As a writer with an overpowering inner critic, this is the best discovery I’ve made. It’s freed me to be more creative, write more, and think more clearly. Before you run away, I’m not talking about free writing.
What Is Ramble Writing?
Right away I’m just going to tell you what I’m talking about. Ramble writing is a term that I came up with (for this post, actually, so I could have a term for what I’m talking about). It’s one tool I use when I’m stuck writing a story or am paralyzed by my inner critic. Essentially, I just write out my internal monologue and thoughts when I’m struggling with part of a story. I typically start with a question that details the problem I’m having then follow it up with answers to the question along with more questions.
An example snippet would look like:
What is he [the main character] thinking here? And how does he feel?
He’s worried. Okay, but why? What’s he so stressed about?
He’s stressed about whether they’ll ever come back.
But why does he care about them?
What happens next?
The next scene needs to have her [the main character] discover her family’s secret. That’s a big reveal, so it needs to be dramatic and continue the build up from the previous scenes.
So how does she discover the secret? There’s all the setup for finding the hidden room, but I feel like it would be helpful if she had somebody else in the scene to interact with. Then, she could yell at them, and the tension would continue as she grapples with the discovery. It would give her a sounding board.
And so on. Sometimes these ramblings go on for over a page. Usually, there are a lot of questions, and I often ask the same question a few different ways. Sometimes asking the question a new way helps me think about the problem in a new way. I believe that words have power and finding the right words will help you think through and understand the problem. After all, if you can’t explain the problem, do you really understand the problem?
Another staple is long paragraphs full of incomplete sentences and several threads of thought. However, usually I try to structure paragraphs around one thought so that there’s some sense of order if I need to look back through: I will just enter down a line if I’m starting a new train of thought.
One final thing I often incorporate into the ramblings is different voices or perspectives. Most of the rambling takes place in my own voice just narrating my thoughts (like in the example above). But I also use the same voice that the story is told in, writing out fragments of a scene from the story (typically the scene that I’m working in). Then, these fragments often get pulled into different spots in the scene when I’m deleting the rambling. Nevertheless, I’m under no obligation to save any of these phrases or write them in a way that makes sense for the scene as it currently exists.
Additionally, I will sometimes write parts in a voice/perspective the story is not told in. For a third-person story, this may be switching to a first-person voice to think about a scene or character in a new way. It could also mean writing a scene from another character’s perspective, even if the character is not present in the scene or spot you’re working on.
How Is This Different Than Free Writing?
With free writing, you write without stopping. However, with ramble writing, stopping and thinking is totally okay. The goal is to put the problem and your different thoughts about it on paper so you can see them and think through them.
Why Does It Work?
In order to think, sometimes you need to externalize your idea. Sometimes—most times—we can’t fully understand or comprehend an idea or our thoughts until we say them, either in writing or speaking. Ever say something out loud and realize how stupid it sounds? Same concept.
When you write things down, you can sort through your thoughts because you can see them. When you are forced to put them into words, you can see the idea a bit more fully formed before you shut it down. Oftentimes, I have to repeat the same thought several times until I get it pinned down, which looks a lot like rambling (hence the name).
In a lot of ways, I think this works the same as bouncing ideas off a friend or critique partner.
The other reason it works is that it forces you to get out of your own head. It makes your inner critic shut up. You can look more objectively—and less solely negatively—about your ideas. It also lets you explore and experiment with writing.
Why Do I Do This?
I often don’t even let an idea fully form before I knock it down as foolish. This became debilitating as I kept striking down ideas before they even had a chance to become good ideas. Most of the time, good ideas don’t start out as fully formed, genius thoughts. They start as half-baked notions. It often gets to the point where I’m unable to think because each new thought gets dismissed.
I started just letting myself experiment and write things out. The goal was to follow an idea just for a second. Just long enough to stop squishing all my ideas. Originally this meant just writing out the next sentence in the story and seeing where it goes when my first instinct was to dismiss the sentence.
Now it means writing out questions and potential solutions, often rewording a question or sentence until it pinpoints what I’m trying to say.
When Do I Ramble Write?
Honestly, all the time. Whenever I get stuck, I just create a new paragraph and start rambling.
For me, this usually happens when I’m trying to work on part of a character arc or when I’m figuring out what a character feels in a scene.
It’s a way to get over myself and just get ideas onto the page. I know that I’ll delete it when I’m done—though I may salvage some—so there’s no fear of somehow making the story worse or having a bad or stupid idea.
Free writing never really appealed to me. The idea of writing without stopping doesn’t give me the ability to examine what I’m working on. So, for those who don’t like free writing, try ramble writing. Ramble on with questions and ponderings, reword to understand what you precisely mean, then feel free to delete when finished. It’s helped me get my inner critic under some control. There’re really no rules, so just go on and ramble.
Let me know if you do something similar. How do you overcome your inner critic?