that is of a more finished quality: books and stories, yes, but also blog posts, book reviews, well thought-out social media posts, Twitter threads in the several hundred word category, etc. I . . . don't do much of that. 

But maybe it's time to start. I think I'll keep up the freewriting (if nothing else, it's a good way to practice penmanship), but I think I'll also try to "hitch my brain to my writing arm" in other ways as well, by posting here, for instance. By writing emails and/or letters to friends, etc. Will that have a salutary effect on my fiction writing? I suppose only time will tell.