I know not everyone who reads this site is a writer, and I know that writing is not the only way to be creative, but establishing a writing practice is an act of creativity that I think can help a lot of people be more creative, even if they don’t primarily create with words.
What is Writing Practice?
Writing practice in the way I’m talking about is a very specific form of focused freewriting. It was popularized by Natalie Goldberg in her many books about writing (the first and most classic of which is Writing Down the Bones) and involves writing on a particular topic, in a notebook, for 10 minutes.
This was a big part of the retreat I went to in New Mexico. Sometimes we wrote as a large group, sometimes in small groups where we would write for 10 minutes, then everyone would read and we would repeat it three or four times in a row. And we did it on our own as well.
The topic can be anything. She lays out many options in her books. Some of the ones we wrote or that were suggested to us included:
- I’m looking at/I’m not looking at
- I’m thinking of/I’m not thinking of
- I remember/I don’t remember
- Everything I can’t tell you
- My summer vacation
- Green chilies
- Changing colors
- What’s in front of me/what’s behind me
- Dark and light
- What did your face look like before your parents were born?
Since I’ve been home I did a good job of continuing the practice until last week, when I didn’t do it at all. I gave myself random things based on something I saw or what was going on, things like “plain English,” “stamina,” “sunglasses.”
The point is that you can start anywhere and write for 10 minutes. You don’t always stay with the topic as you write, but it’s a place to start. And that’s way better than coming to the page with nothing.
The Difference Between Writing Practice and Morning Pages
I have written morning pages relatively consistently for years. That’s something else, though, three pages longhand in a notebook with no topic in mind. It takes longer than 10 minutes but is freer because there’s no topic to start with (though I do sometimes have something in mind I want to write about when I start).
Morning pages are a safety net for me. They are where I get to whine about how in the world do I not have my shit together after all these years complaining about the same things. They are often a three-page to-do list, which is annoying but apparently something I need to structure my days. They are a record of what has been important to me, what has been bothering me, what I was focused on.
They’re important, but they’re not writing in the way of writing practice. I think both are good for different reasons.
Morning pages are probably the better place to start for people who don’t think of themselves as writers, because you’re not really writing, you’re just putting your thoughts on a page.
Writing practice is a little more “real writing” because you have a subject and a time limit. It’s a writer’s warm up stretches, little sprints to get the muscles working. But it’s a great setup for other creative work, regardless of whether that work involves words.
So this week’s creative boost challenge is to fit either morning pages or writing practice into your day. I like to do morning pages first thing, before I even get out of bed if I can, but you can really do them any time.
Writing practice happens after lunch, sitting at my kitchen table or on the back porch. It’s only 10 minutes. Use one of the prompts above, look around the room you are in and write about the first thing you see, pick a word at random from the newspaper or the nearest book or magazine.
Just write. And keep doing it. I’d love to know if you try this challenge and what it is like for you.
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