A couple of days ago, Jay Lake posted on his blog about deliberate practice, and the literary equivalent of doodling in a sketchpad. This is a topic near and dear to my heart; it’s something I’ve been trying to do off and on for some time now, in one way or another, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not. It’s what I use 750words for, mostly; sometimes I just use it as a journal, but more and more often it’s where I throw up the first drafts of blog posts and scenes. That’s where I’m writing this, right now, as a matter of fact.
I find the practice of literary sketching to be very valuable. Sometimes I’m not sure what I want to say, or how I want to say it, or if I want to say it, or if saying what I think I mean will just end up making me look like a jackass. Often, I’ve let this prevent me entirely from blogging about something, because I never got myself to commit to writing it. The solution, of course, is to just write it out and see what happens. Scalzi talked about something similar last month when he was talking about being thankful for writing:
“This organizing and structuring that comes through writing comes in handy for me, because it means that I have an outlet to express thoughts I have that run deeper than “I have to take out the trash.” My wife understands this perfectly well; on more than one occasion, after I’ve completely fumbled expressing something to her, she’s said to me “you need to go write that out.” And I do and then I actually have a way to express that idea, so that the next time I try to verbalize it, I have a framework and a method that doesn’t involve increasingly wild hand gestures and the use of the phrase “you know?” every five or six words. Writing makes me a better verbal communicator, funny as that sounds.”
I work the same way. I’m very text-oriented: I’m the sort of person who gets irritated when someone tries to read me the text off a Magic card aloud, because I can’t make heads or tails of it until I actually read it. Apparently it works the same way with stuff in my head; I never thought about it that way before, but there you go. And really, what excuse do I have for not realizing this sooner? Since it springs immediately to mind, I apparently know about the E. M. Forster quote, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
Another example of the benefits of textual doodling: when Kat and I were first dating – the first, oh, six months or so I’d guess – I had a document entitled Notes To Me, which I’d basically pop open and scribble in whenever my mind was wandering*. Later, I’d hand it to Kat so she could read my random mind wanderings, which she would annotate and we would discuss. Sometimes these discussions would be verbal, but very often they took the form of what we called “Quiet Clicky Conversations,” where we’d pass our (er, well, my) laptop back and forth and type at each other. This had the advantages not only of being more private**, but also made it easier for us to discuss a lot of things – we were both fairly socially awkward, and I don’t know how we ever would have gotten to the point of being able to talk verbally about everything if it hadn’t been for that intermediate step. Also, as previously noted, sometimes writing your thoughts out really helps you notice when you’re being a jackass, a state of being which I know I was guilty of many times but which I cannot recall Kat ever having occupied.
I think of this sort of thing as disposable writing. I write with the knowledge that what I’m writing isn’t going out in public, so I’m free to just write it out and not worry about anything. Then, if I accidentally write something I really like, I can salvage it. This is good practice for novel revision, which is often a long process of taking lots and lots and lots of work and dumping it in the bin. It’s valuable to have written it, but throwing it out still stings. Sometimes, though, you don’t know if something will work until you try it; it’s better to try it, because it might work really well, but you shouldn’t get too attached because if you adhere to the policy of trying all the stuff you’ll find that most of it doesn’t work out. That’s been my experience, anyway.
Using 750words.com helps with this because it forces me (well, encourages me to force myself), every day, to write three pages of just . . . whatever. And since I’m going to be writing a bunch of unfiltered stuff anyway, if I want to screw around with something that might not work, it’s not really wasted writing – the alternative was something even less useful. So, even in the slightly-less-than-a-month with breaks I’ve been using it, I’ve already got several things I started and scrapped, and at least a couple that were just random musings that I then turned into blog posts. Yay for that.
On an unrelated closing note, I’ve noticed a trend in my blog posts lately; whenever I remember to categorize them, if they fall into writing or life, they usually fall into both. So, apparently writing is a big part of my life. Duh, right? Part of this is likely sample bias because I’ve been working on NaNoWriMo, but I doubt all of it is.
*This would be the document in which I verified that Wordpad does, in fact, handle stupidly large documents fairly gracefully. Of course, my laptop at the time had only 512 megs of RAM, so there were some fundamental limits that forced me to eventually start the New Notes to Me, but that’s beside the point.
**Most of these conversations took place in the hallways of ASMSA. If that sounds strange you probably never went there; the school was an old hospital so it had great big hallways, but virtually no coed lounges, so most people hung out in the hallways and eventually ended up with a stretch of hallway that was staked out as theirs.
Current music: Well, I wanted to listen to Simon and Garfunkel, so I queued up The Sound of Silence, but then I got distracted. So I listened to that, then a whole lot of nothing. Fitting?