Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Write Blind

These guys may have a creative advantage.

These guys may have a creative advantage.

So, for this post I’m trying something a little odd. I’m writing “blind.”

What I mean by that is that I’m not giving myself any way to look at the words as I type them. I picked up this trick from an essay by Vanessa Gebbie in Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. In the essay, Gebbie suggests that you free up your muse and your creativity by simply writing without looking. (It’s kind of like the whole “Look, Ma! No hands!” thing.)  In the essay, she says,

On paper, this flash writing is easy. You just let your hand go, and don’t self-censor. On screen, it can be a little more difficult, as some people (myself included) tend to edit as they write as it is so easy to do on a computer. But this ruins the creative flow, and there are some tricks to help you write freely on screen. Try turning off the screen and typing blind. (And do try not to hit the Caps Lock key.) On a laptop, turn the font color to white. At first you may feel rather uncomfortable but you will get used to it, and what spills out will be fresh, clear writing. Just “let go” and allow the mind to produce its own fabulous connections.

For this post, I haven’t turned my screen off or changed my font color; I’ve simply angled the screen down so that I can’t see it. It feels odd to be writing while staring out the window, but it’s also kind of interesting how it feels so much more “direct” somehow. Sure, I’m making LOTS of typing mistakes, but those can be cleaned up later. There IS something very freeing about not seeing the words on the page – staring back at me in all their supposed “wrongness.” I can just type and it feels like it’s going no where. It feels “light.” It’s like they don’t really carry any weight (yet), and Im free to just mess around with different ideas and lines of thought.

Many writers have trouble editing while writing, but writing blind takes that possibility right off the table. After all, you can’t edit what you can’t see, right?

This would, I think, make a great brainstorming exercise as well. Instead of trying to work out an orderly outline for a piece, just start typing blind and then go back and pick out the good bits. It’s much more free form – more of an actual “brain dump,” as they say.

By writing blind, you get those little critic/editor monkeys off your back. This means you can write much (much!) faster. Without them chittering in your ear, you can fly through the first draft. Very cool.

So, I hope you’ll try this little trick, and – if you do – please drop a comment below to let me know how you make out.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: zhouxuan12345678 via Compfight cc

95 thoughts on “Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Write Blind

  1. This is good advice, which I have heard before in different guises at various writing groups. Better for prose than poetry, I think. From reading your post, it obviously works!

    • Interesting idea to try it with poetry. I’m not a poet, so I’m not sure how that would work, but it sounds kind of fascinating. Hmmm …. Maybe another experiment? 😉

      TKS!

    • I was amazed at how different it felt. I will definitely be playing with it more for other types of writing to see what kinds of results I get. Definitely a “zone” thing.

      TKS!

    • Ha! I know exactly what you mean. I used to handwrite notes in the dark after I’d woken from a dream and didn’t want to risk losing the vision by turning on the lights. Only problem was that when I tried to reread my notes in the morning, I couldn’t make out the scrawl!

    • I wish I had your will power. I’ve tried doing that and sometimes the added pressure of the clock paralyzes me even more than my incessant editing and I wind up staring at a blank screen until the timer goes off. Funny the way we have to sometimes trick our brains to get the work done!

    • Congrats on completing your first novel!
      You will find some great articles here on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog (look in the marketing category), but you may also want to check out blogs like Jane Friedman’s on publishing, or Dan Blank’s (We Grow Media). The Writer Unboxed is another great blog that publishes a mix of writing-related topics, but you can go there to find a variety of resources.

      Good luck!

  2. I tend to write any actual stories, from my novels to my shorts, in a notebook first and then type them up so it is a lot simpler to ‘blind write’ or do ‘stream of consciousness’ writing (don’t even start with a topic, just sit down and let whatever is on your mind stream through your fingers and onto the page).
    However, when we were learning typing in 8th grade, our teacher would have random days where she did exactly this! She would have us set up a clean, blank document on our profile, then she would walk around and turn off every computer screen before standing in the center of the room and reading a paragraph out to us. We were expected to listen, transcribe, and then finish the story for ourselves without ever turning the screen back on.
    Then she would have us save it and leave for the day. The next day would be for sharing and editing. Every once in a while I get a whim and do that again! Sometimes I’m watching a show or my daughter dance etc. and come up with the most wonderful ideas while blind typing away!
    Great post!

  3. I just consciously realized you have explained the state I usually am sometimes when writing my blog posts. And its by no surprise then that those articles that i write blind then come back to correct the mistakes, I feel are more fulfilling than the ones I write ‘conscious’ of every typo.

    • That’s pretty cool that you’re able to do much of your writing in that kind of state. I definitely need to hone that skill and pull away from letting my editor do the writing. I have had a number of instances when I wrote “in the heat of the moment” – fueled by high emotion, whether it was anger, fear, sorrow, or joy. Because I was letting my emotions take the driver’s seat, the work that came out was much more raw and “real” … much more direct than other pieces where I let my intellect drive. There is a place for both elements, but I think it’s usually wiser to start with heart and only let intellect in after the “good stuff” is on the page. 😉

    • The keys were all blank? Really? Wow. I touch type, but in my own fashion … not “by the book.” I can’t imagine learning without the keys marked. It’d fun, though, to see how my brain reacted to having the images of the letters disappear from sight. Definitely shook any blocks loose!

  4. I touch-type. Often, I’m lost in my vision and don’t need to look at the screen. The first draft should not be edited, it’s a free flow. That’s why we have multiple drafts. On the other end of the spectrum there’s Vonnegut who edited every single letter, even, so he only had a finished manuscript at the end and never had “a draft.”

    Do what works for you.

    • I never knew that about Vonnegut. Very cool. Will have to research that a bit. Thanks for the tip, and – YES! – do what works for you. 🙂

  5. I am a registered blind author. I use Jaws which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a standard Windows computer so, in a sense I write blind. I can not see my computer’s screen but hear words relaid via speech or touch them on a braille display. I will try turning off Jaws so I will be writing blind in every sense of the word! Kevin

    • What you do is amazing to me. As much as I found this exercise to be helpful, I cannot imagine what it would take to adapt my writing to actually being blind. I recently saw a video about a painter who lost his sight, but kept painting. It’s an inspiring story. He says that if you are passionate enough, you find a way; and he did.
      Good luck experimenting with turning Jaws off. Love to hear how it goes for you.
      Thanks for adding your perspective.

    • Interesting … it is sort of like removing something, isn’t it? Like stripping away a layer of the process in order to simplify and intensify the experience. I like that line of thought. 🙂

      TKS!

  6. I really need to try this. I’m definitely one of those “edit-while-writing” authors, and it slows my process tremendously. I actually have done exercises to increase my writing speed (not just typing speed) where I typed “blindly” for 5 minutes and just wrote whatever came to mind. Similar process as you mention but in shorter bursts. Thanks for the idea! 🙂

  7. Isn’t this the same as ‘automatic writing’?!

    Most of what I write is based on real life experiences. I tend to look up naturally when I am remembering, while I just dump the words on the screen. I read somewhere that this is normal when the brain is recollecting …

    • I’m not sure. I don’t know much about automatic writing, but I’ll definitely be exploring that via Google.
      Interesting about our natural tendency to look up while remembering. I’ve read about that in the context of trying to determine if someone is lying or not, but I hadn’t thought about it in the context of writing. I’ll have to pay attention to what I do from now on. 😉

    • I’m not familiar with automatic writing, but you’re the third person to mention it, so I obviously have to look it up! 🙂

      Hope you have fun with this exercise. Enjoy!

  8. I have actually done this almost instinctively when there has been something just flowing that I didn’t want interrupted. I look up or I close my eyes and it DOES work! Thank you for reminding me and for the tips on what to do with the font color. I love it! Great post.

    • I’m going to have to remember the closing your eyes trick for times when I’m not already in “blind writing” mode, but just need to maybe get over a speedbump. Excellent! TKS! 🙂

  9. my writing flows better when I do that also. I tyoe about half as fast as I talk when trying to talk slowly. There’s enough time to see between the words and maybe a sentence ro so ahead but not enough time to plan a chess move. I don’t play chess very well. It’s too distracting, all that action just waiting to occur.
    I get caught up in various obsessions, “it’s not a horsie. I wish’r it were one. I l Like making L moves. Why is it thath I always seem to get two horsies and no more? Now, that was not planned.

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    • You wrote with a migraine?!? Wow. I never would have thought to apply this technique to that problem. Brilliant. So glad it worked!

    • I was happy to stumble across it in my reading, and really had fun playing with it today.
      Love to hear how you make out!

  11. Hi Jamie, this is a great idea — and a great practice! I started doing this because I felt inhibited about writing in a cafe or coffee house and being paranoid about people reading over my shoulder. As if anyone would care what I’m writing or even be able to read it. But I found that it made me focus more on my words since I don’t have them to stare at and come back to after I finish my daydream. I like having to focus on my writing just to remember on of those basic things: What are you writing about? I tend to write in my journal a lot, and it’s okay if my writing wanders here and there, but not mid sentence! I started doing it mostly with my iPhone and that great iPhone word processor Pages with my Bluetooth keyboard, but found that I enjoyed it enough that I started doing it (at times) on my laptop. Interestingly enough, I find that I make less mistakes when I am typing blind than when I’m staring at the words. I guess it’s a case of that conscious brain sticking its nose in where it’s not not needed or wanted. Ha! Anyway, I enjoyed your blog entry very much! — Patrick McCafferty, Marking the Moment Photography.

    • What a great idea, Patrick – using this technique when you are writing in public and don’t want to be inhibited by a fear of someone sneaking a peek. 😉 Also a great practice for times when, like you said, using your iPhone as a word processor. It’s hard to see what you’re doing on such a small screen anyway, so why not just stop trying and focus on the words as they “appear” in your head?

      Thanks for bringing some new perspectives and ideas. Love them!

  12. Pingback: Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Write Blind | A Writer's Epic

  13. I type early drafts with my eyes closed. One thing that helps me stay on track is periodically stopping to feel for the raised bumps on the f and j keys. Then I know my hands are on track.

    • Oooh – subtle trick. That’s neat. A kind of keyboard braille. 😉

      I may need to try just closing my eyes. Sounds almost meditative.

      TKS for being here.

  14. Jamie, I thought I was a terrible typist because I had to look at my hands and not at the screen. Seems I’ve increased creativity that way. Who knew. I do glance up from time to time to make sure the typing is going well. Then, after finishing a piece I do edit the typos, etc. Chryssa

  15. Great idea, one I tend to do anyway in a way, by just typing as the ideas flow and leaving the spelling until I’m finished
    As to hand writing, mine looks like a drunken spider staggered across the page – Well most of the time if I do it huridly
    Levaving the caps on or hitting when not meant to is one of my biggest mistakes when the flow starts likE THIs or thiS
    Interesting idea of using white coloured font, but I think switching off the screenwould work better for me
    Keep up the good work

  16. Wow! that is a good tip. I will give it a go and come back here to respond. Sometimes I feel re-reading what I have written gives me that flow but may be that’s just a thought. The flow is actually in the mind 🙂 Great post!

  17. Oh I know about that! It’s a really good advice! I too, am one of those who edit while writing – mostly – and it slows down the writing and there is a huge risk that you forget that super inspired idea while doing so.
    It’s a bit tricky in the beginning, as it always is when you are used to something. But soon enough you’ll get the hang of letting go

  18. Nice tip! I’ve tried it before and while it is freeing, as you say, it’s also a bit disconcerting. I like watching the words appear on the page, but I’m also a heavy editor too, so I understand where this is coming from. I’ll certainly try it out again and see what happens. 🙂

  19. Good post. Funny, I don’t have any those of problems. When I think about, I haven’t before now, I don’t look at the words on my screen when I’m writing. Weird. Never noticed that before.

  20. This post brought into perspective for me how many, many, many times I actually have ended breaking my train of thought because of this constant urge tosimply edit while typing on a computer. A huge Thank you!

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