How do you get to Carnegie Hall, the old joke goes. Practice, practice, practice.
This is about writing practice. Throughout this blog I tell stories, reflect on ideas, frame problems and consider their solutions, and open to different perspectives, from elusive phrases, images, and feelings I try to capture in words in my notebooks. The running dialogue in my over active head. Spinning, like that record with the scratch on it repeating a phrase over and over until the needle is picked up and moved over the scratch (that’s a visual for us older folks) or the computer that freezes or spins without ever connecting to a website it was sent to look for until the only solution seems to be to hit the control, alt, delete keys and begin again.
Writing practice for me is also proactive. Maybe I see a “problem” coming and I can divert it. A feeling, perhaps, that I meet head on in my notebook rather than tangling with a difficult person or retreating under the covers. I hear my inner dialogue spinning and know it’s time for the page. Take it to the page. Slow me down. Put the words in front of me, before I spew them on an innocent bystander.
Two practices I use and recommend are Julia Cameron’s morning pages found in her book The Artist’s Way and Natalie Goldberg’s timed writings as explained her book Writing Down the Bones.
I also use the website 750words.com based on Cameron’s morning pages which keeps track of a daily practice—and awards “badge” incentives based on how many days in a row you write, how many words you write, or how fast you complete the daily 750-word count.
There’s lots of advice for establishing a practice.
Get a writing buddy and meet once a week in a coffee shop. Take turns offering a topic, write for ten minutes, and then share your writings with each other.
Have a special pen, light a candle, set aside a certain time of day, or play music. Write in a certain chair.
There’s the question of whether to use a notebook or computer. I use both. There are arguments for each. See what works for you.
Have a routine. I like to take a notebook to the bookstore café and sit in the back left corner, drink my café au lait and write on topics that came up in my earlier morning pages.
If you’re writing a story take a troubling scene, or character, and do a ten-minute timed writing using that as your topic.
If you’re having a difficult morning or day, sit still, open your notebook and write for ten minutes without stopping.
Keep a notebook by your bedside table for those times in the middle of the night when you can’t shut off your brain. Or in your purse for when you’re stuck in the doctor’s waiting room.
Find pieces of time. While waiting on hold with Comcast, or in a carpool line. Jot your thoughts down. You might remember them later. Or you might not. They might make good topics for later.
At the end of each blog post I will offer a topic for your own exploration. Set your timer for ten minutes. Put your pen to the paper and write. Don’t edit. Or scratch through. Don’t pick up your pen to “think.” Just write. See what comes up past your first thoughts.
Oh, and don’t hold your pen too tight.
Now breathe. See, that wasn’t so bad.