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Building a Writing Practice
I’ve been thinking about my writing habits lately, mostly because I don’t seem to have any that work well for me. My shelves (real and virtual) are full of books about how to write. Therefore, I’m embarrassed that I’ve not wrangled a better command of my craft. But setting this writer shame aside, I remain confident that plenty of good guidance lies within the many writing manuals I have for so long hoarded. And so that is where I start.
I select two books to launch my renewed studies—Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola. These will guide me for the next several weeks to develop better writing habits and momentum. I choose Natalie Goldberg’s classic guide because I need to get the words flowing and quiet the critic in my head. I choose Sarah Stodola’s fine work as inspiration, as a glimpse of how successful writers have approached their work.
“Inventing interesting things to write about, and new ways to convey them, is exhausting. It is also rewarding, which is why we do it and why so many people from other walks of life dream of writing a book of their own.” ~ Noah Charney in Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors (p. x). Amazon Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I often struggle to hone in on a particular subject for my writing projects. My interests are wide-ranging, unfocused, patchy. I frequently jump from one topic to another, making little progress in any one direction. This is more than a writing problem; it’s also an attention problem. To improve my writing habits, I must also improve my ability to focus.
“First thoughts have tremedous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash. ~ Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones.
I also battle with an overactive “internal censor,” as Natalie Goldberg puts it. When I’m writing, I’m not just writing. I’m also thinking about what I’m writing, annoyed that I’m thinking about what I’m writing, and ashamed that I’m annoyed that I’m thinking about what I’m writing. It’s absurd. I’m lost in an imaginary house of mirrors—a vast, layered matrix of increasingly critical thoughts about thoughts.
“Genius, I have concluded, is the presence of not one ability but several that work together in tandem. Genius is far more tedious, far less romantic, far more rote, far less effortless, than we imagine it.” ~ Sarah Stodola in Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors (p. xix). Amazon Publishing. Kindle Edition.
So what to do about all of this? Here’s my plan:
Write every day (2000 words or 2 hours)
Read about how to improve my writing skills (one book per week)
Meditate to better my attention skills (every day)
Walk (daily) for exercise and mental clarity
Take the time (each week) to research topics of interest (ecology, evolutionary biology, zoology, natural history)
Read the works of writers who inspire me (50 pages a day)
There it is, a starting point from which I hope to progress. Well, that’s all from me for now; I’m off to my study to read, research, and write.