What is writing practice? How can it help you become a better writer? And is there a right way and a wrong way to do it?
In 1986, the author, artist and writing teacher Natalie Goldberg introduced the concept of writing practice in her popular and accessible book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.
“One of the main aims in writing practice is to learn to trust your own mind and body; to grow patient and non-aggressive.”
Much like free writing, writing practice involves turning up and writing about a particular topic, theme or an idea without editing yourself for a pre-determined period.
It’s an expressive and fluid type of writing that almost every writer can use to improve their craft.
The Six Basic Rules of Writing Practice
According to Natalie, there are six basic rules to writing practice. These are:
1. Keep your hand moving
Don’t take your fingers from your keyboard or put down your pen because you want to check email, attend to chore or get something.
Instead, much like during meditation, you must stay present with whatever you are writing.
2. Don’t cross out
If you cross out while you write, you are editing your work. There’s a time for self-censorship and for removing what you didn’t mean; it’s after your writing practice is done.
3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar
Natalie adds that writers who use pen and paper should write between the lines and on the margins of their notepads.
Again, there’s a time for proof-reading and it’s not during first drafts.
4. Lose control
The purpose of writing practice is to free yourself write on “waves of emotion” and say things you hadn’t thought possible.
This loss of control is difficult to achieve, and I’ve found it only comes deep into a writing practice session.
5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical
Natalie practices Zen (a topic she relates to writing practice in her book), and she cautions against over-thinking the words that appear on the blank page.
Avoid trying to join the dots and move from A to B to C. Instead Natalie recommends exploring how your writing can tackle the ever changing nature of life, of human suffering and the world around us.
6. Go for the jugular
Natalie says writers in the middle of writing practice shouldn’t back down from an idea that’s scary or an idea that makes us feel naked.
We should “dive in” because these ideas have “lots of energy”. In other words, if you feel uncomfortable writing about a topic, you need to write about it.
How I Use Writing Practice
Writing practice renews for me during those moments when I feel blocked and unable to write.
Before I start, I close every application on my computer except my word processor and I set an alarm for 30-60 minutes.
Then, I pick a single topic (recent examples include fear, love, anxiety and ambition) and write without holding back until a buzzer sounds.
Typically, I write 1,000-2,000 words, but this word count isn’t important, and I only share it here as an example.
The content of these writing practice sessions often ends up having nothing whatsoever to do with my original topic.
Occasionally I extract fragments from these writing practice sessions and work them into usable ideas for blog posts, articles and stories.
What Reluctant New Writers Need To Know About Writing Practice
If you’re a new writer, writing practice will feel difficult at first.
This feeling is natural because new writers often concern themselves with arbitrary word counts, with perfect sentences and finished stories and articles.
However, like running, writing practice is a skill you can develop over time by turning up in front of the blank page and letting your hand take you in bold and unexpected directions.
“Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run
This week instead of writing with a set word count or a target in mind, set an alarm clock, disconnect from the internet, pick a single idea and explore it until the buzzer sounds.
Whatever type of writer you want to become, this type of writing practice will help you explore the outer edges of your craft and break through boundaries you hadn’t realised were in your way.