Why is writing a messy business?

In one of her posts Katherine (kewms) says that writing is a messy business. Couldn’t agree more, but I ask myself why it’s messy.
I think it has to do with how our brain works. If you have seen a picture of neurons you see that each neuron has tentacles connecting to hundreds of other neurons. It’s not linear, not even a hierarchy, no it’s a real network. This means (as Bush observed in 1945 Memex paper) that our brain mainly works with association and not with selection. If I say “breakfastâ€

It’s good that you find freewriting works for you.

When I used to emcee a regular monthly “poetry in the pub”, my specialty was the sonnet and modern variations thereon. I’d come home from my day job, shower, change, eat dinner, and have fifteen minutes to write a sonnet before I had to leave to set up the performance space.

Occasionally, I’d have drafted a sonnet during my lunch break, so all I had to was polish that and go. Usually, though, I had a blank sheet of paper.

I never left for the performance space without a new sonnet.

I think what helped me to focus was: I had a responsive audience, which motivated me to work for them; I had a clear goal - write one sonnet; I knew what to do - I had studied the sonnet form and variations closely and had internalised them; I enjoyed the work; I was confident I would finish in time; and I was able to let go of everything else for fifteen minutes. In short, I think I had the ingredients of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.

Most of the writing I do these days happens similarly, sans the self-imposed time limit. I have something I want to say to a particular audience, I have an idea of how I want to say it, I enjoy the opportunity to say it, and I do it during the times when I can let go of everything else.

When I find myself procrastinating, a little introspection usually reveals that I’m feeling unsure of either my ideas or my method or my expected reception, or I’m just plain tired. So I make time to work on the what or the how or the who or get some rest.

I love that Scrivener allows me to set down ideas that I will join up later. I don’t think I’ve lost an idea since I bought Scrivener. It makes for a very rich environment when I sit down to write. I can open lists of ideas I’ve had and the associations start flying. I find that great inspiration.

good point, I wonder if there is any text editor which can sense the pauses you make when you write and give you some voice feedback. The feedback should be chosen by the user prior to writing session. Maybe I would chose from a list of something like
“keep on, don’t stop”
“let it rip”
“good work”
“I see, mm”
" uhmmm, uhm"
repetition of the last three words
and so on. The response should depend on partly of the length of the previous pauses but could also be partly random.


“Hey, what’s the matter with you?”
“Come on - is that ALL you bring?”
“Okay, now back at work!”
(Sound of a whip)


“Please don’t stop!”
“Just a little more!”

Hi Andreas, I know you meant this as joke :slight_smile:, but there is a subtle point here. When you work in full screen mode you want to enhance the right brain activities (the creator) and to minimize the left brain activities (the critic). Of course it’s up to the user to chose the feedback, but I would refrain from the above two since they are the voice of the left brain, always nagging trying to ridicule the right brain. The whip I’m not sure about. If it would be accompanied by the rawhide :wink:.

move ‘em on
head em’ up!
head em’ up
move 'em on!


Yeah, was a joke… but reading your post gave me the idea of the… well, how to say it? … the “orgasmic responding typewriter”, maybe. The faster you write, the more it will groan and sigh in sheer lust…

We would all write like mad, wouldn’t we?

(A hint for programmers: Appropriate sounds available on about 1,000,000 sites in the web… :laughing: )

Hi Bob,

I can sympathize with you about neurons running all over the place.
Our village is full of them running riot, all the time. Call the cops and all they say is, “Let them be. Theyre only young. Dont be such a bunch of N.I.M.B.Ys. You only want us to move the problem on to some one elses patch.”

Nice talking to you Bob,
Take care,

Actually, Bob is right.

Don’t underestimate the chilling effect of “The Critic” on your drafting processes. Drafting is NOT the time to think.

It’s the time to feel.

Draft, draft, draft. Roll it out with no regard for how much sense you are making, or whether that tense is grammatically correct, or how this new character is going to fit in when you thought you had picked out someone for that role already.

None of that matters. When drafting, one must be at the mercy of the muse.

Not arguing with her.

I think of drafting the way race car drivers think of drafting. You are, with delicate handling and the proper attitude, allowing something more powerful than you pull the car along.

With Scrivener, I draft all I wish. It finds a home or it doesn’t. But the sheer volume one can generate when all one is doing is drafting (no pressure…) can be amazing.

A skill worth cultivating with the utmost care.

Imagine if you will typing to Bolero. Time to get into the flow.


Funny - I am currently preparing a TV-documentary about which hormones are active during falling in love, thinking about beautiful people and some more. Hopefully, we start shooting that one by the end of the year. To make the brain activities we aquire images of this by using CT and similar methods. I wonder if I will try this myself while trying to produce some text. Just to see which part of my brain is doing the work…

AJ wrote:

Free-writing does not work for me. Reflection-free writing does. What’s the difference? Mainly that in free writing you can write anything you want even if you don’t have anything to say. In reflection-free writing you only write if you do have something to say, but do not know how to say it.

So free-writing might produce something like:

“I think I’ll write what’s on my mind, but the only thing on my mind right now is what to write for ten minutes. The sky is cloudy. Maybe I should try colors, blue, red, dirty words-wait a minute can’t do that, orange yellow, arm tired, green pink violet, …”

Reflection-free writing on the other hand produces something like:

“It’s a waste of land, a waste of money… Here you’ve got this huge football stadium. Huge. And you know how often they use it? Six times a year! Five football games, a rugby tournament… The rest of the year it just sits there. You know what they could use all that land for? They could use it for low-income housing… put a park there… I mean we are talking about 600,000 square feet of very valuable land!..”

Do you see the difference? Doing free-writing bores me to death, doing reflection-free writing injects me with new energy.