4 Steps to Get More Writing Done by Sowing your Wild Oats

Flickr photo "Sea Oats" by James Lee

Don’t feel like sitting down at the computer to write? Then don’t.

Not yet anyway.

Sometimes, you can get more writing done by sowing your wild OATS.

The phrase “sowing your wild oats” is an idiom meaning to “do wild and foolish things in one’s youth” according to The Free Dictionary.

Now, when I say this, I don’t mean you should go out and do a bunch of wild and foolish things and then come home and write about them. I want to share a technique I sometimes use to get more writing done. I’m using the acronym O.A.T.S. to explain the technique, so I had to find an idiom that matched the acronym. “Sowing your wild oats” is what I came up with.

Like Grammar Girl, I’m crazy about English idioms. I also love learning about idioms in other languages, too. They really show off the power of metaphorical language to express ourselves. They can also show us how crazy and wild our language can seem to other people.

I chose “sowing your wild oats” as an acronym for this exercise because I was looking for a way to get more writing done by doing something “wild and foolish” instead of forcing myself to sit at the computer banging my head against the keyboard to come up with writing ideas.

If you follow each step of the “sowing your wild OATS” process, you’ll have a finished piece of writing that you gets out there into the world instead of languishing on your hard drive.

Leave me a comment with a link to anything you create using this method and I’ll check it out. Any other thoughts or comments are also greatly appreciated!

How to Sow Your Wild Oats

1. Observe

As you know from my post 10 Ways to Know You’re a Writer, I love the app Evernote. I make sure I have a copy on whatever device I carry with me so that I can make quick notes and keep them organized. I keep a folder called “Observations” in the app where I’ll jot down things I notice throughout the day that might come in handy for my writing later.

I’m currently doing some work on a feature film. The main part of the action takes place in a high school on Long Island. Instead of sitting around waiting and chatting (there is a LOT of sitting around and waiting and chatting on a film set), I decided to “sow my wild oats” and get a little writing done without actually sitting down at the computer.

I pulled out my device, opened up Evernote and made some observations. Since my work in progress (#WIP) is set in a middle school in Tarrytown, NY, I wanted to use this opportunity to get some authentic detail about schools today.

Here are some of my notes:

Boy’s bathrooms – voices echo off tile, rust spots on the walls near urinals (eww), gray tiles with ugly peach paint above, no locks on stalls

Hall lockers have a THICK coat of blue paint from years of repainting and abuse. They really are wide enough for Lance (my main character) to be stuffed into. Should I ask my son if I can stuff him inside one? (I didn’t.)

Most of the trophies in the trophy case were for tennis. Must be a school of wealthy students. Maybe a tennis pro is a coach?

Really confusing layout of hallways. Freshmen must get lost all the time.

There were a lot more observations, but I’ll stop there.

Now I could’ve just closed the app and said, “I did my writing for the day. Ah!” But just observing and taking notes doesn’t really get any writing done. Those notes are like a warm-up. If I stop there, they’ll just sit there collecting electronic dust in my Evernote app unless I do something with them.

If you have tons of files, notes, scribbles, and jottings lying around, e-dust them off by taking the next step.

2. Analyze

Before deciding what to do with your casual observations, analyze them. I don’t mean going through and judging them, “This one is terrible! This one is awesome! This one is meh.” (I often do that, though. Sigh.)

I mean thinking about them differently. Try finding the connections, figuring out what the observations are trying to say and what they mean. Sometimes I see patterns and meanings that I hadn’t noticed when I was just writing down the original thoughts.

For this set of observations at the high school, one or two or possibly all of them will make their way into my middle grade paranormal adventure novel. My main character, Lancelot Greengrass, is kind of small and occasionally gets pushed around because of his size. The kids who do this call him “Grass-stains” because of his weird last name and because he always has grass stains on his knees from falling down when he gets pushed.

As I analyze the observations I made, some them are getting me excited to add those details into my story. I can’t wait to get to the computer and write. Excitement is always a clue that those ideas are the ones to pursue when you take the next step.

3. Transform

The bare facts are rarely enough when writing for an audience. Even news tells a story from the point of view of the person observing it.

What we call “voice” can be thought of as the transformation of “what happened” into “this is how I saw it, processed it, understood it. I hope you will, too.”

This is the part of the process that usually happens in the shower or while you’re doing the dishes. Your inner critic is distracted by the mundane activity and your creative brain makes connections you didn’t think would happen. Suddenly, you have a great idea! The original observations suddenly transform into another way of using them.

The blue paint on the lockers might become an activity for the janitor to be doing in the hallway.

The gym teacher might become a washed up tennis pro after seeing those tennis trophies in the display case.

Lance might get lost all the time because he’s new at Washington Irving Middle School.

And, lastly, the observations I made might make the transformation from details to be used in my novel into details I can use for a blog post like this one. (See how I did that?)

4. Send

This last step is the most important. It’s what Austin Kleon talks about in his excellent book, Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (and in this GREAT VIDEO).

We all write because we love it and it’s how we express ourselves creatively. Some of us keep our writing to ourselves and some of us have a world-wide audience. No matter what size audience you have or form your writing takes: a blog, short story, play, screenplay, novel, article, poem, textbook, a letter to the editor or a love note, you need to send those words out into the world in order for them to make a difference and to learn something about what your writing is all about and what you have to say.

As Mr. Kleon says, “The only way to find your voice is to use it.”

This final step to getting more writing done is called Send but it could just as easily be called Sowing. Like a farmer sowing seeds on a plowed field, we need to do the same with our writing. When you cast your words out there like seeds, you’ll be amazed at what grows. So go make some Observations, Analyze them for content and connections, Transform them into something creative and amazing and then Send those words out into the world.

Now go forth and sow your wild OATS!

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12 thoughts on “4 Steps to Get More Writing Done by Sowing your Wild Oats

  1. This is great, Paul. I have an appointment at 4 today to go over “what I have” for a story I’m performing in September. After a week of being “the grantwriter” and not “the storyteller” (well, OK, a grantwriter is a storyteller, but in the service of an organization, not her own creative impulses) I do not feel like I have much. Your acronym will give me the structure I need to make best use of that time. And my own blog is an effort to create an intermediate step between story generation and performance that falls within that “T” spot, so my upcoming post on Monday will likely be a reflection of that. Thank you.

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  2. Pingback: Very Inspiring Blogger Award III | Natacha Guyot

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