Hi everyone. I’m honored that Valerie has asked me to guest post on her blog today about one of my favorite and most used writing techniques — the nonstop.
In case you don’t know me, I’m the author of several Christy award winning books, including the Christian allegory Arena and the four book fantasy series, Legends of the Guardian King. I’ve just turned in the galleys of my latest novel, The Enclave, slated to release in July. And yes, I used the nonstop technique almost constantly throughout the generation of all six of those books.
I first found out about the nonstop, or free writing, from a book called Overcoming Writing Blocks by Karin Mack, now unfortunately out of print. I probably use this book more than any other on my shelf. Peter Elbow mentions it in Writing Without Teachers and Writing With Power, as does Julia Cameron in The Artistâ€™s Way, and Dorothea Brande in the classic, Becoming a Writer.
I use it when I don’t know what to write, when I’m trying to solve a problem, when I’m feeling out of whack, and sometimes when I just can’t find the words to start a scene. You can also use it to draft a letter, or to write something from an outline or a collection of notes.
The technique is thus: you set the timer for 10 or more minutes, sit down and start writing. You can do it on the computer or with pad and pen, whichever you prefer. I do both, depending on how I feel. There is only one rule: you cannot stop writing until the timer dings. You are not to worry about spelling, punctuation, whether the sentence makes any sense, whether it even is a sentence. There is no stopping, no backing up to fix anything — you just go forward. If your thoughts jump midstream, fine. Go with it. Whatever comes out, no matter how disjointed, stupid, boring, or crazy, let it be. No one is going to read this thing but you. You can even write — blah blah blah. I can’t think what to write. This is stupid – etc.
What happens is that eventually, after the silly stuff at the beginning, you will start to write things that are relevant. Sometimes the door just opens and words flow out. I’ve had whole scenes write themselves this way. One minute I’m complaining I don’t have anything to write about, and the next I’m taking down the dialogue that’s begun sounding in my head.
If you struggle to get words down easily, make a daily appointment to sit down and write a ten to twenty minute nonstop. The subject doesn’t matter. The point is to get comfortable with putting your thoughts onto paper (or screen), overriding the paralysis that can result from thinking it all has to be perfectly clear in your head before you write.
Nonstopping also helps you to release your thoughts and see if they make as much sense on paper as they did in your head (many times they don’t). Finding out they don’t can start you on the path to refining them until they do make sense. If you never wrote them down, though, you’d never get started.
After you’ve done the nonstop, you may find that you have whatever you need and go from there. Or you can set it aside for ten minutes or so then read through it. Highlight those bits that resonate, or cut and paste them into a new document. Then do another nonstop using those as your base.
Sometimes ten minutes isn’t enough and you need to stretch it out to twenty, but if you’re new at this, stick with ten. I think you’ll be amazed at how the technique can tap into your authentic voice and produce bits of writing that are clear, compelling and relevant.
Valerie here: Thank you, Karen! It’s a technique I’ve just started using in the past few weeks, and so far, so good. I can’t say I’ve had any amazing breakthroughs, but I’ve still found it therapeutic and valuable. Thanks for sharing!
Anyone have any comments on writing nonstop? I’m curious to know if you do it, why, and what you consider the successes of it.