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I wanted to share with you some of my favourite writing practices that I’ve picked up over the years.
For those of you who do not know, I have a BA in English and English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing (Creative Nonfiction). I was a creative writing major in high school (many moons ago) and wanted to become a high school Humanities teacher specifically because of my love for English, English lit, and writing.
Learning about creative writing is fun. I can then take what I’ve learned and apply it, teach it, and see what works.
One of my favourite things to do in class is something called a Wild Mind, developed by Natalie Goldberg, from her bookWriting Down the Bones (1986). She consequently wrote a book titled Wild Mind (1990) after the success of the previous.
This could be considered similar tostream-of-consciousness writing or the morning pages by Julia Cameron. However, unlike Cameron, where she expects you to put away the morning pages and never look at them again, Goldberg encourages you to read your wild mind – if you want.
So, what is a wild mind, exactly? As Goldberg says,
“The basic unit of writing practice is the timed exercise. You may time yourself for ten minutes, twenty minutes, or an hour… whatever amount of time you choose… you must commit yourself to it and for that full period…
1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Don’t cross out.
3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
4. Lose control.
5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)”
Goldberg outlines these rules for writing: “The aim is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor.” We have to get out the ugly before we get out the good. Also, there could be a gem hidden in there: some of the best things I’ve written have been buried deep in a wild mind.
Writing Down the Bones is a short book, punctuated by easily-digestible chapters. Besides introducing me to the practice of wild minds, Goldberg has a plethora of fantastic advice. For example, she says, “When you write, don’t say, ‘I’m going to write a poem.’ That attitude will freeze you right away. Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say, ‘I am free to write the worst junk in the world.’ You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination.”
I try to take this advice to heart. It’s similar to the maxim that first drafts don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be written. In fact, I find that the editing process is the most fruitful to me personally: it does not matter if my story is full of plot holes – they can be figured out later. At least I wrote the parts I wanted to; I can add or subtract later. That’s the beauty in editing.
She understands that at times, sitting down to write can be daunting. Goldberg says, “The blank page can be intimidating, and it does get boring to write over and over again for ten minutes of practice, ‘I can’t think of what to say. I can’t think of what to say.’” In order to combat this, Goldberg recommends bringing a notebook with you everywhere. Then, when a good idea comes, jot it down. She says to jot down anything interesting: a snippet of conversation you heard, a topic, a list. I realize that this book was written in 1986, before cell phones. I use the “notes” app on my mobile to write things down quickly.
As you begin to compile various bits of interesting information you’ve picked up, the composting begins. “Just practice writing, and when you learn to trust your voice, direct it. If you want to write a novel, write a novel. If it’s essays or short stories, write them. In the process of writing them, you will learn how,” says Goldberg. “Instead people often begin writing from a poverty mentality. They are empty and run to teachers and classes to learn about writing. We learn writing by doing it. That simple.” And it truly is that simple. If you write, you have fodder to work with. If you do not write, all you have is an empty notebook or blank screen staring back at you. You cannot edit what you have not written. You can not submit a draft that has never been developed.
She argues, “When you bake a cake, you have ingredients: sugar, flour, butter, baking soda, eggs, milk. You put them in a bowl and mix them up, but this does not make a cake. This makes goop. You have to put them in the oven and add heat or energy to transform it into cake, and the cake looks nothing like its original ingredients… In a sense this is what writing is like. You have all these ingredients, the details of your life, but just to list them is not enough.” Then, once this is done and all completed, Goldberg hopes that “You are offering up some good solid bread for the hungry.” Goldberg is a master of metaphors. This example perfectly illustrates the act of bringing a story together (or a blog post, or an article) and how, despite having the perfect ingredients, they need to be assembled and baked for the correct message to come across.
As Goldberg claims, “Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed… but there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and details.” Ah, yes. The joy of being a writer. We go over every detail incessantly, worry over every conversation, pick apart moments in time. We tease meaning out of (almost) every interaction and mythologize the stars.
I try to use all of Goldberg’s advice here, in combination with the timed writing practice of wild minds, to enhance both my writing practice and that within the classroom.
You don’t know what is going to come out of you when you write a wild mind – just write. That’s the point. Get it down, get it out, recover one excellent sentence and throw out the rest. Or keep the whole thing. Sometimes, I feel, the greatest challenge to being a writer is the writing itself.
What about you? Do you have a favourite writing practice you enjoy? Leave me a comment below!
Note: I do not receive commission if you click on the links and buy anything. I’m only sharing them because I truly like them!
What I recommend:
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron