Stop Thinking! The Art of Writing Practice
By Amy Albaugh
Do you ever have days when you just sit in front of an empty page and think, “What should I write?”
Whether you’re working on an assignment or writing for pleasure sometimes you’re just so full of all the things that should be written that you end up writing nothing at all.
In her definitive book Writing Down The Bones, renowned writing teacher Natalie Goldberg pioneered a technique for getting writing on the page. In the book Goldberg explains a simple technique that shows us how to let go and write even if we don’t know what to write. This technique is called Writing Practice.
Writing Practice has you write in timed bursts a minimum of ten minutes up to an hour or more.
The Rules for Writing Practice are:
- Don’t stop moving your hand
- Don’t think
- Give yourself permission to write rubbish
Let’s look at each one individually:
Don’t stop moving your hand.
Yes, this means getting a physical piece of paper and a pen. Writing is not just your mind it’s an expression from your whole being. And a lot of the time the thing that’s holding you back is that grey matter between your ears. This rule is a way to bust through this hesitation, and move past what Goldberg calls the inner editor. That’s the little voice in your head that says things like, “You’re not good at writing, what the hell are you doing? That won’t work, that’s stupid, stop it and give up now.”
That little voice is your mind protecting you from the risk of putting yourself out there with your writing. Physically keeping your hand moving doesn’t stop the voice, but it pushes it into the background.
This seems counter intuitive, but thinking about what you write raises the stakes, and can overwhelm you and stop the writing. So don’t stop to think how to finish that sentence or wonder if you should be using a different word or add a comma. It doesn’t matter. This is just getting the words out, getting started and getting momentum. It can all be changed later, but you can’t change it if you overthink it and never write it. Don’t think, just write. Trust me you’ll keep writing even if you don’t know what the next word will be before you start it.
Give yourself permission to write rubbish.
Think of your brain as a giant pile of mulch. Everything you’ve ever said, done, or learned is sitting there composting. This is what you need to sift through in order to create that great piece you’re looking for. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just added a bunch of product info, or the latest harlequin romance novel, you have turn it over a bit before something good will grow out.
In writing practice you should always give yourself permission to write the worst, most awful stuff ever. Because if you don’t let yourself turn over that mulch, you might never reach the fertile patch.
Putting it together
Here’s what you do: try a short, 15 minute timed write just to get your creative juices flowing. Get your paper and pen, and timing device. Sit at a table, get comfy, and set up the timer. To start off with, start with a short, simple prompt, like ‘I remember…’ Write down the prompt and just keep writing. If you start to slow down, just rewrite ‘I remember’ and continue on.
Follow all the rules for the full 15 minutes and you’ll have a decent chunk of writing done. Leave it alone for a while and just let it rest for at least an hour. Read through what you’ve written, and be kind to yourself. Chances are a lot of it will be no good, but if you find that there are a few sentences or phrases that resonate with you mark them and pull them out to use as jumping points for the next practice.
You can vary the timing and vary the prompts you use to try to guide yourself at the start, but always just let go when in the act of writing. It’s hard to get in the habit of writing when you’re constantly trying to write the best you can, but with this exercise you stop going for perfection and start really getting into the process of writing. You’ll be surprised how smart and creative you are, when you don’t think about it.