In Hopes of Corralling My Writing Flights of Fancy

fliegendes buch

One day not so long ago, I awoke with many scattered thoughts, as I often do. As usual, many of them escaped me like a flock of startled birds as I lay there in the haze of my waking moments. Once I finally rose to start my day, their chirps had faded into the distance, leaving just the faintest echoes of their presence.

Frustrated by the loss of these ephemeral fowl, I finally vowed to spend at least thirty minutes each day attempting to capture the echoes of these fleeting thoughts before they’re lost to entropy. I do this simply writing down whatever comes to me into my word processor. While this may prove an exhausting exercise, I feel that it’s the only way that I’ll force myself to be consistent about my writing production. 

Over the past year or so, I’ve found this half-hour writing exercise has created a realistic baseline of how much I can produce within a given time-frame. Indeed, in my first attempt at corralling these flights of fancy, I amassed about 700 words in just the first fifteen minutes. Were I to attempt writing the equivalent of a fifty-thousand word tome each month, I’d need to write between 1600 and 1700 words per day. 

Now, at this pace, I’d only need around thirty minutes per day, occasionally taking another few minutes here or there to achieve that goal. Of course, there will be moments when the words falter, but the trick is to never halt mid-chase. Let the words tumble out, even if they trip over one another. So, I’ll finish my allotted time, and only then pause to untangle the mess. The worst thing to do is stop and think when you’re writing. Otherwise, I often find myself within a strange sort of feedback loop in which I start writing the same thing in several different ways instead of letting my thoughts flow naturally.

My discovery of the speed at which I could output these scattered thoughts was encouraging. At such a pace, I’d easily produce a volume of words necessary to meet my fifty thousand words per month goal. This doesn’t even include the copious writing notes that I take most days. My proven ability to produce my word quota every day within the confines of a single half-hour means the entire rest of the day could be reserved for other diversions.

Speaking of diversions, keeping your brain stimulated is very important to your overall health. If you have poor physical health, but constantly engage your mind, your body will begin to feel better, too. During my low-energy days, I find these delightful detours are what keep my mind lively. A podcast murmuring in the background or a video chattering away on some interesting subject can chase away the shadows lurking in the corners of my thoughts. They keep my mind engaged, disallowing it from wandering off into dark recesses of my subconscious. 

But, before I can allow myself to be taken in by diversions, I must always write something. Indeed, it’s possible much of what I produce will go to waste. But, the production of raw creative material is always worth the effort. As the past couple of years have been a parade of pruning my archives, I’ve let go of countless labyrinthine sentences and sprawling paragraphs. Now, when I get to serious writing, I recognize when my train of thought derails, and am able to pull it back on track with a firm hand. But, in these morning jogs of word production, I don’t place these limitations on myself that I hold my finished products to, which allows me a sort of freedom to reach out into new directions, even if they inevitably don’t go anywhere.

As part of my strategic pruning process, whenever I find my morning ramblings have gone to ruin, I still save them in my writer’s notebook. I’ll occasionally pull out an interesting sentence or paragraph here or there and place it in a swipe file, a net to catch those these tangential flights of writing fancy. Hundreds of disembodied essay seeds now reside within my IP folder — which stands for both In Progress and Intellectual Property — waiting for the right moment to take root.

I’ve worked hard in the past year to tighten up my prose, and I’m finally enjoying the fruits of my labors. Yes, the run-on sentences and gargantuan paragraphs still emerge, but the difference is that I now write with considerably more conviction. For so long, I’d write in circles, trying to find the best way to state a particular thought or idea. Just like the feedback loop I mentioned earlier, I’d end up with three or four different ways of saying the same thing, but I’d keep them in the work for the sake of “strategic repetition.” Of course, that’s simply not good writing, even if it’s considered acceptable in some academic circles. 

Still, I’m too often my own harshest critic. Sure, there were times during my academic career where my pride regarding my writing abilities did get the best of me. I fell into the trap of trying to sound smarter than everyone else; this I can certainly do, but it doesn’t make for engaging writing. Perhaps some of the criticisms I received for my academic work weren’t entirely unfounded, But, they were poorly constructed and only served as proclamations of disrespect for my writing labors. 

When I remark that I’m self-taught as a writer, that is mostly true. Of course, like all artists, I’ve borrowed and stolen from the wise; but, this isn’t shameful — it’s learning. But, at least I have the decency to tip my cap whenever necessary and I always aim to put a new spin on the idea.

So, why this self-imposed rigor on my writing process? Some might even see it as apparent torture. But I don’t. Building these writing habits is like seeding an evergreen forest. Without such seeds, my creative plot will wither. Strong habits are the soil in which great ideas flourish. A dedicated creative space is essential, not just in physical space, but mental, too  — a haven where thoughts can unfurl without hindrance. 

My aim when I started this exercise was a book’s worth of content per month. But, perhaps this was much too lofty of a goal? Perhaps, but my word counts in my journals and in progress drafts would contend that the sheer volume is possible. How much of these tens of thousands of words will see the light of day is highly debatable. Still, you must aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. At this point, I’m somewhere out in deep space.

Consistency in lyrical quality is my next quest. I’ve learned to lean more on the five senses, our trusty companions of perceiving reality, allowing them to slip their way more naturally into my prose. After all, we’re all connected through our senses, which serve as the building blocks of our stories and how we tell them. So, in this whimsical chase of thoughts, transmuting them into familiar words, I find not just my voice, but the melody of life itself. 

Just this morning, there’s plenty to set the scene as I write. I watch as the digital representations of my thoughts emerge onto the screen. I taste the sweet fruity taste of my B-vitamin enriched energy drink that fights my chronic fatigue. The room is mostly scent-free, the way I prefer it, meaning our air filters are working properly. Of course, the scents of nature can be intoxicating in their own way, and I don’t indulge in them nearly enough.

I rub my feet against the carpet, feeling the texture anchor me to our forever home. The cool breeze from the fan across the room dances over my bare toes. That same fan’s hum provides a steady backdrop, a white noise that helps me focus. But, I also hear my wife watching videos in the background, at a low enough volume that it’s more of a pleasant background noise, a reminder that I’m not alone even in this often solitary act of writing.

As I scan back through what I have typed today in my journal, there are at least a half dozen seeds for me to work from in the future. That’s itself a huge achievement. While I may be forcing myself to tend towards quantity over quality with these writing exercises, I’m also fighting my tendency for inconsistency.

Building these stronger writing habits are the only way to keep up with my rigorous expectations for writing output. After all, I no longer have any financial concerns to hold me back. Sure, I’ve written plenty of words before, but on subjects which have no consequence now. This is why I focus purely today on evergreen content, as so much content I’ve planted in the past has already withered and died. So, now I’m forced to replant with an eye on a much greener and open-concept future.

The trick is to not overwhelm myself with unrealistic expectations. As I churn out tens of thousands of words a month, I have no doubt that each year I’ll be able to produce multiple substantial volumes. I’ve published three in the past year alone. But, those were enough for now. After all, it’s easier to burn alive in Hades than market a book successfully. 

Still, my output will continue. I’m not so concerned about book sales. Rather, I want to get my words out there to be read. I still have plenty of ideas left to share and plenty of great works left to review. I was born to be a writer, and so I write. Much of what I produce going forward, including my existing books, will be available to all for free, the way I feel great writing should be. Thus, I forge on ahead, pushing my writing muscles to the maximum for the benefit of all of you.

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.

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