Sometimes Words Write Themselves

by Dan Walsh

The right topic, at the right time, with the right writer, will write itself.

I know this is true for myself. Sometimes the words just pour out of my head. The sentences are fully formed and the logical arguments are perfectly ordered. I struggle to type fast enough. It’s as if the topic built pressure behind a dam and now gushes forth as rapids. Unstoppable. This is rare, unfortunately, but I think it can be cultivated.

Writing can be daunting. It seems like an impossibly tall wall sometimes – a cliff face that must be scaled. To ease this terror, I engage in staged warm-up exercises. First I write roughly 300 characters on the events of yesterday. This is so easy that I can’t get intimidated by it. Next, I spend about 10 minutes answering one of two prompts.

1. How do I feel today?

2. What’s on my mind?

I am the only one who sees these words and this secrecy is vital. The part of my brain that judges every letter on the page is quiet when I know no one else will ever see what I wrote. Sometimes I write about dreams, or crack pot theories. Sometimes I admit that I’m tired and don’t have much on my mind. Even if this is the case, answering these questions helps my brain get into the writing mode. It also reveals topics that my brain is already processing. If these topics are shareable (not crack pot theories), then a post will practically write itself.

I’ve come to believe that writer’s block is a mixture of intimidation and poor topic selection. I struggle to write when the task is daunting, and I struggle to write when the topic isn’t currently the most interesting thing on my mind. I can usually still get something written if I suffer from only one of these, but I am paralyzed if I suffer from both.

If I wake and my mind is thinking about innovative chili recipes, then writing will be a struggle if I insist on something high-brow like Proustian philosophy.

“Griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of their power to injure our heart.”

-Proust

That’s what I wanted today’s post to be about. I thought it was an interesting idea. Proust was a smart man, but unfortunately (fortunately?) that’s not where my head was at this morning. Instead, my mind kept wandering to moments when writing was easy – probably because dissecting Proust is really difficult. Why were those other moments easy?

Because the topics felt accessible and because they were top of mind. This seems to happen when I’ve given an idea enough time to mentally stew. My brain has devoted enough subconscious cycles to a topic to form questions and original ideas. These become the meat of my post.

So what’s the lesson? I think the need to power through a writing assignment is a sign that the topic isn’t ready to be written yet. Yes, writing can be a great tool for discovery, and this requires effort, but if words aren’t hitting the paper then something needs to change. Usually it’s one of two things. Either the scope needs to be reduced so it doesn’t feel so daunting, or the writer needs to spend more time with the ideas.

A topic will write itself when it has prior been so dwelled upon that the writer has already thunk all the thoughts that need to be thinked.