Natalie Goldberg’s “Rules for Writing Practice”

Natalie Goldberg, author of several books on writing including Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, starts every writing class she teaches with “The Rules of Writing Practice” and so do I.

She says that if you want to be a writer, or to improve your writing, or to come to know your own mind,  fill a notebook a month by writing for 20 minutes or longer on 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.

What follows are Natalie Goldberg’s rules in bold from Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life and with 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 and 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.

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.

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