Planning and Writing Writing Bipolar

Why Not Try A Brain Dump?

If you are like me, you have self-doubt and perfectionist tendencies when writing. There are stops and starts and then glances at Facebook, a chat with my husband, and my productive time is not so productive. I can easily get in a writer’s rut, just stop functioning.

I sit down intending to write for hours, get some essays done for my rough draft (yes, I have been writing since late March and am only 40,000 words in – 31 more essays to go) and then a couple of hours later I am still on the first essay, my frozen eyes focused on the screen, I’m getting antsy, weighing every word that is buzzing in my head, afraid to type something not polished. So much for speed writing through and getting things accomplished.

But I recently took part in two writers’ workshops. One by Nadine Kenney Johnstone during the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, the other by Porochista Khakpour with Hugo House in Seattle. Both were on ZOOM, which I love, I can access so many workshops and writers’ groups that I never would have been privy to before COVID. It is a whole new world that has opened up for me and I have been deep diving in.

Both writers brought up timed brain dumps. Or, I like the phrase vomit writing, to really get the visual. I had attempted them, but just wasn’t able to do it on my own, I remained overwhelmed and critical. It wasn’t helping my crazy mind.

The secret I found out is to time myself! It makes so much sense. And it has helped tremendously.

I make myself actually sit down and then throw ideas, phrases, and memories onto the paper, or in my case, the computer, as fast as I can. No editing, no cares about spelling or punctuation. No worries about anything making sense, just my ferocious tapping away and letting the ideas flow. Sure, occasionally some foreign thought seeps in, but that is ok, I just get rid of it later.

Five to ten minutes of uncensored thoughts about one topic at a time is what I have found to be about right. For me, seven minutes works really well. Any longer and I slow down my pace. Then, when the ding of the alarm sounds, I stop. And take a break. Maybe I will mull over some particular words, or a vision I have triggered in my head as I get my next cup of coffee. Morning works out to be the best time for me..

Returning to the table, I have a list in front of me of everything I can remember about a moment in time, I can organize from this and get ready to work on the draft, or do another seven minutes for a different essay.

With four to five days of writing groups each week, I can pick which brain dump to focus on. The memories are already in front of me. Perhaps in the wee hours of the morning, I have snuck another few phrases onto my phone, taking care not to wake up my husband. That is expected, I sleep lightly.

I’ve been more productive. I am feeling better because I am not spinning my hamster wheel as much and getting frustrated while berating myself through a fuzzy brain.

I’ve been thinking of trying this using voice to text. Then I can really get up speed as I talk faster than I can type. I know I will have to do it blindly though, turning myself away from the screen so I don’t see any generated misspelling or grammar mistakes and stop to make things right.

My mind is constantly whirling. Reading can also trigger quickening thoughts, memories, ideas. When this happens, I can stop, do my seven minutes of dumping and then resume.

Whenever and however I feel the need to gather thoughts now, I try this process and get it all out. It sure beats being consumed by a scattered, mishmashed mind for hours.

Why not sit down, try brain dumping, and let me know how it works for you?

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  • Reply
    December 20, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Another interesting post, Ria. Thanks for posting about the workshops you’ve done, too.

    Recently I was in a session re: dictation to screen. I tried it a long time ago and it didn’t seem to work so well for me. I like the touch and sound of the keys; however, I think I’m going to try it again soon.

    More and more I’m a believer in getting “something” on the screen/paper. Then return later and fix it as you want. I’ve found this attitude to be particularly helpful when I can’t think of the exact word I want, whether it is a verb or an adjective.

    Thanks again for this.

    • Reply
      Ria Talken
      December 20, 2020 at 5:13 pm

      You are welcome. I am trying this as much as possible now and really find it to work. Sometimes I bring out things that I have totally forgotten about. That is always a nice surprise. I guess it is that mind association thing.

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