Joan Bolker:

When you sit down to begin a piece of writing, your first aim ought to be to make a mess—to say anything that comes to your mind, on the subject or off it, not to worry at all about whether your stuff is connected logically, to play with your subject the way you used to build mud pies, to do no fine detail work, to spell poorly if that’s your natural inclination, and to generally forget about standards altogether (even about split infinitives!).

I suspect many writing blocks come about because people aren’t used to playing in the mud when they write; they think writing is a neat, clean endeavor. I don’t.

You may think I’m asking you to be an irresponsible, uncaring writer. But I’m really asking you to try something that will have just the opposite effect, if you see it through.

The writing process I have in mind has two parts to it, a first, “cooking,” making-a-mess part; and a second, compulsive, clean-up-the-mess part. If you do only the first part, you will indeed end up with a messy, irresponsible product you won’t want to acknowledge as your own. If you do both parts though, I believe you’ll be able to produce stronger, more imaginative writing that you’ll feel proud to own.

When I suggest that you make a mess in writing, I don’t mean that you have to go out of your way to make your writing disorganized, or uncommunicative, just that you need to control your worry in the first part of the writing process; it helps to do this if you think of your aim as making mud pies or sandcastles, rather than stone buildings. You are making a sketch, not a finished oil painting.

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