The performative act of writing

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Winkletter  •  13 Jan 2022   •  

I’m going to push everything aside and work exclusively on my novel. Writing at my current pace, I’ll finish the draft in seven days. Assuming there’s not a Heartbreak Hill up ahead.

It feels like magic. But I know it was a long hard slog to get here. At the end of 2020 my writing process was garbage. I edited everything as I wrote. I questioned every word, and rearranged sentences, and jumped from paragraph to paragraph adding bits and bobs here and there.

My process was so broken I never produced anything worthwhile. I was blocked. It took most of a year to train myself out of that habit, and even today I still slip into the old addiction.

For a year I practiced free writing like it was a performance. Even if the words were garbage, I was retraining my brain. One Friday in May I wrote 10k words and followed it up the next day with 20k words, just any words that my brain could produce. Building that connection between my brain and my fingertips on the keyboard.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but I feel I’ve reached a tipping point.


@Winkletter Curious: so the stream-of-consciousness journaling you did helped you with your novel writing (which is more intentional and structured)? Could you share more how that helped?

jasonleow  •  14 Jan 2022, 3:27 am

Once I could train myself out of editing as I wrote, it allowed my mental processes to flow more smoothly. When writing fiction you are mixing semantic and episodic information from long term memory to generate mental models in working memory, and then using your phonological loop to generate an output stream to describe those models. When I would edit as I wrote, that physical process would disrupt the mental process. I was focusing on the text when I should be focusing on the mental models, ie. characters interacting in a spatial reference frame.

The structure and intention behind the novel helps generate those mental models. If you know some of the beats in a particular scene, it primes the imagination – cascading activation of semantic memory. But you’ll find there’s a lot of spontaneous generation of new ideas as you write, more than you would ever get from outlining.

That cascading activation of semantic memory is extremely important to generating new ideas.

And of course, I’m getting the practice I need to write stronger and more agile prose. I am now at a point where I can sit down and write 1500 words in a two-hour session and completing two sessions each day. The writing is not particularly good and inconsistent. But if I do this every day I will have a process that will produce decent prose relatively quickly. At least, that’s the theory.

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Winkletter  •  14 Jan 2022, 4:10 pm

@Winkletter wow that’s a really in-depth observation and explanation of how the mind-to-words process works! If anyone had thought this through deeply, it would be you. Thanks for sharing, learned something new today!

jasonleow  •  15 Jan 2022, 1:35 am