Patrick E. McLean : Just what it says on the tin.

My Best Writing Hack

I’m a professional writer. My words pay for my bread, my beer and everything else I consume. Last year, not counting re-writes or emails, I generated 400 pages. That’s a novel worth of writing. Except that I don’t write novels.

The average length of what I write is about two pages. Which means I started writing something new about 200 times last year. And as you’ve probably experienced, starting is the hardest part.

Hell, starting an email is hard. I write for a living and starting is hard. But if I don’t start, I can’t finish. And if I can’t finish, I can’t get paid. And when I really get stuck, this is what I do to avoid starvation:

I write longhand.

Seems silly, but, for me, this is the gold standard of all writing hacks. The problem with writing is, in many ways, the same problem as hitting a golf ball. Both the page and the ball just sit there. And when you write you have (theoretically) a lifetime to rewrite it until you get it right.

But that gives the critical part of your brain time to jump in a muck everything up. It needs something to critize. That’s it’s job after all. But when I write longhand, instead of giving me a stream of, “you’re writing sucks, it sucks, it sucks, sucks, sucks and you just changed tenses you eggsucking loser” it pours forth with “you’re HANDwriting sucks, it sucks, it sucks, sucks, sucks, go back to those huge pencils you had in kindergarden you loser.”

This is a huge difference. Because now the critical part of my brain is no longer in the way of the creative part of my brain. The critical function is necessarily and naturally secondary to the creative function. Something must exist before you can start whining about it.

In fact, the more I focus on the quality of my handwriting, the easier the process seems to be. So when you’re really stuck – go low tech on the problem. Bust out the paper and pen and start scrawling away.
And let me know if it works for you.

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