How to Follow Your Pen

How to Follow Your Pen

For writers who are just starting out, the idea of writing an entire story or poem can be very daunting. How am I supposed to write something with such mysterious and complex structure, a beginner might think, when I feel like I don't know how to write at all? The answer is just to begin.

An Exercise To Follow Your Pen
When teaching creative writing, I like to get students doing a writing exercise on the very first day. It makes it very clear what this class will be about, and what I expect of my students. One exercise I use is a very open-ended one, but that can have very good results. I have students write words on scraps of paper - any words at all. Words they love, words that sound weird, words that they hate - anything goes. Then I shuffle up the papers and have students randomly draw some words from the pile. For five minutes, they must write inspired by the first word they have drawn. Then for another five minutes, they must continue the piece, writing about the next word, and so on. It's an immediate way to simply follow your pen the way Toucan Sam tells you to follow your nose. It takes worry and planning out of the equation and makes writing your primary purpose.

How To Trust Your Pen
Writing in this immediate way is a crucial part of the creative process, particularly if you're feeling paralyzed. What a lot of writers are fighting a constant battle with is insecurity and self-doubt. You don't trust yourself to produce good writing, so you write nothing. The way to combat this self-doubt is to temporarily take yourself out of the equation. Instead, trust your pen.

Think of it this way: your pen is capable of producing hundreds of pages of great writing. It has all the potential in the world wrapped up inside it. All you have to do is let it get started. Stop being an obstacle between your pen and the paper; just let it get writing. Start with a prompt like the exercise I mentioned, and get writing. Let the words come as they will. Don't think beyond the next sentence. Don't doubt. Trust.

Now Refine Your Words
What will come out of this exercise may not be Shakespeare. It will necessarily be rough. But that's what first drafts are supposed to be like. Now's the time when you can look back at your work and refine it. Pick the part that has the most potential and write a new work beginning where you started. This exercise will give you beginnings - but more importantly, it will give you the confidence to trust yourself and your own writing. After all, it was you holding that pen the whole time.