How long does it take you to write a sentence? Or a paragraph?

If you’re like me, you start writing a sentence, pause after a few words, stare at your computer without typing, write a few more words, pause, look around, write a few more words, pause, write, pause, write. Five minutes later, you finally finish writing that one sentence, but then you have to re-read the sentence you just typed and edit it for mistakes for another five minutes.

Perhaps there’s a way to write faster, with more joy and fewer pauses.

Jazz

Photo by Kuba Bozanowski

Stefon Harris is a celebrated jazz vibrophonist (the vibrophone is an instrument similar to the xylophone). The Los Angeles Times called him “one of the most important young artists in jazz.” In 2011, Stefon Harris spoke at TED:

Every “mistake” is an opportunity in jazz…. The only mistake lies in not being able to perceive what someone else did.

What if you approached your writing that way? Rather than treating every mistake as something that immediately requires fixing, what if you treated it as an opportunity? As a chance to explore what your stories are saying to you?

Don’t Bully Your Stories

Harris says:

It’s not about bullying my vision…. It’s about being here in the moment, accepting one another and allowing creativity to flow.

I often try to bully my stories into shape, to make them tell the story I want them to tell, to make them sound the way I want them to sound.

It doesn’t work like that. “Stories tell you what they are,” says Andrew Stanton.

When you bully your stories, they have a tendency to stop wanting to hang out with you. (share that on Twitter?)

Instead, Listen

Harris says:

If I really want the music to go there, the best way for me to do it is to listen. If I want the music to get to a certain level of intensity, the first step for me is to be patient, to listen to what’s going on and pull from something that’s going on around me.

Listen to your story. What is it saying to you? Which direction does it want to go? Not you, the story. Ask it. Then be patient, wait, stare off into space if you have to, just listen. Your story will tell you what to do.

Isn’t this a better way to write, like jazz. Isn’t this preferable to wrestling your stories down so you can steal their lunch money?

This is partnership. This is co-creating. This is breathing.

As Harris says:

[The bandstand] is really a sacred space. And one of the things that is sacred about it is that you have no opportunity to think about the future, or the past. You are alive right here in this moment.

What if you wrote like that? Alive.

What do you think? How do you write with your stories instead of against them?

PRACTICE

Free write. Listen to your story and write for fifteen minutes.

When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback on a few practices by other writers.

Enjoy your writing time today.

Watch Stefon Harris’ full TED talk here.

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).