CAN YOU WRITE ON-THE-SPOT?
Is it a gift to be able to take the kernel of an idea and just write, start to finish with no break? Can you take an inspiration, sit down and whip out a short story or essay in one sitting?
I bring this up because I did it the other night. On my web page, I have a section on astronomy, or as I call it, The Good Old Days of Amateur Astronomy. I’ve been using it to give readers my life story in amateur astronomy, from my first look at Sputnik as a light moving across the sky in 1957 (not to date myself), to my current activities including dealing with a certain group of brand-name fanatics (like you find in any hobby). It started when I realized I haven’t posted a new article to that section in several months. That last article brought my life up to 2009 and how my friend Roger Ivester and I started the Observer’s Challenge, an observing program for amateurs that’s gained world-wide attention. I usually get a few hits a week on my astronomy page, though my web site is mainly there to bring focus to my writing. Then again, I’ll take whatever I can get.
After spending Saturday moving my daughter’s stuff from nearby Pahrump back here to Las Vegas, a long day… dead tired… I watched my SyFy icky bug feature movie. To my great pleasure, it was a very very bad, good one. Then, I watched another show and had a little time left over to spend on the computer before I tuckered out completely. I checked my multiple e-mail accounts, Facebook, a few web sites then remembered I wanted to do this astronomy piece on things that bugged me about attending public outreach star parties. The title came first: Annoying Things I’ve Noticed at Outreach Events (& Other).
I whipped out 1,403 words in twenty minutes, beginning to end. The next morning (Sunday), I did an edit while everyone was still asleep and posted it. During the editing process, I made a few grammatical changes, but otherwise, it remained intact.
I don’t say this as any kind of brag. This was a stream-of-consciousness, follow-my-muse inspiration. It had to come out. It did. Whether it’s any good or not is up to my highly-focused audience of maybe ten people or so, but it’s out there for them. It will surely piss a few people off because of the particular brand name I mentioned earlier. I’m no fan and there’s a huge following I’m bucking against. That’s not the point here.
Are you able to do that? I’ve brought this up before. Now that some of you have been with me a while, and for those of you new to my web site, I’m asking, how many of you can sit down with the nugget of an inspiration and just let it flow? To me, that’s one aspect of what being a writer is all about.
This all goes back to something else I’ve talked about before. Self-editing. Did I do any self-editing while I was writing that piece? Subconsciously, I probably did, because as I went through it, I didn’t have a lot of changes. Sure, there were a few grammatical biggies after looking at it with fresh eyes, a few misplaced words or rearranged sentences, but nothing to change the gist of the story. However, what I didn’t do is pick apart each sentence as I wrote it. I wrote 1,403 words in twenty minutes. I let an idea flow out, got it down on paper (well, electronic bits and bytes actually) and worried about the bull later). I didn’t stop to worry the details of every word. I would have “fergotted” what I was writing about by the second sentence.
Can you, as an aspiring writer, do this? Can you take the nugget of an idea and let it flow out, damn the typos? Can you take whatever skill you have, limited or expert and throw down an idea? Can you toss aside the temptation to pick it apart as you go along risking losing your inspiration before you get to the end? Can you whip out an essay or short story, at least the guts of it in no time?
I think some of our best work comes in these quick moments, when the fire is burning hot. If we pause to think about it too much, the inspiration distorts, it changes. Then it becomes something else. It may eventually be better, but maybe not. Sure, you will still be a writer, but your ideas may not necessarily be what you intended. Will they?
This isn’t for everyone and I don’t expect it to be. However, if you can try it, even if it takes you two hours one-key-tapping instead of twenty minutes, just to get your idea down in one session instead of days, try it. Don’t think of editing, just put it down and worry about the editing later. I have years of writing and editing skill behind me so I automatically do a lot of editing in my head. Far from perfect (trust me, just ask my writer’s group!), but that’s not the point. Getting the idea down is.