On the weekend, my old friend, K., who knows I like writing fiction, emailed me and asked for some writing advice. It was for work, she said, but not the usual dry, corporate stuff. This needed to be written from the heart.
Ooooh, I thought, I’m so glad you asked! I rubbed my hands with glee, climbed onto my pedestal and cleared my throat self-importantly as I shuffled my collection of papers on this very subject.
No I didn’t.
Truthfully, I was stumped at first. The writing from the heart bit was easy to think through, in that I tend to do all my fiction-writing this way. But this was writing from the heart – for a work context! Dry-corporate-language-imagination-need-not-apply work!
I had to think about writing from the heart, but in a non-context-specific way.
This is what I came up with:
With writing from the heart, maybe start by jotting down ideas in a stream of consciousness way. Don't worry about grammar or punctuation or sentence structure or even logic. Write to catch the ideas and feelings about what you want to say. Go wild with metaphors, images, ideas. Deliberately push at the boundaries of physics/sciencey logic if it helps capture your feelings (eg, walking on moonbeams) - and don't judge any of your ideas or how you've articulated them. Dot points, sentence fragments and half-drawn stick figures are all ok.
Give yourself a time limit of around 10 minutes. This makes you try and capture ideas and feelings/ideas quickly (rather than trying to polish in your head and losing the impetus of the idea). A time limit also gives yourself an escape pod (so your inner critic doesn't pop up its nasty little head and start sucking away your confidence before you've even got your ideas out). If you find yourself on a roll though, keep going.
Don't re-read it to be critical (either of the ideas, or the language you've used, or how you've written them down). I often mentally give myself a picture of my inner critic bound and gagged to a chair to remind myself to not be critical of my ideas/images/brainstorming.
When you move to structure and organising ideas, do it in a separate doc/draft. So the ideas page stays as an ideas page. Think of it as the page/portal where your heart and mind are plugged into the cosmos and you're channelling the same kind of energy from which stars are born.
K. replied promptly, gave unnecessary thanks and said she loved the idea of a “time-bound, discrete, non-judgemental space for ideas and inspirations”. This made me laugh for a long time. Because she pretty much nailed in four words what it took me 268 words to say!!
It would never have occurred to me – not in a thousand lifetimes – to put it in those 4 words either. And yet it's concise, succinct and says pretty much the same thing. I laughed and felt slightly mortified at my irrepressible, wordy waffleyness.
Then, after a rather long while, I realised something. Both versions describe the same process, but they actually describe different aspects of the same process. The 4-word version tells you what you can do to write from the heart. The 268-word version describes how you can do it.
Both versions have a place, and they actually complement each other.
I wasn’t being waffley after all.
Now. All I have to do is remember the bits about being non-judgemental and practise it a bit more on myself.
And so should you. About your own writing, I mean. Not that I'm judging.