To get better at writing you have to write. A lot. Every day. For at least 20 minutes if not an hour.
Pulitzer Prize winner columnist, university writing teacher, and author of many textbooks Donald Murray says “Never a day without a line.” So write something, anything, every day. Want one of his books? My favorite is The Craft of Revision.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way, suggests creative types of all kinds write three pages in a notebook about anything at all every single morning, first thing in the morning. Don’t even get out of bed! Don’t worry about what you write, don’t try to write about anything in particular, and don;t expect that you’ll be able to “use” anything you write. That’s not what this practice is about. Try it for a month and see what happens. When I’ve done it, it’s taken me about 20-30 minutes each morning to write three pages. But I write fast.
Natalie Goldberg, author of Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, says to follow “The Rules of Writing Practice” and to fill a notebook a month writing for 20 minutes or longer or specific topics from “I remember” to “I don’t remember” to your grandmother’s kitchen to your favorite teacher to teeth to…you name it. I can’t recommend this book enough.
What are Natalie Goldberg’s “Rules for Writing Practice”? What follows are Natalie Goldberg’s rules in bold and my interpretations.
1. Keep your hand moving. No matter what, don’t stop. Write whatever comes to your mind. Outrace the editor with your writing hand. If you keep your hand moving, the writing will win.
2. Lose Control. Let it rip. Don’t worry that someone will judge you.
3. Be specific. Get in the habit of using nouns, verbs, colors, textures. If you realize you’ve written a sentence that’s full of general vague language, don;t scratch it out but make the next sentence more specific.
4. Don’t think. Stick with your “first thoughts” not your thoughts on thoughts. forget everything else outside of the immediate words you are writing down. Stay with those words, in that moment.
5. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. That’s right! Who cares? Why does this matter? Keep your hand moving adn write clearly enough so you can read it later if you want.
6. You are free to write the worst junk in the world. Yep, you are. So don’t let that fear stop you.
7. Go for the jugular. If something comes up while you’re writing, keep writing about it. Let it out. Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
If you write often, about topics of your own choosing as well as those assigned, it’s like a workout. If you work out regularly, when it’s time to do the heavy lifting, like move a piano or take an essay test, or write something super important, it will be easier because you have developed the muscles.
Need an assignment? Follow Natalie Goldberg’s rules for writing practice and write about writing. Here are some questions to get your imagination going and your fingers flying: how do you feel about writing? what are your attitudes about writing? what’s a favorite writing memory? who was a favorite writing teacher? what kind writing do you enjoy doing? do you think of yourself as a writer? do others think of you as a writer?
Natalie Goldberg tells people to write by hand and I encourage you to do so. Do your best to follow the rules of writing practice–and just let the writing flow without judgment. No one should be reading your words to judge you, to say this is good or bad. The writing just is. You are writing it for you, to know your own Wild Mind.