I have been writing, or struggling to write, for over twenty years. I've encountered the usual obstacles: lack of discipline, lack of confidence, preoccupation with job and children, and the biggest one of all - the empty page.
Natalie Goldberg taught me to overcome the empty page with free writing: writing whatever comes to mind, letting words flow out of the pen without stopping to think, judge, or even punctuate. I have many old spiral notebooks filled with free writing. click
The empty page no longer scares me. I know that I can throw everything onto it, and when I come back later I will find nuggets of treasure amid the trash. And after twenty years I no longer lack confidence; I know that multiple revisions will turn a first dreadful draft into something that pleases me. But there are still the problems of discipline and distraction.
I recently discovered a practice that has helped me. It comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist's Way click, but I was introduced to it by another blogger, Mandy Stadtmiller. click Mandy says the process has helped her get rid of her censor, warm up her writer, and find connections she never expected. It even changed her life: in just one year, daily morning pages led her to get a divorce, lose 40 pounds, and revitalize her career.
I began doing daily morning pages in January, free writing three pages every morning in my spiral notebook, scribbling away about anything and nothing. Sometimes it is journal-ish, describing an event, or more often, working out my feelings about something. Often the Rhymer emerges and nonsense doggerel pours out. And sometimes I write "I dont wanna, I dont wanna, I dont wanna," or "Ive got nothing to say."
In the past I have tried writing for a certain length of time, but if my mind wanders, or I’m interrupted, I feel guilty that I haven’t really written for half an hour. With this process, I write three pages, regardless of how long it takes.
Since the beginning of January I have missed only one day of free writing. It has not changed my life as dramatically as it did Mandy’s, but then, I don’t want a divorce or a forty-pound weight-loss. (Twenty might be nice.) It has revitalized my career, or more accurately, brought my novel back to life, and helped me with my writing.
With this practice, I begin every morning with an achievement, and this small success sets the tone for the rest of my day. It gives me the motivation to exercise, and to do the pesky errands and chores that inspire procrastination. Most of all, it gives me the motivation to write.
Nobody but me cares whether I write. It is not a job that stands in front of me demanding I do it. In fact, writing a novel, which takes me three or four years, is more like encountering a series of crossroads with no signposts. Fear of taking the wrong road sometimes makes me a master of avoidance. So I need all the help I can get to walk into the unknown.
The uncensored rambling clears the sludge out of the pipes. Sometimes clear water follows - thoughts about my novel, or ideas for a blog or story. I scribble NOVEL or BLOG at the top of the page so I can find it later. (That’s also where I jot down daily to-do’s as they pop into my mind and attempt to distract me from the task at hand. Then when I am through, I have my day laid out for me. )
Free writing every morning gives me daily practice in throwing my Inner Editor out of the room. It’s essential to get rid of her, because whether I am writing fiction or essays, ideas and inspiration refuse to come while she's whispering, "That's stupid. Who cares? Why bother?"
I googled The Artist’s Way so I could link you to the book. After twenty years it is now a 'movement' - with a workbook, a video course, and a web community. Well, that’s fine. All I needed was the daily three pages in my notebook. I appreciate Mandy for pointing me to them, Julia Cameron for prescribing them, and Natalie Goldberg for showing the way
I'd love to hear from you. Maybe you have a writing tip? Click "comment," below
Next post: April 12
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