The Secret to Writing Better: Write Crazy
Welcome! This here is Part 6 of a dumb series of dumb writing tips. In these rants, you’ll discover that whatever you need to write — for work or fun — you only have to follow these dumb little tips to help you think less and write more. If you haven't already, catch up on the whole series with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5!
“Writer’s block results from too much head. Cut off your head. You have to be reckless when writing. Be as crazy as your conscience allows. ”Joseph Campbell
Whether it’s an email, a social post, a pick-up line on a dating app, or a book, whatever you’re writing you have to stop ruminating on it. If it does not exist on the page, you are not writing; you are merely thinking, which is not writing. To truly write, you have to begin by writing madly, openly, and freely — in an unabashed frenzy, free from strain or structure. And the idiocy in this article will help you do just that.
Sane people do not belong here amongst the writers. And, you too are a writer, whether you want to admit it or not, so it’s time to embrace your insanity. It’s time to get crazy.
Let’s get into it.
So, you’re at your computer, you’ve started the engine; it’s time to hit the open roads and drive this damn car. Don’t think, just write. Write your thoughts and feelings, not that blog post, or a script, or an email you’re planning. There is no structure yet. We’re not there yet! This is your time to infuse creativity, and emotion, and passion, and energy, and pure shit, because shit is good at this stage of writing. Shit should be celebrated! You can fix bad pages, but you can’t fix no pages, so shit away!
Put something on the page, anything, and you can work with it later. If you need one good line, write a few bad ones and consider what makes them bad. The truth is that by writing in multiples, you’re likely to accidentally write one you like. This is why, in advertising, creative directors demand 50-100 headlines and taglines from their copywriters. It’s not to be mean. Well, sometimes it’s to be mean. But, mostly, it’s to get their ideas out onto the page, so they aren’t trying to write in their own heads. If they write 100 headlines for a print ad and actually write them down while doing it, only about five will be any good. If they try to write five in their head, it’ll probably take the same amount of time, and maybe one single good one, maybe, will even be remembered. The difference is in being able to see what’s on the page — what’s good and what’s bad? What’s working and what isn’t? What can you build on or deconstruct? These questions can only be asked when you’re working with more ideas, not less. Your brain needs something to work off of, and that means it’s time for you to deliver some magic. So, write away. Write freely with no bounds, no thought, no inhibitions.
Stuck? Try just writing single words. Literally, just single words stacked on top of one another. Don’t even try to write sentences — that’s for sane people! Use word association and write every word you can think of related to your topic. Spend time in a thesaurus and write out synonyms for the words you come up with. See what journeys it takes you on. The more words you write, the more you have to work with, so why limit yourself right from the start?
Still feeling stuck? Geez. Try asking yourself questions, have an idiotic conversation with yourself for fun, and create similes and metaphors to allow yourself to see things from different sides, adding depth and different perspectives to your point-of-view, while also adding some creative flavor.
- What do I want to express with this article? I want people to not overthink their writing, so they write more, better, and faster.
- How does it make you feel? Worried that I’m actually under-thinking it all, and everything I do that I think is clever is all just crap advice, or not as insightful as I imagined, and is, therefore, going to be torn apart by this person right here reading it. (Yeah, you.)
- Make connections based on that. What is that like? This article might be like toilet paper still on the roll. I think it’s useful, but people are still probably going to shit on it.
- Now I’m worried you’re using too many poop puns. I thought you were a professional? How dare you! That’s just a shitty thing to say, and what do you know anyway!?!?
- I’m you, dummy. Yeah, well, you’re a real asshole.
Much like explaining it to yourself like you’re an idiot, having a conversation with yourself adds a fresh perspective, albeit a weird one, which allows you to see your work differently. It’s similar to how someone new to a project can immediately see the mistake or a way to make something better as soon as they walk in the room. It’s incredibly annoying but it always happens and it’s always helpful, no matter what you’re working on (even if you don’t like to admit it). Those people have a magical power to see what you can’t see because they’re not trapped deep in the weeds like you are. They’re swooping in with fresh, unbiased eyes — something you’re preventing yourself from doing despite the amazing ability for your creative mind to shift perspectives in a moment. So, remember to find new ways to shift points of view. Review your own work by asking questions, explaining it to yourself in dumb ways, and just get it onto the page where you are more likely to catch mistakes and improve your own writing before someone else can annoyingly swoop in to do it for you.
The Dumbest Writing Tip Ever: Let Your Lil’ Idiot Write.
If this were an intelligent, serious article, we’d be talking about this as deep focus, or being in a mental flow state. But, this is neither intelligent nor smart, so what I’m about to offer is far more wacky and weird than “flow states.” That’s because I firmly believe that there is another you in your brain. It’s this whole other person with different talents and opinions and tastes. They’re a benevolent secret self that’s trapped inside your body with no clear voice or control, unless you give them the opportunity to come out and play.
Mine’s in there, I know it! And he’s a great writer. I’m actually not a good writer, at all, never have been. I didn’t do well in college. I was told by my advisor not to even try. Yet, somehow I’ve made a living off of it. I even wrote a blog article that you’ve somehow been tricked into reading right now. That’s because he gets it, man — my little guy, he gets it. He doesn't worry about what people think. He doesn’t overthink anything. He just unleashes words onto the page. It’s actually cool to witness. I’m just sitting there, not thinking at all, kinda zoning out, but words are appearing on the page. Sometimes they’re good, most of the time they aren’t, but there they are, right there, flowing, coming to life. I can’t control it, or him, but I like it.
His name is Kevin, my little idiot who lives in my brain and writes for me. He’s too dumb to understand critique or social pressures. He doesn’t care what I want or what I think. He doesn’t understand job security. He doesn’t worry about us paying our bills. He just knows words, and that’s it. He LOVES words. He never helps me anywhere else in life. He’s just this dummy in my head who actively grabs onto words, ideas, and anything creative, and he stores them up there for me. In everything I do, I’m the critic, I’m the judge, I’m the party-pooper, and Kevin...man, Kevin is the creative madman — an open hydrant of ideas. Gotta love Kev.
Oftentimes, when someone comments on my writing, or asks questions, I can’t respond because I don’t really know what happened or why I made the decisions that I made. People think I’m being humble, but since when am I ever humble?!? I can’t answer because I didn’t actually write it. Kevin wrote it, not me. Someone will ask why I wrote something the way I did, or used that word specifically. I have no friggin idea, man! I didn’t actually write it, my mind’s a blank right now! Someone will compliment a piece of writing, and I feel like I can’t even take ownership or praise. Aren’t you listening?! I didn’t write it! For the smart people out there, I was in that hyper-focused flow state, which can slightly blur memory, but for you crazies, I simply wasn’t in charge. I didn’t write those things. My boy Kevin did.
Plus, when things go wrong and I make mistakes or follow the wrong paths, I don’t take credit or beat myself up over it, because it wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault. It was that idiot Kevin over there, wasting my precious time with his dumb words. My writing wasn’t bad, HIS was! What a jerk. I’d totally fire him, if I could. But, he has tenure.
So, find that person in your brain. Get to know the little idiot in there. Trust your inner weirdo. Give them a name. Listen to them when they have something to share. Give up the wheel and let them drive for a bit. Feel the flow of ideas they can offer, and blame them if things go poorly.
Once you become acquainted with your inner idiot, like being in a deep meditative mental flow state, like musicians or a Navy SEAL sniper, writing with your idiot allows you to forget space and time in order to experience a form of intense hyper focus. Normally, you’re in control, so you saying the words aren’t right, or that you’re wasting time, or wondering if it’s ‘they’re’ or ‘their’ is just slowing you down. You’re getting in your own way. But, your little creative idiot up there in your head, they don’t worry about these trivial things. They just want you to get out of their way. They want to write. It’s why they exist. Let them do their thing.
Well said, Kev.
Another Really Dumb Writing Tip: Dress Up For The Words.
In order to disrupt fear and my own repeating routines, style, and existence, I’ve found myself making subtle changes during my writing days by “dressing up” for the work ahead. Now, be clear, this is not dressing up in the way it’s commonly used. I am certainly not in a suit & tie. I am instead in whatever I can find, from a pink cowboy hat to rainbow suspenders, in order to change my perspective and not make writing an intellectual exercise.
In college, I would sneak over to a female friend’s house next door and grab what I could — some Juicy sweatpants, check! Some big ol’ fashionista sunglasses, got’em! Whatever I could quickly and easily get my hands on, I used them as tools to help myself fall deeper and deeper into myself. I was pure focus, driven by a force that is purely “me” or maybe purely “Kevin.”
There were no expectations to my writing — no barriers, no prejudices, no preconceived notions, no rules. I was creating a small experience for myself, not trying to look or be cool, and not trying to prove anything to anyone. I didn’t care what people thought of me, I was just in the moment, a conduit for words and ideas. I was telling myself that this moment is different — that I should do and see things differently while in this uniform.
Imagine my roommates’ confusion seeing me at my computer dressed like this. They had to not only wonder why I was wearing a Speedo, but where did it come from and why didn’t it fit very well? They were too scared to ask. And, worse for them was that I would never have explained it even if they asked, because this was my time. I was working. I was in the zone. I was dressing for myself, my muse, my dearest Kev-Kev, and my words, and nothing or no one else could stop me. I had no time for their mundane worries like being a normal human functioning in polite society. I had to write, dammit!
Elizabeth Gilbert, writer of brilliantly written books Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic goes beyond the absurd to actually dress up for her ideas. With a dress, some jewelry, and some make-up, she doesn’t just show up to write, she shows up to entice her creative muse. It’s about the seduction of this creative magic that’s floating around us. Impress it and maybe it’ll join you as you work. Don’t and maybe it’ll go off and find someone else to inspire — someone who appears to be more interested in a collaboration — someone worthy of their creative, artistic powers.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be clothes, or props, either. It’s more about creating a new mindset for yourself — a fresh perspective to put you into the right room for wild, freewheeling creativity. Aaron Sorkin, winner of all the screenwriting awards, takes as many as eight showers a day when he’s writing. He does this as a redo, to start the day over fresh, to feel new again when he hits walls or is unhappy with his work. Each shower is a new day, a chance to wash away the bad writing from time past, and instead, feel refreshed and capable of looking forward with a renewed perspective. And, even if he is still writing poorly, at least he is clean, which not all working writers can truthfully claim.
So, don’t just write the words, entice, seduce, and interact with them by playing dress up. Literally grab things from the world around you and put them on while you write. Dressing up in odd, unexpected, non-traditional outfits while you write will help you get outside yourself, to break your routines and sense of self — to feel crazy and open to new experiences unbound my a sense of self. It’s a way to see your world with new eyes, and to condition yourself to mentally switch mindsets — to forget the worries of the world for a bit. With a few random articles of clothing, you’ll become someone else entirely, and maybe they have some fresh ideas.
One More Dumb Writing Tip: Less Critiquing, More Creating.
Don’t you dare edit until it’s ready. Write long and never critique when you should be filling the page. All good writing begins with terrible first efforts, but you need to start somewhere. When you’re writing freely and crazily, you’re creating, and the prefrontal cortex of your brain is suppressed, which is linked to conscious self monitoring. It’s a simple switch. One turns on, and the other turns off. If one is working, the other is not. What that means is if you allow yourself to self edit while being creative, the creative part of your brain is actually turning off. Actively trying to prevent yourself from making a mistake or come up with “dumb” ideas means no longer creating something new, so stop thinking so much. We make the mistake of thinking everything we write has to be a masterpiece. We forget that not only did the greats like Hemingway write crap now and then, but they believed in the art of the draft. They didn’t turn a blank page into The Sun Also Rises by plopping down once and having it all figured out. They explored. They allowed themselves to make horrible mistakes. They crafted and dumped all over the page, knowing they could come back later with a more mindful, thoughtful eye, and they could fix the whole mess of words then. But, they also knew that there was a time for creating and a time for critiquing, and they never worked together at the same time.
At some point, as the writer you are, you yourself also have to become comfortable with writing badly and then exploring it, understanding it, learning from it. You can’t hide from writing badly, no matter who you are. It’s inevitable, it exists. You have to face it head-on. You have to see terrible sentences and ideas on the page and not be scared away. You have to ignore your ego — that one telling you that you’re secretly the next great thing, the next great all-American novelist in disguise, just waiting to be discovered. You damn well may be, but you’ll earn it by your final drafts, not your first, so be fearless. Be foolish in these dreams. Be flat-out dumb. Put bad, shameful, ridiculous things on the page. Work from there and remember that it’s all deletable and private, and therefore a safe place to play with words and ideas.
Don’t ever be precious about this. It’s not your baby, yet. It’s a crazy creative free-for-all. You’re attached to none of it. Laugh wildly while you burn through ideas. You’re an insane person running naked, wild, and free — away from critics, rules, reviews, and opinions. Write with Heart & Blood, dammit. Have some fun because, here, in your draft, you’re a puppy — curious and energetic, playing with everything, focusing on nothing, and occasionally peeing on the floor as you get overexcited. Don’t expect great tricks from yourself here, just be. You’re only a dumb little puppy and that’s not a bad thing, it’s a glorious thing. Everything is new, everything is wonderful. You will stumble over your giant paws and that is ok. This is a time for learning and exploration, and you’re only at the beginning of your journey. You’ll grow from here.
Just remember to fill the page with everything you got, and don’t watch the clock. To get to a handful of good ideas, you’re going to have to write a hundred, and that’s okay. Bad ideas are good. Bad writing is great, because now is not the time to worry, stress, think, or edit. You’re free to suck terribly, no one is watching. Get crazy.
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.