1. Keep writing.
Don’t stop to edit, to rephrase, to think. Don’t go back and read what you’ve written. Each time you stop, you move out of the place of intuitive trusting to a cerebral place of judging, evaluating, comparing. If you keep your writing hand moving, you’ll bypass the censor, the editor, the critic, and if you’re lucky, maybe even the ego.
2. Trust your pen.
Go with the first image that appears. “First thought, best thought,” reminds us that the first image comes from your intuitive mind, where the creative process finds its foothold. Then pen is the tool of the intuitive. It won’t take your further or deeper than you want to go, but it might take you to uncharted places you never thought about consciously.
3. Don’t judge your writing.
Don’t compare, analyze, criticize. Remember that what gets written in writing practice is the roughest of rough drafts – writing that is pouring directly from intuition, too fragile and raw for judgments. Remember to be your own best friend – nonjudgmental, accepting, tolerant, loving, kind, and patient. And remember to laugh sometimes. At yourself and your writing.
4. Let your writing find its own form.
Form will come organically out of what you write. You don’t have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end for what your write in practice sessions. Nor does it have to fit into some container labeled story or essay or poem. If you try to force form, you may miss revelations that might otherwise appear, and letting go of any preconceived ideas of what you want to write will set free a tremendous energy to write what wants to be written.
5. Don’t worry about the rules.
It doesn’t matter if your grammar is incorrect, your spelling wrong, your syntax garbled, or your punctuation off. Not during practice sessions anyhow. Worrying about these rules during writing practice can trip up the intuitive flow of words and images. The time to edit, correct, and polish is during rewrites, not during practice.
6. Let go of any expectations.
Expectations set you up so you’re always ahead of yourself rather than being present in the moment. This is why it’s good to dive right into the writing topic with no time to think of what you’ll write or how best to shape your writing around a subject. Before you begin writing, clear your mind, settle into place, breathe, and simply begin. Let your writing surprise you.
7. Kiss your frogs.
First-draft writing doesn’t have to be good, it won’t always be good, and even when it is good, among the good will be some not so good. Remember, this is just practice. You write what you write. Every writer experiences bad days and sloppy, swampy writing. Sometimes you get the handsome prince and sometimes you get the frog. The point is, no matter what, you show up at the pond.
8. Tell the truth.
Every time you write you have an opportunity to tell the truth. And sometimes it’s only through writing that you can know the truth. Be willing to go to the scary places that make your hand tremble and your handwriting get a little out of control. Be willing to tell your secrets. It’s risky, but if you don’t write the truth, you chance writing that is glib, shallow, or bland. Go to the edge of what fees safe and step off. The net will appear.
9. Write specific details.
Your writing doesn’t have to be factual, but the specificity of detail brings it alive. It does not matter if the tree you sat beneath was a sycamore or a eucalyptus, but naming it one or the other will paint a clearer picture. The truth isn’t in the facts; it’s in the detail, and details, truthfully rendered, bring your writing to life and create connection points for the reader. Pay attention, notice what you notice – especially through your five senses – and write it down.
10. Write what matters.
If you don’t care about what you’re writing, neither will your readers. Write about what interests you, what bothers you, what you don’t understand, what you want to learn more about. There’s not enough time to write what doesn’t matter to you, and only you can say what’s important. Write with passion.
11. Read your writing aloud after you’ve completed your practice session.
You’ll find out what you’ve written, what you care about, and when the writing is “working.” Reading aloud lets you know when the writing is repetitious or trite. You pick up clichés and sense obstacles that might get in the way of the reader. Reading aloud tells you when you’re writing with authenticity and when you’ve found your writer’s voice.
12. Date your page and write the topic at the top.
This will keep you grounded in the present and help you reference pieces you might want to use in something else. A review of the dates in your practice notebook can provide insights about your writing self: the rhythm of your writing, cycles of ease and creativity and cycles of hard going and dead ends, the intricate weave of association and connections and which types of prompts are most evocative for you. This is all fodder for our hungry minds.
The “Guidelines for Writing Practice” originally appeared in A Writer’s Book of Days.