A complete guide to minimalist writing

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart
~ William Wordsworth

This post is for all of my fellow writers out there – aspiring bloggers, authors, journalists, poets, playwrights. Even if you don’t call yourself any of these things, this post is still relevant to you because almost everybody writes something or should be creating or doing something with this wonderful thing we call language.

I’ve been riding a roller-coaster of writer’s block/flow over the past few months and have tried almost everything and anything (legal) to get back on track. Everyday, I like to sit by myself in a few moments silence in meditation. But my main problem is that as soon as I slow down for a few minutes, my mind gets fired up about things to write. However, when it come to actually sitting down and writing, I get the first few sentences down and then… I’m stuck.

“What’s next? Does this make sense? Should I write about that?”

As with most things I’m not particularly good at (like karaoke) I adore to do write anyway. I probably even find it more ‘meditative’ than actual meditation because there’s something about it that gets all of my thoughts ordered and my mind cleared up in a different way than practising Zazen does. Part of the reason why I’m minimalist is so that I have more time to travel, explore and write.  Being a ‘minimalist’ doesn’t mean that I do everything in smaller quantities, as long as I keep only the essentials, even posts like this can be as long as I like.

I’m no professional at writing, but some of the things I’ve learned from just simply sitting down and getting words out has amazed me. I’ve learned so much about myself just by answering prompts, or just digging into my mind and writing 750words on it. Other times, I just open up wordpress, stare at the blank box for a few minutes with my fingers hovering over the keys, and before I know it, I’m writing a post about writing ;). If you love to write as well, but find yourself without motivation or time or generally unsatisfied, hopefully this guide will help you get started.

a guide to minimalist writing

Why ‘minimalist’? I don’t know how other people create, but for me, writing is almost all or nothing. If I’m writing to publish, I don’t do a half-ass job about it. And if it’s a journal entry, I don’t hold anything back. I’m quite passionate about it, just like I am about my minimalist approach to life. And once again, I found that using a few minimalist principles, I was able to get my writing back on track.

Here, I’m not going to distinguish what you’re writing about, or go into how you do it – such as the pros and cons of handwriting or typing. It’s up for you to decide what you feel is best and no way is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. What matters is that you simply just write.

1. Find solitude.

Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’  to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.
~ Paul Tillich

When you are alone, you realize things that you can never see if there are other people around to distract you. When there is nobody to please and no expectations, and you have a pen and paper or laptop or whatever your weapon of choice, you can write something, anything, without giving a crap about:

  • who will read it
  • grammar or spelling
  • what it’s all about

It’s extremely liberating to have the freedom to just be yourself. Finding the time to be alone is the first and foremost step towards writing a lot and writing well.

2. Create first.

Anything that creates a spark is going to start, potentially, a big brush fire.
~ Victor Hill

One you’ve found a little bit of peace and quiet, the next step is to simply create first. Don’t worry about how that sentence sounds or if you’ve used the same word twice. Don’t worry about if it’s too long or short or childish or difficult. It doesn’t matter how you should start or end. Just put those damn words on the page and worry about editing it later, nobody is going to read your draft, so why care?

At least once you have a draft you can cut and sculpt it later on, but without it… I mean, Michelangelo didn’t carve his statues out of thin air. The reason why this works is because as much as we like to think that we can multi-task… we can’t. If you’re thinking what to write and how to write what you want at the same time, you’ll end up with almost nothing.

So if you think you’re stuck in a rut, it’s because you’re already criticizing your ideas before you’ve put them down (“I can’t write about that/I think x person has already written about that/Hm, that doesn’t sound good enough“). Ignore your critical side and let your creative side roam free.

3. Pour your heart out.

There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
~ Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

Even if they don’t intend to, a lot of the time people write as if somebody will read it one day. It could depend what you’re writing – whether it’s a journal you’ll lock away or a blog post that you plan to publish. They’re scared that someone will think worse of them, so they hold back. But for me, either way, I pour my heart into what I write. True, I may be selective about what I write (you guys probably aren’t interested in what I had for breakfast) but for every blog post, I don’t hold back my conviction.

When I write a blog post, I pour all everything I have into it. I’m here, right now, writing. There’s nothing else I do except using words to create, convey and communicate. There’s nothing left but to do it to the best of my ability. In that moment, writing and breathing is all I do.

If you haven’t already, I implore you to try my sanity saviour 750 words (I’m going to keep pushing because it’s worth it). Pour your worries and hopes and thoughts out once in a while, your heart will appreciate it.dc

4. Don’t wait for motivation.

Unfortunately, (or rather quite luckily) the ‘perfect’ time to do something is often when you’re already doing it and there’s no turning back.

People often use an excuse like ‘I don’t have the motivation today to do x‘ which is sadly usually followed up by ‘…I’ll do it tomorrow‘. When you think you’re out of motivation, you have two options. You can a) quit or b) can push on without it. Quitting achieves nothing, so if you’re okay with that then fine. But if you’re not satisfied with having written nothing, well then you do have some motivation after all! So if it’s there, use it!

And if you need more, entice it to come out. How? Hunt down some awesome inspiration. Go read some great blogs or read that book you love again, then come back and start over. You’ll find yourself wanting to emulate the writers you admire, or at least knowing that it’s possible that anybody can create something amazing.

If that doesn’t work, don’t give up just because you ‘don’t feel like it’. Sit still for a few minutes and try to clear your mind of distractions, what’s on your ‘to do’ list and so on.

Search deep inside for the writer within you, what does he/she want to say?

5. +3 Geek.

If you’re really desperate, you can totally geek it up by using various software to help. The best kind are plain and simple – no fancy fonts, borders or backgrounds. Just you, the page, and good sweet words. Sometimes a word counter forces you to write at least a certain amount, or some kind of calendar to make sure you’re writing as many days as you can. Apart from 750/NaNoWriMo, you can alternatively try completely disconnecting from the internet, and for that there’s Darkroom, Write or Die, and even trusty old notepad. Once you’ve eliminated social distractions and opened up a writing program, you’ll have no choice left but to write or give up. It’s all or nothing from here.

Now stop reading, and write something! (Start by leaving a comment!)

And if you enjoyed this post, help me out by tweeting it up!

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  • Kate

    This is great advice, and an interesting subject. Well done!

    I want to add that sometimes people just don’t have something to write or say, and in those times it’s ok to keep quiet until we do have something worth contributing. Minimalists don’t like to consume for the sake of consuming, so why should we write for the sake of writing? There is so much more written information than we can ever read. While writing without an audience can be a very powerful exercise for the writer (minimalist or not), everyone should be mindful of what they are putting out into the world and what kind of a contribution they are making (and I’m not just talking about bloggers here).

    As a minimalist consumer of products as well as information and opinions, I am selective. When a publication doesn’t have anything new to contribute to the information I already have, or doesn’t provide information I want, I’ll skim it or skip it altogether. When people write or talk simply for the sake of writing or talking, I try to not be a part of their audience.

    Essentially, I want to point out that consumption for the sake of consuming is often linked to production for the sake of producing. This is true of material goods and words. As minimalists, we should be cognizant of our production as well as our consumption.

    • Dear Kate,

      Thank you for commenting, you make a great point about being selective about reading. There’s simply too much information to be able to handle out there and the secret to getting more done is to reduce it all down to the essentials. In this post, I talked about writing, but not for the sake of simply ‘writing’, but more for the emotional benefits people feel when they get words down. They don’t necessarily have to publish it for others to read and if it’s typed up it doesn’t really hurt to do it if it helps people clear their minds.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  • Great post, Jessica — on one of my favourite subjects. Writing is somehow so personal and yet so universal too. It connects us to a higher power and to each other all in one swoop of the pen or stroke of the keyboard. Thanks for sharing your insights and your writing. xo

    • Dear Katie,

      I totally agree, I think that’s why I enjoy writing so much – because it’s a way of connecting people. When we write we have to think about what we want to say more carefully, instead of thoughtlessly saying the first thing that comes into our head. Also, it’s a good way to connect with ourselves, especially when we’re journalling, so that we can get to know our own hearts better too.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • I remember reading an interview with a well-known author where she gave her best advice for writing. She told of the time a young woman walked up to her at a book signing and asked her, “I’m an aspiring writer. Do you have any tips for writing?” “Sure,” was her reply, “Step 1 – get pen and paper, step 2 – put ass in chair, step 3 – write!” Every time I get writer’s block, I remember that and laugh. The trick is to sit down and write something – even if it’s crap. It’s not written in stone – you can always come back to it later and revise.

    • Dear Anne,

      That’s great advice! Perhaps I should have added ‘put ass in chair’ onto my list too, because it all really comes down to showing up and just doing it! Thanks for the comment, I’ll be sure to remember it 🙂

  • you just filled me up with so much energy to write, my brain is on fire!

  • Hi Jessica,
    We’ve got another tool that we’ve created to help bridge the gap with writer’s block. Now Novel (www.nownovel.com ) helps people to get on with writing their novel, in a prompted manner, so they don’t have to worry about searching for inspiration. Let me know if you’d like to try it out..

  • Great post! I keep an entire blog devoted to a minimalist approach to writing and a writer’s lifestyle, and I’ll be sure to put a link to this post there at http://www.minimalauthor.com. It’s easy to overcomplicate things with fancy software or bundles of paperwork, but when it comes right down to it, writing is as simple as putting words on a page and then putting them in order. Rinse and repeat.

  • Sangbog Lee

    Hello!. I’m not English native person, Recently, I’m very tiresome because of my writing and speaking on English which make me unhappy and embarrassing. All of your article on your blog is very good and inspiring. your article help me have courage
    Thank you very much your posting.

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  • Hi Jessica,
    A great article and a great blog! There’s a lot to be said for writing without distraction and on a plain page. I’m working on building it into my routine, so thanks for the tips!

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