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Archive for May, 2009

Once you’ve established or re-established some momentum with your writing practice, it’s best to do everything you can to stay on track and keep building on your forward motion. In a sense, you’re working to develop a writing habit so that writing naturally becomes an integral part of your daily life. You may reach a point of sensitivity where you actually don’t feel quite complete unless you’ve honored that inner call to create and write.

I still remember a phone conversation many years ago with a close writing friend. She asked how I was doing and I bitched and moaned about this nagging sense of dissatisfaction and vacuity that was plaguing me.

After I finished my diatribe, she asked me, “Have you written today?” and I had to admit I had not.

She said, “Sounds to me like you’re simply a writer who isn’t writing.”

I had to sheepishly admit that perhaps this was indeed the crux of my somewhat melodramatic angst.  We hung up after agreeing that we would each sit down then and there and write for a set period of time, gaining solace and support in the fact that across the miles a fellow friend and writer was engaging in the same process and the knowledge that, each in our own way, we were honoring our urge to write.

Find What Works For You

There are no hard and fast rules for the craft and process of writing—for practically every single rule about writing, there are examples of established writers who have successfully broken them—but there are certain guidelines that seem to work for most writers.  I will summarily list a few here and discuss them in more detail in future posts.  The point is to start discovering what works for you and gather around yourself a sense of a structure and methodology that supports your writing. Some of these guidelines may sound simplistic and none of them are original but, as in the phone call with my friend, sometimes it’s refreshing just to be humble and open to commonsense and practical advice, to awaken anew to what in Zen is called Beginner’s Mind.

Write on a regular basis. Nothing will build an inner sense of trust and confidence in your identity as a writer than a track record of continuity in your writing practice.  Become an habitual writer.

Suspend the editorial, judgmental mind.  You can critique or edit your work later. For now, just write. As Natalie Goldberg advises:  Allow yourself to write the worst junk in America.

Develop a team of writing allies.  These can be actual mentors, friends or writing group members or “virtual allies” in the form of authors and books that inspire your creative writing endeavors.  A few creative writing books to look at include:

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  Now considered a classic for “freeing the writer within.”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. A guided 12-week program for recovering and enhancing one’s artistic creativity.

Writing Brave & Free by Ted Kooser & Steve Cox. Plenty of practical advice and “encouraging words for people who want to start writing” that apply as well for those of us who have been at it for a while.

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.  Another timeless classic on writing and the creative process.

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Anyone who’s been around powerboats knows that if you really want to get anywhere, you have to get your boat “up on a plane” and that to do so takes an initial expenditure of extra power and acceleration.  When a boat begins forward motion through water, the hull is essentially plowing the water aside, making for rather slow and sluggish headway. But when you gun the engine and power the boat through the water, you begin gaining momentum. First the bow and then the rest of the hull kind of lift up and on top the water, so that the boat hull is now planing across the water’s surface, quickly gaining speed with diminishing effort. Then you can back off on the throttle and just enjoy the exhilaration of cruising.

Starting and maintaining a writing practice is not a dissimilar process. Initially, it may take quite a bit of effort to carve out the time and set aside your fears and procrastinations, to actually sit down and begin writing on a regular basis.  At first, it may feel like you’re slogging against water but the more momentum you gain, the more habitual you become with your writing, the easier the process unfolds. And once you have a writing practice established, the easier it becomes to maintain.

However, for most of us, if you let your writing practice slip—just like a powerboat that slows down below a certain speed settles back deeper into water—you’ll have to start over again and expend that initial extra effort to get yourself back up on a plane. I don’t mean to sound discouraging, but the truth of the matter is that writing is hard work, even for many prolific and established authors. There are very few writers for whom words just come streaming out onto the page like water from an open faucet. Most writers have to learn how to live with the fits and starts that come with slipping in and out of their writing groove.

A successful writer—from the context of considering writing as a practice and process—is someone who has found the ways and means of entering into and maintaining the flow of their writing. A major determining factor between successful and would-be writers comes down to the tenacity and perseverance that one brings to the practice of writing.  And a measure of our determination is the ability to come back to the writing table, time and time again, even when it means that we have to go through the sometimes tedious process of getting ourselves back up on the plane.

Rather than seeing this as a discouraging reality, I find that it helps to understand that these are simply some of the mechanics for establishing a writing practice.  Just as naval architects study the parameters for designing planing hulls, we writers can devise our individual methods for getting—and keeping—our writing up on a plane. And whenever we find that we have settled back into the waters of inertia, we know that we simply have to apply that extra burst of energy and determination to get up and cruising again.

I’ll be discussing some ways and means for enhancing writing practice in future posts.

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To become a writer, to be a writer, is deceptively simple:  All you have to do is write.  As soon as you begin writing, you are a writer.  Plain and simple.

Whenever I facilitate writing retreats and workshops, we always start with a short free-writing period.  The purpose of this exercise is to wade into the stream of writing, to get ourselves wet. By doing so, we establish right from the beginning that every participant is indeed a writer.  Then I encourage everyone to let go of, or at least suspend, any nagging internal debates like: “Am I or am I not really a writer? . . . Do I have what it takes to be a writer? . . .  Am I fooling myself in wanting to write? . . .” etc. Such conjectures are not helpful or conducive for establishing a writing practice. So for now, as best you can allow yourself, just drop them.

Writing is a process and one enters the process as soon as one engages in the act of writing.  This commonsense notion is so obvious that we often overlook it, but sometimes it’s refreshing to remind ourselves how easy it is to just begin writing.

Gail Sher, a writer and longtime Buddhist practitioner, outlines four axioms in her book One Continuous Mistake, Four Noble Truths for Writers that are somewhat analogous to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. These are:

FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS FOR WRITERS

1. Writers write.

2. Writing is a process.

3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.

4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write.

        I love these “truths” for their simplicity and directness and their implicit encouragement to enter the stream of writing. So wade on in. And if you occasionally find yourself cast up on some shore, high and dry, just recognize that you’re simply a writer who hasn’t been writing.  The stream of writing is always there, ready and waiting for your return.

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