Writing is What Happens When You Get Out of the Way

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There used to be a poster hung up in a dusky corner of the fine arts building on my campus that said something to the effect of “Art is what happens when you get out of the way.” All too often, I wish had that poster to remind me of how true that saying is. Maybe I should make one… but if I do, I would have to make a second to apply to writing.

I’ve learned this lesson over and over and over again, renewing these thoughts each and every time I have taken part in NaNoWriMo for the past seven years. As a painstakingly anal writer, the idea of spewing out a 50,000 word rough draft was at first an alien concept that I had to fight to wrap my brain around. But the longer I wrote in that no-holds-barred mindset, the more I began to understand the magic of writing just to write. To step out of the way and let it happen.

And that’s exactly what it does.

Then… and Now

Back when I was a child, I wrote to write. Sentence structure and word choice didn’t matter. Paragraph breaks, proper grammar, subject-verb agreement, active and passive voice… none of that held a candle to the simple pleasure of seeing my words scribed across the blue lines of the wide-ruled notebook paper that I had folded in half to make a pretend book. I wrote in a leaky ball-point pen and illustrated my story in markers and crayons. And when it was all done, I stapled it together along the spine and “published” it under a make believe publishing house… though I can’t remember the name now.

So how was it that I, as a child, could come home from school and spend hour after hour of joyous longhand writing and illustrating without a second thought? And why is it now… the daunting task of sitting down to the keyboard (an unknown concept during my childhood!) and plugging away at one sentence after another becomes a task that’s likened to climbing Mt. Everest?

What did I have long ago that I lost over time as I grew up? Surely it must have been something? I learned all the proper ways of writing. All the rules and rhymes. I have a little piece of paper that’s decorated with gold foil proclaiming I spent a number of years at an institution of higher learning to become an “official” professional writer.

So why is it that writing is harder to do now than it ever was before?

Finding the Voice of the Past

Maybe there was something in that child that understood, without knowing, the meaning of stepping out of the way to allow creativity full reign. A child doesn’t create with thoughts of money or recognition. They do it because they can. Because it brings them joy to see something they made with their own mind and hands. And no amount of dangling modifiers or verb tense errors could take that magic away from their young mind.

Writing during NaNoWriMo is at once stressful and refreshing. When you find your momentum, it becomes unhindered. Free and wild. Once again you hold on to that feeling of magic in the making as your characters begin to live and breath, taking center stage. You step aside and become a documenter, no longer worried about holding control over every weighted word or minor detail.

That’s when the story becomes something more than chattering across the keyboard. It becomes real. It becomes something that you rush along behind, trying your best to keep up with as it unfolds. And you feel at once exalted in the revelations that come… and very small under the grasps of inspiration that comes from somewhere completely unknown.

It is all so rare the days when I feel this level of inspiration flowing through me. But when it happens, I rush the chapter out to Syn and say, “This was something special! I could really FEEL this one!” Those are the chapters I remember even years down the line. Those are the ones that I can look back on and still see the dim shine even after time leaves a dusting of age.

Allow yourself that freedom as a writer. Shake yourself out, forget all convention, and just write whatever comes to heart. If you have a specific topic or scene to write, try once in a while not to structure your work. Just write until you reach the final goal. It doesn’t matter if you get side tracked. That’s what editing is for. It doesn’t matter if you go off on a tangent you had no idea was waiting to pounce you from the shadows — the tangent might prove to be even better than your original plans had been.

If you’ve fallen into a rut as a writer, I challenge you to reach beyond the research-paraphrase-site~source routine. Clear your head and do some on-the-fly, stream of conscious writing. Exercise your creative side, if only for a little bit. Professionals say that it’s good to write like this, just in small portions every day. And you find, the more you do it, the easier it actually will become.

~When you write because you love it, your work will speak that love freely.~