I took a writing class once with a teacher who was so harsh I almost gave up writing forever.  The jury is still out as to whether his treatment strengthened my resolve as a writer or just delayed my growth by many months.  As with most things, though, if you try, you can always find something good in it.

He gave me one wonderful thing: something he called a Mumble Sheet.  And I have used it more times than I can count since then.  It’s useful to get started, to get out of a corner or to figure things out inside your head. It’s a simple and elegant process through which you can discover just what you want to say.  That is, really, the hardest part of writing.  (It can also be a tricky part of life!)

The process is this: Take a pen and paper (or a computer and an open file if you must) and just talk to yourself about it.  Instead of trying to get it right, being clever, engaging your reader and dazzling them with your wit, just write.  Don’t bother if it’s in the right order, tense, punctuated correctly, or even in complete sentences.  Just let it flow.

For example: “What I want to do is talk about how beautiful it is here.  Be sure to mention the sounds. The waves, the birds, the children at play.  It also smells good.  It reminds of days at the shore with my parents . . .” Just let it flow.  Whatever comes out.  (Though it does help to stay close to the topic.)

You can use this for all kinds of things.  “I don’t know how I feel about how she treated me today.  Was that comment meant to undermine me?  What could her motivations be?”  It’s a good rehearsal for a talk with someone in the real world.  You might say, “How do I want to approach this meeting?  What is it I need to know from it?”  For a character study in fiction you might start like this: “I think he’s been hurt in his past.  Maybe his first girlfriend told him he was a terrible football player and only got on the team because of his dad . . .”  Fact or fiction, it can help you understand people better.

The trick is to step away from having to write it “well.”  Rather than diving in and trying to say it, just write about what you want to say, how you want it to feel, what you’d like to accomplish.  It’s just an informal discussion between me, myself and I.

“Is this really what she would say in response to his demand?  Where is she right now?  How is she feeling?”

“I want this piece to tell the story of how people survived the Dust Bowl.  There are a lot of places I can go for information.  I should make a list of them.  I want to focus on the fact that the land was just fighting back.”

It’s a powerful place to start.  Allow yourself to spill everything you want to say.  When you’re ready to start writing or have that talk, you will have a much better idea about how to do it.