Ok, I know what you’re thinking: does this guy really do ten different kinds of writing every day?


But I might end up putting pen to paper in 3 or 4 different ways on a typical day.

If you’re anything like me, your life probably has a lot of input.

Writing is a chance to reverse the direction of the flow, to bring clarity to your thoughts by laying them out in some kind of logical sequence, to create output. Even if what you write down doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, in time the sheer process of trying to untangle your words will pay dividends. 

I’ve noticed that when I write things down, my head feels noticeably clearer, and the quality of my sleep is improved also.

Here are a few ways to go about the process: </p>

1. Make brain dumps

Find a nice big empty sheet of paper and start writing. Don’t stop until it is full or a preset period of time has elapsed. It doesn’t matter what you write. Try not to even think about it. Offload that shit. 

2. Draw mind maps

Pluck out those thoughts cavorting around your head. Write them down using as few words as possible. Draw boxes around the ones that seem important. Add colour and illustrations if you want. Expand from the centre of the page outwards. Connect ideas together with lines. Keep going until you run out of thoughts or space. When you’re finished you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the situation. There’s a whole galaxy of mind mapping which is just a Google away if you want to know more — but I’m quite happy with my lo-fi version of it for now.

Another day, another mind map (exploring ideas for CycleLove).

3. Generate idea lists

Write down ten ideas (or more) about something. Anything. Ten topics for your next blog post, ten possible new business ventures, ten ways to solve whatever problem you are grappling with. The exercise itself is more important than the topic. Your brain is a muscle. Work it baby. As James Altucher would say: “Become an ideas machine”. 

4. Express triple gratitudes

Before going to sleep, make a note of three things you are grateful for that day. What made you feel good, or put a smile on your face?

It could be a tiny detail (something you noticed on the way to work) or something huge (maybe a special person in your life). Whatever it is, write it down.

Making a habit of gratitude will make you happier and healthier because you’ll dwell less on negative emotions and the things that aren’t going “right” in your life. 

5. Make positive affirmations

Todo lists can be pretty unappealing: a list of obligations, many of which never get crossed out.

Earlier in the year when I was unwell, out of work and in need of a place to live, I wrote a different kind of todo list: one consisting solely of positive outcomes:

❒ I will get back to full health
❒ I will find a new place to live
❒ I will find work and sort out my finances
❒ I will be kind to myself

Guess what? Within a few weeks I had moved into a new place, recovered from my illness and found a well-paid freelance job to tide me over financially.

The funny thing is that life usually does work out fine. All those things you were so worried about don’t usually happen. Writing a positive affirmation list will help you to remember this, and allow you to look back with a smile on your face. 

6. Keep a dream diary

Make a permanent home for a notebook and pen by your bed.

As soon as you wake up, run through any dream fragments in your head, and then write them down. If you’re a visual person, you might try sketching them too. Either way, be quick because you only have a few minutes before that dream disappears forever.

A dream I had about an armada of floating lizards the size of cities. Um, yeah… I don’t know what it was about either.

The more you write down of your dreams, the more you’ll remember about them. It’s about as close to having a conversation with your subconscious as you can get. Enjoy the process, and remember to review your dream diary periodically.  

Bonus: the more you can recall of your dreams, the more chance you’ll have of having lucid ones (where you realise you are dreaming and get to control what happens). In short: writing down your dreams helps you to spot patterns and themes which you can use to induce lucid dreaming at a later stage.

7. Practise long form writing

Also known as “essay writing” which was probably my most dreaded homework assignment at school.

Guess what? You’re not at school any more. You don’t have to explore the theme of courtly love in Chaucer or try to find something new to say about Shakespeare.

You can write about anything you want. 

Write a love letter. Write a story. Write to your future self or the children you didn’t have yet. Write about writing (check). Write for the hell of it. Just write. 

8. Say hello to someone you care about

I read something recently that really made me think: if you want to maintain close connections with people, you need to speak to them at least every couple of weeks. Which means that if there are 14 people who are important in your life, you need to be contacting one of them every day. Write an usually long and from-the-heart message on your friend’s Facebook page, send them an email or a text message. Let them know you’re thinking of them. Take 30 seconds to impact someone’s life.

9. Indulge in some doodling

Pick up a pen and move it around the page without thinking. I sometimes play a game where I close my eyes and scribble away in circles until I feel done, and then try to pick out a face from the resulting mess. Make oodles of doodles. Because you are not “drawing” there’s no pressure to perform, and you can enjoy the release of whatever it is that comes out in your doodle. 

10. Keep a spark file

You know those crazy ideas you dream up and are frightened of losing? (You can probably guess what I’m going to say…) Write them down somewhere! A cloud solution like a Google Doc is ideal as it will allow you to access the file when you are on the go.

However rambling or useless they might seem, if you collect enough of your ideas and review them periodically, you’ll soon start to spot themes and connections. That’s why Steven Johnson calls this kind of a document a spark file.

I think it’s a great concept and have been logging my thoughts in a document ever since reading about it — so I now have an oddball collection of ideas on topics ranging from the pomodoro technique to the fact that  Voyager 1 is still no more than a single light day away from Earth. (I don’t know why that fact struck me as important, but one day I might find out…)

 What kinds of writing (or drawing) do you find helpful to make sense of your life?

Posted to writing in 2013.

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