Wild Mind: The First Rule of Writing Practice

28 May

Every weekday morning, I practice writing for one hour.  It’s a lot more fun than the scales Mrs C- had me practice on the piano when I was 5, and the aim is the same: I’m rehearsing the fundamentals.  Writing practice is my trip to the word gym, the way I keep fighting (or writing?) fit and work on my technique.

But how does one practice writing? As posted earlier, I follow the 7 rules outlined by Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.  They work for me.  There are probably as many different answers to this question as there are writers, considering those who don’t intentionally practice.  Yet I suspect Ms Goldberg’s first, most fundamental rule is a necessary one for any successful practice, and that rule is,

Keep your hand moving.

Why is this important? First, you should know that, in Ms Goldberg’s opinion, the most honest, clear, and dynamic writing comes from first thoughts, that is, “the real way we flash on something.”  Sound Zen-ish? It is.  A long-time practitioner, Ms Goldberg’s writing have a strong but unobtrusive Zen slant.  Regardless, this idea is practical and non-denominational: Rather than trying to be literary—heck, rather than trying at all—simply write what first comes to mind.  Among many benefits, this practice can help save your writing from pretense and purple prose. (Unless you happen to think that way, of course.)

Keeping your hand moving allows you to create, unfiltered. If you’re like me, your prone to rewrite as you write,  questioning word choices and phrases before the sentence is even down on the page. Sometimes this leads to a better turn of phrase.  More often, I find it slows down my momentum, stifles my prose, and makes me tense.  On really bad days, it might keep me from writing altogether.

Ms Goldberg illustrates this issue with the following analogy:

“Imagine your writing hand as the creator and the other hand as the editor. Now bring your two hands together and lock your fingers. This is what happens when we write…If you keep your creator hand moving, the editor can’t catch up with it and lock it. It gets to write out what it wants.

By contrast, quick, continuous writing doesn’t allow you to think.  You outrun your internal editor. And instead of recording your thoughts-about-your-thoughts, you begin to write the memory,  image, or idea as it is. Better writing results.

It’s easier said than done: sometimes, that pesky critical voice offers up better word choices. More often it just catches spelling mistakes and punctuation problems. And frequently, it just sits there like a flat, bloated toad, croaking how much I suck and how terrible what I’m writing is. Yet it’s surprisingly hard to let go.

It helps to remember that you can always go back and edit when you’re done. And you should. Unless you’re Mozart, you probably won’t get it right the first time. Yet I find that my first draft is clearer, more potent and more authentic when I create without editing.

Do you want to drop 10 pounds of word flab and get in shape? Give this technique a try.  Ignore spelling and punctuation.  It doesn’t matter if you type or handwrite, it’s just a matter or preference (I’ve recently discovered I prefer the latter for my practice, and the former when I’m working on a manuscript.) Just keep that hand moving and you may be surprised at the results.


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