You know the ‘write a shitty first draft’ advice? It’s actually connected to a host of other practices—do your morning pages, keep a journal, use the Pomodoro technique—and today we’re going to explore another related technique.
I’m sure this technique already exists with a different name, but for the sake of this post, I’ll christen it the Hunter Gatherer Method™, because that’s what you’ll essentially be doing, and that’s going out into the literary savannahs and bringing back the food that is your writing ideas.
With this method, you can poke and prod at certain ideas, explore paths you normally wouldn’t, and piece together all your material like a jigsaw puzzle. But first, you’ll need to get some supplies.
Set yourself up for success
Before you begin, you’re going to need:
- A comfortable pen
- Pieces of scrap paper, the crappier the better
Okay so that was a gratuitous list, but there are reasons why you might want to follow this recipe.
The comfortable pen is for your long writing sessions, and it’s especially important if you haven’t been using pen and paper in a while. I recommend a good gel pen at least. Zebra, Uniball, or Pilot are great choices.
Next is the crappy paper. It can be loose leaf paper or a notebook an ex-colleague gave you as a farewell present that you didn’t have a reason to use (sorry, Irwin).
Why? Because you’ll be doing the equivalent of rough sketches, and you’ll want to approach the page with a sense of recklessness that only comes with a couple servings of your preferred alcoholic drink. Should you use a nice notebook, you’ll probably end up reserving it only for your most ‘worthy’ of thoughts.
Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to begin.
Explore with words
Here’s the lowdown. You’re going to write. That’s your job as a writer. Always will. The only difference now is that you’ll be taking a non-linear route. Today, you’ll be exploring the craft itself instead of trying to write the article as a whole.
So jump right at it. Feel free to carom between the beginning and end of your story in each paragraph. Draw mind maps. Perhaps shoehorn a word you learned yesterday into a sentence. And to be honest, I didn’t even know what the word ‘carom’ meant until yesterday.
Do anything except write in a way that you typically would, and that’s to tell a story from beginning to end. This typically happens when you start off writing on a computer.
But we’re here to collect material, not produce a final product. So go ahead and have a ball. Break each idea down into paragraphs, and treat each one as its own sandbox, a standalone creation born out of a spark in your mind.
But why though
As a writer, I’ve tried a ton of different techniques just to paint the blank page in a less-intimidating light. And that’s one of the many benefits of the Hunter Gatherer Method™.
First of all, I’ve found that putting pen on paper results in better prose compared to when I start off writing on the computer. This, I feel, is because of the finality of ink compared to having the Backspace key at my disposal.
Also, when you zone in on just one paragraph at a time, it becomes much easier to play around with the words. There’s no pressure to perform, so you’re free to do anything you want.
And because it’s just a tiny piece of text, your inner editor will probably think you’re just sending a WhatsApp message or something, meaning they’ll probably leave you alone to actually explore your art. ‘Explore’ is the key word here.
To best explain this, let me inelegantly segue to the game of chess.
The writer’s gambit
Let’s say you want to imagine the million possibilities available from a certain position. It almost seems impossible, doesn’t it? But what if you’re allowed to move the pieces on the board to see what comes next? That’s much better, right?
Exploring with words work that way too. You can’t craft a story when all the different possibilities exist only as ephemeral thoughts in your mind. But once you put them down on paper, it becomes much easier to trace a path through them.
Sometimes you might end up without any such direction, but there’s always the possibility of you creating an entire article based off one sentence or paragraph that you’d put on that paper. It happens!
Anyway, I hope you liked that chess metaphor, because I got it through this very method.
Now, you might feel silly when you first give the Hunter Gatherer Method™ a try. In fact, it’d be like following this guide on how to draw an owl. But I assure you that after you get through one side of an A4 page, you’ll start to see your story take form.
You may also end up stepping into ‘the zone’, and you’ll know you’re there when your hand starts moving on its own without the need for a pause. That’s a wonderful place to be, and if you ever reach that state, just be mindful and remind yourself that that’s how being in flow feels like.
You are what you write
The best part of writing longhand is that you won’t even need to refer to what you’ve written once you’re done. Everything you put down becomes a part of you, like a book you’ve just read.
This act of creation allows you to digest your ideas even better, and the next time you actually sit down and write, you’ll find that you’ll know which way you’re headed, and that your words will come more naturally.
Believe it or not—and I certainly believe this—every time you put pen to paper, you forge new paths between your ideas, and that gives you an increased capacity to make unlikely connections.
Like Neil Gaiman once said: “Ideas come from confluence. Things come together. The right ingredients and suddenly, abracadabra!”
Ultimately, what this all means is that the gift is in the process, not the result. So you may or may not come out of the Hunter Gatherer Method™ with something for your audience, but what’s important is who you become as a writer after every practice.
And just as we always strive to finish a story one word at a time, so too should we work to become the best writer we possibly can, and that’s one writing session at a time.
p.s. In all seriousness, the term ‘Hunter Gatherer Method™‘ sounds pretty dumb. Please substitute with another term of your choice. Also, click here to check out what my Hunter-Gatherer page for this story looked like.