Thank You for Playing Along

Today, I spent a fabulous afternoon in the company of writers. Yes, I did most of the talking, but what the people arbitrarily labelled “participants” didn’t know going in was that I needed them more than they needed me.

I teach the “rules of writing practice” as taught to me by best-selling author Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind). In the year 2000, shortly before Ed and I returned to my home state of Ohio after living in Taos, New Mexico where I had studied with Natalie, Nat told me to teach writing practice in Ohio. She knew what I needed.

My lame paraphrasing of Nat’s brilliance goes something like this:

1. Use Timed Intervals
. . . just like in meditation practice. Start with ten minutes. Set the microwave timer and GO! The time constraint has a pressure cooker effect, heating up our minds and helping words flow.

2. Keep Your Hand Moving . . .
. . . for the entire time period you’ve selected. It separates and your creative momentum from that oppressive internal editor. No stopping. No crossing out. Don’t let that critic have a chance to stop your naturally moving hand. If you don’t know what to write, write the topic again and continue. Something more will arise.

3. Be Specific.
Oak, not tree. Teddy bear, not stuffed animal. Capture the essential details of your life.

4. Don’t Worry about Spelling, Punctuation; Grammar. Or even the lines on the Page

5. Go for the Jugular.
If it’s scary, it has energy. If you don’t write about it, you’ll just end up writing around it. Even if you know you’ll never publish those words, just go for it!

6. You’re Free to Write the Worst Junk in America
(America, Earth, The Milky Way, The Universe). Take the pressure off. We all write junk. If you’re free to write awful nasty stuff, you’ll be free to write hot, lively stuff as well.

7. Lose Control!
Don’t try to manage what goes down on the page. Let the wild waves of your mind roam free. Don’t grip the pen too hard. It doesn’t matter how sloppy your writing or your thoughts become. Set yourself free.

8. Don’t Think.
Take a vacation from logic, organization, or anything your left-brain loves. Capture the way your mind first flashes on an experience. Step into the words and go. Become the words. No mind. Just write.

Simple enough.

The problem? I forget to follow them.

These “rules” have become so ingrained in me that I take them for granted. And I forget to use them. I lose sight of the practice that has kept me going all these years. I still write, of course, but not with the wild abandon and rich freedom offered by these simple rules. My writing turns shallow and my mind dull. I lose touch with my own big heart and crazy wild mind.

So thank you today to the brave “participants” who allowed me to refresh my recollection by teaching. And thank you to Nat (always) for knowing what I needed in order for the practice to continue at my own desk and at the desks of others. As is often the case, we teach what we need to learn.