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8 Ways To Free Your Words

For those times when your words seem to be stuck in the mud, here are 8 ways to try setting them free:

1. Write for one person It can be hard to write when you imagine a thousand eyes looking just at you. Or when you’re wanting to attract a lot of attention, and worried about what happens if you don’t. Reduce your focus. Bring your writing down to a personal, human level by thinking about just one person, and writing direct to them.

2. Watch your language Tune into what you’re telling yourself. If your language is full of “must” “need to” got to” you’re probably being too hard on yourself - and resisting just as hard. Try playing with the language of possibility instead: “could do” “want to” “might”. (I have a fondness for “might” - it seems to leave all the balls in my court. I’ll play… but only if I want to.)

3. Focus on your positive intention Switch from a focus on the anticipated response - a published article, a wonderful name for yourself, cheers from your raving fans - to your own positive intention. To tell a story, to share an idea, to open someone’s eyes to something important or beautiful. It can be a powerful motivator.

4. Break state Do something else. Move around. Go outside. Clean the house, bake a cake, go for a long walk. Give your muse something to wonder at and enjoy. The words will flow more easily when you return.

5. Cut, cut, cut Strip out the excess words, the flowery sentences, the redundant paragraphs. The words you think others are expecting. Cut it back till you find the point - and you’ll know it when you do. Cut it back to just one sentence. As Hemingway put it:

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.

6. Experiment Play with different forms: numbered lists, 30 word stories, haiku, a letter, a short story, a nonsense rhyme. Write just for fun and see what comes out the other side

7. Write what you’re resisting If you’re stubbornly resisting try writing what it is that you’re not wanting to write about. Get it all out: the pointlessness, the futility of what you’re doing, why it’s a waste of time, why no-one will enjoy what you’ve written… and the feelings will diminish as you write. (This piece of work is probably best kept to yourself!)

8. Write for no one and no purpose Sometimes the weight of what you’re trying to achieve can squash your words and flatten your writing. What if there were no reason other than the truth of these words: here, now, this movement of pen on paper, this sound of the keyboards tapping, this rhythm emerging as you write.

I’d add a 9th - although it would spoil my 8 point list. Look for 8 different ways to set your words free.

It’s an idea I learned this week from Rosa Say, writing at Joyful Jubilant Learning. The concept of makawalu:

Makawalu is the concept of abundance in thinking, giving in to all the possibilities of the physical and the spiritual world. Maka is the word for eyes, and walu is eight, thus makawalu literally means to look for eight ways or facets of thinking connected to and extended from wherever you may start.
If you begin to use a tool, think of eight ways you might be able to use it.

If you plot a garden, think of eight sections that will rotate your earth in season.

If you consider a friendship, think of eight ways you will be able to share it.

If you write a song, think of eight voices who will help you sing it.

And then for each of those eight ways, think of eight more. Within your spirit, all is entirely possible.

Which seemed like a good concept to introduce to this theme of writing with freedom, on this 8th day of the 8th month of the 8th year.

Photo Credit: Phone 8 by holeymoon on Flickr


  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Joanna, These tips are all very helpful. Today I especially like #7 and #8. Sometimes you just have to let it rip. Preparation and targeting your audience are so important, but sometimes they can be absolutely stifling.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..How I Started Blogging, or Ready, Fire, Aim

  2. Robert Hruzek says:

    I happen to like #3 the most (you can guess why). In fact, it’s pretty much the reason I blog in the first place!

    But I really need to do more #6, experimentation…

    Robert Hruzeks last blog post..My Darlin’ Clementine

  3. Damien says:

    Great great great!!! Another excellent set of tips/reminders on how to write the best posts I can. Your blog rocks! Congrats on the new move!

  4. SpaceAgeSage says:

    I love this one: “If you consider a friendship, think of eight ways you will be able to share it.”

    Thanks for sharing that!

    SpaceAgeSages last blog post..Leadership skills — seasoned or dinosaur-like?

  5. Speedlinking 8-8-08 says:

    [...] one you just really should read … write better, communicate better … start by reading [...]

  6. Rebecca Reid says:

    This is such a great post! Thank you for these eight simple reminders.

    Rebecca Reids last blog post..A Failed Proposal

  7. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Brad, I’m glad you found the tips helpful. I was in need of #8 too!

    Robert, I can indeed guess why, though I enjoy it when you experiment too - the contributions to Liz’s recent writing challenge were a wonderful example of what can happen when you play a bit and let your words run freely in a different direction…

    Damien, thank you! And thanks for the encouragement, and the link :-) Much appreciated

    SpaceAgeSage, it’s a beautiful thought isn’t it? Rosa has such a knack of saying things that make us feel better about ourselves and the world. Filled with aloha :-)

    Rebecca, my pleasure. Thanks for stopping by


  8. Ken Armstrong says:

    Thanks. Eight and Nine are particularly thought-provoking.

    Perhaps nine should have been eight - what with all the eights in it and all :)

    Ken Armstrongs last blog post..Looking For The Heart of Friday Night - Tom Waits in The Phoenix Park, Dublin, August 1st 2008

  9. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Ken, nine was originally eight, then it got over-ruled. I figured you’d allow it as the context for the whole piece :-)