The Secret to Writing Better: Taking a Dump
Many Writers suffer from, and complain about, writer’s block. It stops us from finishing big projects, and stifles the small ones, as well. But, big reveal here, there is no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only laziness, fear, and overthinking stuff. You’re just using the wrong part of your mind at that moment.
If you read #3 in this series, you know writing with Heart is the simple solution. As the wild, wondering, and wandering part of yourself, writing with the Heart is less about planning and outlining, and more about opening a fire hydrant of words and ideas, regardless if they’re useful or “correct.
”A so-called “block” is a stoppage of words, so to overcome it, you must deliver words — it’s that simple. You have to deliver those words in whatever way you can, but the easiest is merely to stop thinking about them, and just feeling them, allowing your random feelings, ideas, and subconscious thought flow onto the page. You don’t have to use any of it, but at least the block is gone.
Your charge through this stage of writing is just to think less and feel more. Do not worry, do not edit, do not plan ahead. Never use writer’s block as an excuse. The only way to do it is to do it. When you’re stuck, the only way through it is through it. Just keep going. Put words on the page, worry about them later. Stop overthinking it and write. And, the following tips and techniques will help you do just that. They will help you escape your own mind, freeing yourself from methodical Head, and allowing you to bypass the block. You will learn to unleash ideas faster, without critique. Then, in later articles (be patient!), you’ll learn how to consolidate those ideas, give them structure and form, and focus your thinking and energy to drive you toward a more complete piece of writing.
Here it comes...
The great conqueror of so-called writer’s block, the Braindump is the most valuable tool a writer can have, and yet it’s also most certainly the one that’s first abandoned.
Simply, your Dump will be a stream of thoughts onto the page that will become your notes, regardless of what you’re writing. It’s where you input these ideas and information so as to not have to process and incubate them in your own head, because the reality of writer’s block is that if there’s no output, there was never enough input.
Proper incubation of writing never happens in the mind, and it rarely occurs in a linear fashion. It happens on the page. If you wait for the beautiful sentence, it will never come. If you try to craft it in your brain, by the time you get to the period, you’ll have lost the beginning. Even if you attempt to craft a single short, simple email in your brain, by the time you get to the signature, the first sentence is long gone. It’s like trying to remember a phone number. Seven numbers, okay, but toss an area code on there and we’re done. How foolish of us to think we can write something without writing it down when we can’t even remember full phone numbers. That’s because your brain can only hold, process, and remember so much at a given time. As much as you believe you can create and craft an idea and it’s written form in your brain, you’re wrong. So, the more you Dump, the more opportunity you create for yourself and your work. The effort is to not ever try to write in your own brain. You have to take the dumber approach and just write it down.
Let’s try it. Craft an email in your brain, right now, this very moment. Make it to a close friend or a business client. Make it pithy and relatable, but also make sure it solves a problem or has a clear call to action.
You better be doing it…….
I know you’re not…….
Ugh, fine, you suck....
Ok, if you played along then as you considered your words and you built your message, you likely crafted something amazing, yet as you continued on, that prior sentence, that killer line you created before you moved onto the next, it certainly faded. You might not have realized it at first. You thought you were crushing it. But, when you went back to fix that great line back there, you struggled to put it back together, and just doing that made the rest of it vanish, as well. What a mess. You should have just listened to me.
Your brain cannot comprehend and process that much information while also making it exceptional, but for some strange reason, we all still try to write in our minds, not on the page. For some reason we think we’re better than that. We think we’re so advanced in our ability to write a simple old email that we can do it in the same brain that only remembers one phone number these days. That’s why putting it all on “paper” allows you to effectively store everything. Once you accept your cognitive limitations and work from the Dump, you’re free to write more freely and wildly on the page, not in your brain.Better out than in, as they say.
The Dump Doc
This gem of a writing tool exists as a Google Doc or similar digital word processing document that allows you to write as much as you can on a topic so as to put it on the page and not try to leave it in your head. Other Dump locations include Word, iPhone Notes, email drafts, and a classic piece of paper.If you struggle with “writing” in any way, the Braindump is where you tell yourself that it isn’t writing at all; it’s just jotting some stuff down in a Google Doc. You can call it stream of consciousness if you’d like. I call it “taking a dump” because I’m a classy fella. But also, because calling it that is not at all glamorous of a phrase, it’s therefore more approachable, and more achievable.
A Dump lets you avoid the vast blank page and that evil blinking cursor — it throws you forward into the work. With the Dump, there are no worries, no complications, no pretense, no straight lines you’re forced to follow. You’re just taking a good ol’ dump. Everyone does it! It’s your time, your space, your business. No one is watching, no one needs to know what happens, so there is no need to worry. It’s even less pressure than taking a real dump in the workplace because it’s much quieter and your pants are on, maybe.
Ok, back to business: writing is a creative act, and all too often we see creativity as something formulaic, something that requires outlines, process, and thought. But from all my years as a writer, creative director, and TV producer, I’ve found that taking a Dump is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a creative process. That’s because, in its nature, it’s meant to be raw creativity flowing freely onto the page where it can be stored, processed, and edited. Look into that chaos and you will in fact start to see patterns within. That means, the only process is to allow yourself to be free, to embrace the chaos with an open mind.
Once you’re taking your Dump, you’ll be shocked by how quickly you can unload all kinds of shit, and somehow end up writing whatever you intended in the process. The act of freely writing allows you to solve problems through trial & error and an overall “shotgun approach.” It’s not a targeted shot, not a linear path, but a wide and wild shot that will hit enough of the target to get the job done. It moves up and down, backwards and forwards, and every which way, and that frenetic movement is what actually drives it forward. And, regardless of its complexity and disorder, you can always come back in later with some thoughtful editing to finish off the rest of the target that you’re firing at — you don’t have to hit it dead one immediately. With a Dump, you have unlimited ammunition. (Got my NRA readers locked in now! ‘Bout time they started using their words, amirite?!?!)Throughout the length of your writing project, this Dump Doc will be a source for ideas, words, and phrases. It will be full of inspiration and content for you to pull from. You’ll always be able to return to it, especially when you look to revise based on feedback. So, with the existence of this Dump, you can immediately recall those thoughts you had hours, days, weeks, months ago.The challenge then becomes, what in the hell do you do in the meantime with all this crap you just dumped out? That’s where structure comes in — the forming and reforming of creative information, because good writing is just good editing. But, we’ll cover that later in this article series (I already told you...be patient!).
Don’t get it right, get it written.
Writers struggle most to put words on the page when they obsess over crafting the most finely tuned linguistic masterpiece ever to have been written.
Don’t do that.There’s too much to remember and filter. Draft & craft. Fill the page, fix it later. It all starts with the words on the screen. It all starts with you taking a big Dump.
How to take a Dump:
- Open a new Google Doc or similar clean sheet for storing information and ideas.
- Start writing. Write everything and anything. This is your space to unleash it all.
How much do I write in my Braindump?
Good question. My general rule of thumb is that I give myself as much as half of my overall writing time to Dump and write freely onto the page throughout that time, which means if I estimate that I have two days to write, I’ll Dump for one, while never questioning it or feeling like I’m procrastinating. You really have to feel comfortable having nothing that looks anywhere near finished for long stretches of time. If a novel roughly takes a year, give yourself as many as six months to focus on nothing but ideas and free-flowing Dumps. If you Dumped correctly, when you actually get into crafting that novel, you will find it already exists in raw form inside your Dump — the work is there, it just doesn’t look like it, yet. The next six months will just be cleaning up and structuring all of the ideas, plot points, dialogue, character descriptions, or whatever else you already had in there just waiting to be made sense of.
By Dumping well, whatever I’m supposed to be writing will be in there, in some form. It just won’t be in any sort of order — only you will be able to feel it in there waiting for you, like a Renaissance sculptor seeing the statue in a piece of marble. If you have to write more, it means you didn’t Dump enough. Don’t short-change yourself by limiting the time you spend in the Dump stage. This is Disney’s first room (go back and read #3 in the series if you haven’t yet), and all other rooms depend upon it, so give it time to work. Quality comes from quantity.
People are too often scared that this collection of random thoughts will be discovered and read aloud, like a diary. But, the wonderful thing about Google docs is that you don’t have to share, and when you’re done writing, you can delete it or pretend it never existed. I have countless Google Docs stored up that I’ve never revisited, but when they were in use, they were absolutely priceless to my work. Likewise, your Dumps will not be studied, reviewed, or critiqued. There will be no autopsy or audit. They are yours and yours alone. So write freely, and treat them as the priceless canvases they are for you, the writer.
Additionally, Braindumps are not limited to big writing exercises, like novels or scripts. You can use a Dump sheet even for emails. Though, sometimes I overthink this and feel that Google Docs are a real investment in what I’m writing, like I’m fully committing to it once that document exists. Therefore, I use a Gmail draft. It’s smaller, feels like just an email, and therefore eliminates some of the pressure. The Notes app on your phone, email drafts, your notebook — anything can be a Dump sheet for you, so use whatever helps you complete your work.So there, you’re an expert at beating writer’s block. This is exciting. Stop reading though. Go write!Looking to write more dumb? Reach out to the Digital Surgeons team of writers about Writing Workshops, or get the little dumb book Write Dumb: Writing Better by Thinking Less, written by DS Creative Director James Dowd.