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    How to Empty Your Mind and Write Captivating Posts

    write captivating posts - woman meditating

    “Without the commentary in my mind, I could gather myself in silence of body and mind, and then explode into action from within that deep silence.” Mary Jaksch

    David, a 3rd degree black belt in karate, was standing across from me ready to attack. It was one of my first voyages into formal sparring as a lowly orange belt, one step up from karate kindergarten. We were given a preset attack and defense by our sensei. Then he commanded, “Attack when ready.”

    David stood there for a moment, his eyes half closed, totally relaxed, the picture of serenity. I remember thinking, “What’s he doing?”

    Then, I made a mistake. I blinked and he hit me. I never even blocked. Never saw him move. My initial thought? “What the hell just happened?” I realized that day there was a whole other level in karate.

    When I became a black belt and teacher I began to understand. One class, I was teaching, we’d been drilling basics and putting them into formal sparring.

    After class a student asked, “Why do we practice these formal techniques? In real life I won’t ever use them. Why don’t we just free spar? That’s more realistic.”

    I responded, “You’re partially right. You probably never will use that exact technique in a match or for defense. But you’re practicing the techniques and how to move in various ways so in the ring or on the street you’ll just react. You won’t have time to think. You need to trust your skills at that point and accomplish what you need to automatically.

    Great writers are much the same way.

    They write fast and effectively. When you read their writing it feels like you are sitting having coffee with them discussing profound ideas. Some of them talk about writing posts in an hour or two, though I would guess the norm is longer. They’ve learned to let writing flow naturally and seemingly effortlessly. Yet, it comes out good.

    For the rest of us mere mortal writers it isn’t quite like that. We struggle to craft our posts. It can easily take a week to put together a good one. Sometimes it seems to flow and sometimes it’s like trying to push a car uphill. A lot of struggle with very little gain.

    It’s easy to become discouraged and think, “How can I ever master this? Why is it so slow and hard for me and so easy for so many others? Will my writing ever just flow consistently each time?”

    It first comes back to the basics. Obviously, practice a lot, read about writing, take classes, be a part of a writers group, and write as much as you can.

    But then beyond that is what I learned in karate.

    It’s called the principle of the “Empty Mind.”

    No, not the one my wife thinks I’ve mastered.

    It simply means, after all the practice, when you’re in a real life situation in karate or in writing you empty your mind of all the rules and just let it flow. You trust your ability and let your actions go where they need to naturally. And amazingly they will. Your subconscious will take over and you’ll react in effective ways.

    So how do we apply this in writing?

    For me, I break it down into steps. I try to separate my creative side from my analytical side. You know the whole right brain, left brain thing? Never could remember which is which. That probably says which I am.

    When I’m writing I follow this procedure.

    First, I research and outline the post. I think about the format, title, focus. I research other articles, get quotes, fill in illustrations and figure out the overall tone. This is analytical and is kind of like practicing the basics to get better at my craft while I’m actually preparing to write.

    Second, usually the next day, I write the first draft. I simply open up a blank page, follow my outline and write as fast as I can. I don’t worry about spelling, grammar, sentence structure or any other rules. My mind is completely empty of form and only focused on getting words on paper. Leo Babauta has said about this stage he didn’t care how crappy the first draft was. This is a creative function. It emphasizes flow and natural conversation.

    Third, again after a few hours or the next day, I copy edit. I make sure the sentences flow properly. I whack out all the extra words, check the spelling, work on the logical progression. This again is analytical and back to the basics. I try to craft my writing into the rules of effective communication.

    Fourth, usually in the same sitting, I style edit. I read it out loud. As I related in a previous post, I picture a friend sitting with me and I talk to him or her naturally. My mind again is empty of all the rules. I’m only focused on conversing with my friend.

    Then when it’s polished and flowing naturally I put it in blog post form and publish.

     

    This process helps me combine good structure with natural conversation. It allows me to be creative yet communicate effectively. It’s a secret black belt technique that has helped me in so many ways including writing.

    What techniques have you found? What works for you?

    If you have found this post helpful please let me know. And share it with a friend. I appreciate it.

    About the author

      Doug Armey

      Doug Armey loves his wife, kids, fast cars and racing sailboats. He writes irreligiously about his adventure of discovering the amazing life God offers at "Spirit Hacker."    www.douglasarmey.com.

    • Diego says:

      Fantastic post! I find amazing how many skills and techniques from different activities can be applied to the writing process. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    • I love the Empty Mind! Though, it’s a challenge at times, the empty mind is where I do my best writing. I write professionally and on my blog- which I am trying to build as a platform for books. I work best when I travel- Bruce Chatwin addresses this in Anatomy of the Restless, where certain writers need perpetual motion for creative writing. But, I use the randomness of a local coffee-shop when not on the road.

      My best creative writing pops into my brain when I’m waking- when your mind is straddling the surreal and trying to wake. The topic usually pops into my mind and it just starts writing the article on it own- title, lede, etc. The outline and meat of the article is usually finished by the time I get out of bed- but to actually write the article I have to go straight to the computer. And then I just write. I edit later in the day, add my links or extra info and publish.

      My professional writing is more structured, but regardless of the genre, I can not write without WriteRoom. It’s $30 bucks for the software, and it turns your computer into a totally black screen word processor. Once I enter the dark space- my brain knows it’s time to be serious and write. http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom Priceless!

      Thanks for the article. Off to write.

      Crystal

      • Doug Armey says:

        Crystal:

        What a great picture of the empty mind creativity. I,as well, experience some ideas fully formed in the same way when I am off doing something totally unrelated. We build in the basics then let the subconscious take over.

        Terrific.

        Thanks

    • Murlu says:

      That’s a great way going about writing; sounds very laser focused and on point. To bring up the karate part again – if you think if your writing as those quick bursts of “attacks” you can focus in, write quickly then jump back and go back into laser targeting mode.

      • Doug Armey says:

        Murlu

        Exactly. Gives times for focus and for reflection.

        Thanks

    • Right on Doug! Excellent post. I love the analogy too. Just be one with the writing, let it flow and before long, our natural direction will take over for all of us. Your structure sounds like a great way to step through a post (and I love structure). I think the most valuable takeaway for me was taking some time in between drafts to just think and do other things. That can help the ideas come in amazing ways. This weekend I was trying to write a new article and I sat down and went after it but just stalled out. It was really frustrating. But instead of forcing myself to keep going, I recognized it, got up and got out side for some exercise, then I went to bed, go up and went out again for some fresh air and a work out. Then I came back to my computer refreshed with new energy and was very happy with what I came up with.

      Excellent work and congrats on your progress.

      Scott

      • Doug says:

        Scott:

        Getting away from our writing, to me, is critical. Planning in breaks allows us to switch gears and allows our subconscious to kick in. Often that’s all it takes to kick-start a post again.

        Thanks for the insight.

        Doug

    • Hannah says:

      I like my posts to be spontaneous and informal. I want people to have fun and smile when they read them. I think of an idea and I write something. That’s pretty much it.

      • Doug Armey says:

        Hannah;

        You don’t say if you are writing professionally or just for fun. Often that makes a huge difference. This post is really aimed at people who write in a sense professionally or want it to be that. But again if it works do it.

        Thanks

    • Paul Novak says:

      Not bad. The one thing that most writers have in common is that they have a method to their madness. The trick is finding the one that works for you. I’m a bit different in mine. I’m very much an inspired writer. Sure my paid work is anything but inspiration, but whatever I write for myself is purely written on a whatever takes me basis. Because of this, I rarely worry about anything but getting the thought down to start. I’ll sit for an hour or two and put out 1,000-2,000 words until it’s done.

      I’ll come back the next day, reread what I put down and then do my editing in one sitting. If it still appeals to me it gets published, if not I save it and revisit it later and either rewrite it or trash it if it stills fails to move me.

      I tend to feel that when you put too much emphasis on how you write, you lose a lot of what makes your own writing unique as you start trying to follow established patterns and rules advocated by others.

      • Doug Armey says:

        Paul:

        If your “method to your madness” works for you do it. I think it also comes down to if you are writing for fun or professionally which you allude to.

        Thanks

    • Hugh says:

      Thanks for the tips, Doug. As a new blogger, I really like the outline as the first step. Many times my outline is so long that it requires few additional words to form a complete post. As I’m writing, I always have a person or small group of people in mind as the audience. I write as if I am speaking to him or her directly.

      • Doug Armey says:

        Hugh:

        As a new blogger sounds like you are well on your way. Keep it up.

        Thanks

    • Aileen says:

      Doug this is a wonderfully inspiring post!!
      I really like how you outlined your writing process. I’m also happy to know there are others like myself who take much longer in writing a post. As I read this I understood why it takes me a while, it’s not the creative part it’s the analytical part, the crafting that takes me a while.

      I really enjoyed how you coupled writing with karate!!

      • Doug Armey says:

        Aileen:

        I do think over time the process compresses. Yet, I’ve read experienced writers who follow basically the same process separated by overnights to allow the subconscious to work and to change mode from creative to analytical.

        The difference with Karate is you bleed a lot more while perfecting your art. Ouch!

        Keep up the good work on your writing as well. You’re doing great.

        Thanks,

        Doug

    • Hey,

      Really good article. Your writing method matches mine very closely. Decide what you want to write, get as many words on the page as possible, leave to settle and return to edit it into a coherent post.

      I wrote a post about my blogging process at http://toomanytabs.com/blog/586/writing-by-numbers-my-blogging-process/ and mention some specific ideas for optimising for the web. You might find it interesting.

      Thanks,
      Ollie

    • Hi Doug,

      I think the most interesting part you mentioned here was that of an empty mind. Last week there was this phenomenal post on another blog I read where the author said that the first thing you do in the morning should be creative. I think it’s interesting because that’s when our mind is empty and I have recently found myself just opening my macjournal software and hammering away at the keyboard to produce some of my best work. I think that an empty mind is perhaps something that enables up to tap into our creativity at a whole other level.

      • Doug says:

        Srinivas:

        Absolutely. I too write first thing in the morning before my mind is cluttered with all the other activities of the day.

        Thanks,

        Doug

    • Joe Wilner says:

      Doug,

      This is a very helpful post. The application of these principles to writing provides a clear and efficient process to take toward writing of any kind really. I think just simply getting started on a new post is the most difficult part. Sometimes a blank page can be a little intimidating. Once you let your thoughts go, it really is amazing how ideas begin to develop though.

      • Doug says:

        Joe:

        Perfectly said. It can truly help overcome that fear of the empty page.

        Thanks,

        Doug

    • Love your approach, though I break it down a little differently. I have three steps: 1. think about who you want to reach, what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. 2. Write like you talk 3. Make it better. Thanks.

      • Doug says:

        Barb:

        You’re covering the same steps but just condensing some. Sometimes mine flows more condensed and sometimes more spread out. I just think it’s important to have in the writing those spaces where we forget about the rules and just let it go which you are.

        Thanks,

        Doug

    • Sometimes I struggle with wondering if I want to write an article for online sites or add to my blog. In all cases, the theme needs to be something around improving communications.

      Now I look for everyday occurences that can be used as a way to reflect communications good or bad. If I get stuck I say to myself “Okay, if I did know what I could write about today, what would it be?”

      http://www.kathycondons.blogspot.com

      • Doug says:

        Kathy:

        Following your passion is always critical. Write about what you are excited about and it will take on that flow.

        Thanks,

        Doug

    • Doug, this article is very cool. I think it’s fascinating how everything in life can intersect with writing. For you it’s karate, for me it’s painting and running. What feeds our creativity is always unique and the techniques from one practice often mirror another or are useful to another. Thanks for giving me inspiration for writing and for life. Now, I’m off to empty my mind … by the pool.

      • Doug says:

        Katie:

        You, as well, have encouraged me. Enjoy!

        Thanks,

        Doug

    • “Then, I made a mistake. I blinked and he hit me. I never even blocked. Never saw him move. ” This is the best part of this post and one of the simplest ways of describing the core of karate. And the passage “I picture a friend sitting with me and I talk to him or her naturally.” really describes how blogs should be: lively talk with a friend, answering his or her questions. I actually never read any of my posts aloud but I’m going to give it a try the next time I publish one. I think I have learned something great from this post. Thank you!

      • Doug says:

        Paul:

        I’m glad it helped. Let me know how it works.

        Doug

    • I really enjoyed reading about your technique, Doug. I’m endlessly fascinated by how others approach the writing process. I vary things at the beginning of the process. Sometimes I’ll mindmap and choose subheadings before I start writing. Other times, I’ll come up with the headline first and will let that guide me. I’m a ‘read out loud’ person at the end too 🙂

      • Doug says:

        Jean:

        I am the same way. Sometimes when I think about a post it comes to me almost intact subconsciously (like this one did). Sometimes it is more research driven. The key is along the way to let it just flow.

        Thanks,

        Doug

    • “Fourth, usually in the same sitting, I style edit. I read it out loud”

      This has helped me the most. Writing should sound like speaking.

      Also, I find that obsessing about how a paragraph looks (since most people don’t read full paragraphs) and considering what “hooks” I would be attracted to has helped my writing flow better.

      • Doug says:

        Tan:

        Absolutely. That’s what catches the readers up in the “conversation.”

        Thanks,

        Doug


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