When writers are asked their one tip for writing better, they often say the same thing: write. Do it often. (The folks at WordPress talked about it on Day 3 of Writing 101).
Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, talks specifically about writing practice. She talks about being willing to “write the worst junk in the world” to, eventually, get to that good stuff that someone else may eventually want to read.Like others, she points out that no one thinks it’s strange that football teams or classical musicians practice, yet you never hear about writing practice (unless, you know, you read a lot of books about writing).
I’m not one to write in books, especially ones I read over and over again, but a single sentence (in the “Artistic Stability” chapter is underlined, twice:
You might have to be willing to write junk for five years, because we have accumulated it over many more than that and have been gladly avoiding it in ourselves.
She recommends, then, both a very structured and yet unstructured writing practice to get through that backlog of junk:
- Fill a notebook a month. Do it by writing every day. (But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t accomplish this.)
- Let yourself relax but remain focus on the writing. If you can, turn off the need to write along the lines, between the margins, with proper spelling and grammar. (This writing is for you, and only you, after all.)
- Keep your hand moving – there’s no need to re-read what you just wrote
- Don’t cross-out because that’s editing and a slippery slope
- Consider starting your daily writing with “this moment” (I tend to use “at this moment” or “right now”)
Two to three times a year, I fully commit to a Natalie Goldberg-style writing practice. I get really excited, get myself a new notebook or two, find a good place to sit and write, buy a pen that feels good on the paper I’m using, and just go to town with my daily writing.Sometimes I even get into the zone Natalie talks about, where I don’t care (quite as much) about spelling and grammar and not sounding like a crazy person. I’m fully immersed in my writing.
Then, something happens and I stop. Maybe work gets stressful or it’s warmer out so I prioritize sitting with Matt on the porch for hours after dinner. Maybe we go away for the weekend and it’s enough to throw off my schedule. Maybe I just get bored.
And that’s okay, too, because I’m pretty sure even Natalie herself has had times where she’s walked away from writing for a little while. Because writing isn’t my whole life. I know I have to come back to it every now and then or I’ll go crazy with all of those thoughts pinging around in my brain. I can always come back to my writing practice.
Maybe one day I’ll even get through the backlog of junk that piles up.