If you’ve read Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” you will have noted her assertion that timed writing exercises are the pillars that support a writing practice.
Just what amount of time you spend on a given exercise is dependant on quite a few factors. How new you are to a writing practice. How much time you have to spare. Where you are writing. Are you writing alone?
The key thing is to choose a time segment that you can fully devote to the exercise. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes or half an hour or for the battle hardened an hour or more. It’s what suite your circumstances.
Things you need:
Paper and your favourite writing implement or computer if you can type faster than you can hand-write.
A kitchen timer. A silent LCD type, not a clockwork one that might just get on your nerves.
A place where you will be left undisturbed for your allotted time.
The rules are simple:
Select a topic or question or a phrase or some evocative words.
Set timer for your time period and start.
Write none-stop for the whole time focus initially on your topic etc. And see where it takes you.
Don’t worry about your spelling.
Don’t worry about your grammar.
Don’t look back over what you have written till your time is up.
Don’t correct anything while writing.
Stop only when the timer sounds off.
I’ve found this a great way to overcome procrastination. I also find it to be a useful as a short warmup exercise before moving onto my project writing for that session.
As a writer, beginner or experienced, an excellent form of writing exercise is to explore your own life. I don’t mean keep a journal or a diary but writing reflections on the past and pondering over the future and panicking about the present but not as necessarily as regularly as daily or even weekly.
- “I remember…”
- “I’d love to …”
- “Heck, how do I get out of…”
Not only is it a great exercise in writing but it is also a valuable resource for your family and culture. How much we risk losing through unprinted digital photographs and unwritten ideas and experiences.
We owe it to ourselves to make sure our memories and ideas have a means of expression. It can also supply so many jump-off points for your writing. Your grandfather’s eccentricities, that old farmhouse they lived in or was it in some rotten tenement in a slum area of a big industrial city.
Lots of questions you could ask yourself…
What’s your first memory?
Who was your best friend? Childhood, youth, and adulthood.
What and where were or are your schools?
Who were your teachers? Do you remember their names?
What ws/is your mother like?
What was/is your father like?
What do you feel about your siblings?
Where have you lived? What type of housing? What size of town? Did you like it?
Your favourite colour and why?
Your pets. Did you have any?
What food did you like when you were young? What do you like now?
What are your favourite games or pastimes?
When did you start to enjoy reading?
When did you start to enjoy writing?
What moves you?
What disgusts you?
What makes you feel good”?
Who’s your mentor, idol, hero or whatever?
Is your sexuality important to you?
Do you question your sexual orientation?
Are you comfortable with your sexuality?
Can you play a musical instrument?
Do you participate in a sport? Which sport?
You get the idea by now. Make up more questions to suite your intent and leanings. Examine your own life and how you impact others and they you. Understanding and insight can flow from these questions and your answers can surprise you.
When your gone you’ll have a legacy that can go beyond you, allow you to exist beyond your physical end, the real you not the DNA that pushed you to breed to its end.
I’m currently reading “Chapter after Chapter” by Heather Sellers (an excellent book by the way – I’ll be publishing a review of it soon.) and she mentioned that she had 163 writing books on her shelves. I’m making the assumption that this excludes things like dictionaries and thesauri.
I thought that that was way too many. I checked my own shelves and discovered over 283 writing books on them. No wonder I’ve written so little. All that time spent reading, digesting and trying to implement the contradictory, though honest advice from their authors.
In Chapter 16 – Wise Guides, Heather Sellers offers some very sage advice that when writing any book you should choose six (6) wise guides, six books to help you through the process of writing your book. Three books should be of the same type that you are writing; what you would consider the way you’d want your book to turn out and the other three writing and motivational related. Again, these should be your favourites. During the writing of your book no other books should be consulted.
The best way to find out how to write a book is to write a book.
What would your six wise guides be?
I’ve just reread “Mastery” by George Leonard and I am inspired by what he says. You’ll see the ideas cropping up in many writing books under various guises but the stuff he talks about will apply to any pursuit that you might undertake.
That together with a recommitment to working through Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” are really making overcoming procrastination an easier task than I have ever experience d and I think I might have made a personal breakthrough. Have you had such an experience?
I’ve recently discovered that I am suffering from mild depression. The one symptom that really pisses me off is the interminable procrastination that affects all aspects of my life especially my inability to produce any writing of significance. Not to worry, I’m taking positive steps to overcome my issues. Soon I be that prodigious writer that I aspire to be.
I’ve been challenged in a very negative way in my full-time employment that has lead me to really think about what I want to do. I’ve read a pile of ‘living your dream’ and ‘find your ideal job’ books. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. Search Amazon or your favourite online booksellers for some titles that might be for you. Among the pile of books I discovered a gem of a book The Creative License by Danny Gregory (http://www.dannygregory.com/). It’s about creativity (obviously) and drawing and journalling and feeling good about yourself. It’s inspirational and has helped me recharge my commitment to myself and my creative journey, putting me back on my chosen path and accepting that it’s my path and it might not be to anyone else’s taste. That’s the risk that you take when you commit to your own creative future.
I’ve also been on a personal coaching weekend which was run by the Coaching Academy (http://www.the-coaching-academy.com/) which has also help me clarify and prioritise what I need to do to be where I want to be. I would reccommend life coaching to everyone. It really helps you to clarify what you want and how to get there. You can do it on you own if you can be disiplined. Again, look at Amazon etc.
So I’ve reaffirmed my commitment to writing and I am drafting an action plan as I type (poetic license).
Write to you soon.
There appears to be a common view among writers and readers that it is more difficult to write fiction than it is to write nonfiction . I would suggest that this has come about because of the appallingly poor standards that seem to pervade nonfiction as compared to fiction though there is a lot of mediocre fiction out there.
Learners are often ill served by textbooks which often display a high level of opacity, designed to show off the author’s erudition and can be less than ideal as a learning resource often requiring a study guide for the learner to use as a map to gleen the gems of wisdom.
Fiction, on the other hand, is there to entertain and captivate the reader and transport them to other worlds. The reader is there usually through choice and will quickly abandon any writer who does not deliver on a cohesive fictive vision.
We need to show those experts that they are not the only source of information and that they’d do well to look at the model of storytelling as a paradigm for communication. We need to put all writing on the same footing and judge them by the same standards.
Some of the world’s most effective nonfiction have embraced the form of story. The holy books. The books of satire. The books of social comment. The books of philosophy, of mind, of spirit…
There is so much advice out there on how to approach writing. I’ve read over a hundred books about writing and there is occasionally some commonality in these books. However, it is the multitude of differing advice and approaches can be very confusing and less than helpful.
So much categorical advice.
It’s the only way to do it type of advice, that makes you feel so inadequate, because in spite of the big name attached to the advice it does not ring true to you.
So much conflicting advice.
Do an outline. Let it develop organically. Build a world first. Start with character. Story in king. And on and on and on.
The only really consistent advice I have found harps back to what I said last time. If you want to write then the key, central, essential thing you must do is WRITE.
It can appear at times that every soul and their pet is aspiring to be a writer or more accurately to be published writer. Some just enjoy writing and the real pleasure derives from the process of writing and occasionally the product, the story, or letter, or essay, or whatever turns out to be good in its own right.
It is imperative that if you aspire to write then you’ve got to write. Write so that you enjoy it. It’s not sufficient to have to want to have written, you’ve got to do the writing, every day if you can, even if just for five or ten minutes at a time. This is one of the few places in life where consistency is of value.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that position. I’ve read Mastery: The Keys to Long-Term Success and Fulfilment by George Burr Leonard twice now and it took that second reading for the ideas to sink in. Loving and honouring the process is all that really matters in any pursuit. The ability to make money from your pursuit just allows you to spend more, or better quality time following that pursuit, the money is a means it’s the writing that’s the never ending journey.
Hello, and welcome to the WRITING IN SCOTLAND weblog and soon to be podcast (Play On Demand CAST) that will look at all things writerly in Scotland. This will include readings, reviews, techniques, events, writer group news, contests, publishing news, etc.