What should I write every day?
January 10, 2011 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I need to write a lot to break this mental block that I have- but what should I write?

This past semester has been a bit crazy, but I finally got my Master's thesis completed. My biggest problem was not the research or any of the data collecting - it was the actual writing.

After reading a few books, I've realized that I need to sit down and have a set writing time each day. Basically, I need to make writing as normal as possible, something I do every day, like going to the gym or eating lunch. Right now, though, I'm a week and a half from starting my PhD, and I won't have a lot of writing right off of the bat. So, I need something to write, but I'm not sure what.

I've thought about journaling (I've never kept it up for more than a week or so) or trying to do a NaNoWriMo style speed-novel for the next month. I know that fictional and academic writing are two different types, but right now, I feel like I just need to write every day, and stop being afraid of putting words down on the screen.

What are some things I can write every day? Any other projects besides journaling and a NaNoWriMo-style project? It can be academic, fiction, or really anything. I just need things to write at each day. Any ideas are appreciated!
posted by SNWidget to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
"All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy." Over, and over, and over again.

No, seriously. Type that once and it's funny. Ten times and the joke is played out. Fifty times and you're bored half to death...

Around a hundred times and you're in some kind of zen state where you're not really having to think about what your fingers are typing and your brain starts playing around to fill the time, and before you know it you've got better things to type and your block is dissolved.

(Or, you know, you go nuts and start talking with ghosts and try to kill your family.)
posted by Naberius at 9:52 AM on January 10, 2011

You could try using writing prompts. Livejournal has a prompt every day on their sign-in page, usually just a question to answer such as "If you were stranded on an island and could pick one thing to have with you, what would it be, and why?" (Today's actual question, but they are not always this cliche.) The trick is to elaborate your answer, not just provide a two-sentence answer like I see some people doing.

There are lots of books and websites that offer writing prompts as well. The Writer's Idea Book has tons.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One trick I haven't tried but have saved in the back of my mind is to take a pre-written book that you haven't read before, and start copying it... but feel free to edit it along the way. Even go a little crazy. So maybe Bella kicks Edward in his sparkly balls when she discovers he's been watching her sleep, and then you have to write around that and try and get sort of back to the regular text. Helps work the creative muscles and keeps the words going down on paper and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't books out there that started life this way. In your case you could also do this with a non-fiction book, maybe one related to your thesis, that you maybe have read, but liked, to inspire you.
posted by The otter lady at 10:05 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would recommend poetry!

It's short, vivid, and therapeutic. I prefer to write with no real scheme, since I tend to get more in-the-moment sort of things.

The best part is it doesn't even have to be "good"! Crappy poetry!
posted by Khazk at 10:06 AM on January 10, 2011

When I was really stuck, I would write lists of things I had to cover, then try to force them into outlines. Once I'd got a header, I could usually figure out some things I needed to say about them. From there, usually some sub-headers generate, and you may be able to pick out some things that don't truly belong under that header & should either become other headers or maybe suggest a new header that they should fall under. Basically it allowed me to take a lot of disparate thoughts and organize them into less daunting groups to be filled out.
posted by Ys at 10:08 AM on January 10, 2011

Refresh the Random Word Generator three times and use that as a title, or write about how they're the same or different, or something along those lines.

"Twelve Click Prototype"
"Centering Denominator Cam"
posted by chazlarson at 10:29 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could you journal, but about information (published papers, articles, webstuff, news stories) related to your field of study? Make that your time to stay absolutely abreast of what's going on in your field, complete with bibliographical notes and links, so that later on when the time comes your research skills are razor sharp and you have references to all that material you've been soaking up?
posted by Lyn Never at 10:39 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: this: 750words.com
posted by 5Q7 at 10:42 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could you do you own version of the 1000 Awesome things blog? Sort of like a gratitude journal, but with a little more leeway to write what you like.
posted by ldthomps at 10:44 AM on January 10, 2011

Best answer: Take two texts of similar lengths, but completely different subjects and style. One of them might be an article in your field of study, say, the other a poem or an instruction manual or anything else which is totally unrelated. Now, rewrite one using ONLY the vocabulary of the other. Then do it the other way round. Try to retain the meaning as much as possible.

This is an Oulipo constraint borrowed from Harry Mathews, who was recently the subject of an FPP. It's really fun, really challenging, and rewires your writing mind in interesting ways.
posted by neroli at 10:51 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Journaling is a very good idea. The journal writing is yours and carries no great weight of importance--no one's going to see this stuff!

1) "What I did on my summer vacation." Or actually, start telling your reader what you've done today: "This morning I didn't manage to roll out of bed until late, so although I had intended to blahdeblah, blah blah . . ." In the back of your head, be looking for a nucleation site, a jumping-off point, some word, phrase, idea that will allow you entry into an interesting subject. You'll know it when you see it, won't even have to think about it, will just charge right down the path.

2) Describe something (item, experience, observance) in as excruciatingly minute detail as you can. Use metaphor and simile. Let your mind make connections between the described thing and other things you've seen/done/experienced.

3) Respond to something you've read. This might be effective for increasing your comprehension of course material as well as strengthening the writing muscles.

4) Return to a previous journal idea and polish it--just for the fun of it! Trim the fat. Choose stronger words. Find stunning imagery. Discover connections you didn't notice before and run with them.

I have been journaling for years now and a number of my best story ideas arose from journal writings. Which is another thing you can do in your journal writing--use it to store and incubate ideas for your "real" writing, to talk over to yourself your thoughts before putting them in the "real" writing space.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by miss patrish at 10:57 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This isn't a suggestion about content, but about format: Start a blog. Tell your friends and family about it. Having people check in and leave comments might motivate you to write daily. Once you start, you can write about whatever's on your mind.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:00 AM on January 10, 2011

Here's one that stimulates your brain: Take old nursery rhymes or fairy tales and try to rewrite them by replacing as many words as you can with synonyms while keeping the gist of the story the same.

When I was in 6th grade, our teacher used it as one of many creative writing assignments designed to instill in us an appreciation for the beauty and scope of language. It's something that fits in with the goal of writing everyday, because you can do as little or as much as you want at each sitting (and if you get stuck you can use a thesaurus -- not as a crutch or to sabotage your own creativity, but just to get you rolling again).

The best example I remember was a classmate's rewriting of Little Red Riding Hood. His version was Little Crimson Cruising Cloak.
posted by amyms at 11:42 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Morning Pages from The Artist's Way. It's basically 3 pages of longhand journaling every day. No more, no less. It's like mental yoga.
posted by Brittanie at 12:20 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most of those books that talk about writing every day include research time as well. As a new PhD student (but depending on your field), I'd spend some of the time researching upcoming conferences and writing abstracts for them. Don't send out all of them, but honing your skills at writing abstracts is one that can be very useful. Another abstract-themed option is to write your own abstracts/summaries of the work you're reading for your classes. That will help you learn to quickly assess and re-package research, another useful skill.

Beyond that, what types of job documents will you need down the road? Will you need a teaching philosophy? Summary of your research? Research plan for the next X years? You can start all those now and use and revise them as you progress.

Is there anything in your MA thesis that you can work up for publication? If so, I recommend getting Wendy Belcher's Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. It's focused on daily and weekly writing tasks that take a draft (perhaps a course paper or chapter from your thesis) and working it toward publication. You might find the first chapter really helpful as one of your first writing tasks is to articulate your writing blocks. I'm not too far along in it yet, but it's recommended in many PhD forums, including Phinished. You can repeat weeks if you don't get the tasks done in a particular week (like you need an extra week or two to redo a lit review for an article), but if you get the book, you'll have at least 3 months of daily writing tasks and not really have to think about what to write on a particular day. And even if you think what you have at the end of that time isn't actually publication-worthy, you'll have something and can set it aside and perhaps use it later. Plus, you'll have practiced disciplined academic writing over a period of time.

These ideas don't always have you sitting at a blank screen, but they are all parts of the academic writing processes, and establishing good habits and skills for them now will benefit you later.
posted by BlooPen at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2011

I liked a writing exercise I found in, I think, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

Write in great detail about something.

In the book, someone has to write about their home town. They're blocked, and the teacher says, limit it to just main street. They're still blocked, until the teacher says, limit it to the such-and-such bank on main street and just start describing it in detail from the top left brick all the way to the ground.

It really worked for me is all I can say. I could take a coin out of my pocket and write two thousand words about it right off, because no detail is too small to be included.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:14 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the great advice, everyone. I started with 750words (reworking an aborted NaNoWriMo idea), and I'm going to start journaling about research that I read. I'm trying to start a daily writing/research time, and this is a big part of keeping it going.

I'm looking for both fiction and non-fiction opportunities because, as I said above, right now, I just need to write. I was a prolific (at least to myself) writer in high school, and after a few bad experiences Freshman year of college, I gained this crazy anxiety about putting anything to paper. This is my first real attempt to get out of it (seeing as my Master's thesis went very well, despite feeling so awful about doing it).

I've considered starting a blog about various things, and that might be a great, public way to keep me accountable to my goals.

Thanks everyone, and if you have any other suggestions/ideas, I'd love to hear them.
posted by SNWidget at 7:40 AM on January 11, 2011

I came here to say "Morning Pages" from "The Artist's Way." Good job, Brittanie.
posted by Spyder's Game at 1:57 PM on January 11, 2011

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