Journal Conference 2016 is a celebration of all things journal and I’m delighted to join conference organizer Kay Adams, who is celebrating thirty years as a pioneer in the field, and more than thirty other master teachers, authors, pioneers, and all-stars for the event. I’m presenting “Wild Voice, Wild Writing” in a couple of pre-conference workshops.
I always think of writing prompts as music that invites the writer to dance. Or, to use another metaphor, they’re like starting blocks a runner uses to kick off for a race.
Prompts aren’t “exercises,” which tend to give directions—“Two strangers get stuck in an elevator; write their dialogue.” Instead, writing prompts suggest images or events or spark memories—each prompt evokes something different for each writer. And because they aren’t directives, the writing can take off in any surprising direction.
I may have been talking to myself as much as anyone when I compiled “10 Habits That Make a Good Writer” that first appeared in the original edition of A Writer’s Book of Days. Flannery O’Connor calls it “the writing habit,” others call it a daily practice, like meditation, like yoga. We know a regular practice, done with intention, can have a powerful effect on our well being.
Here’s a short-list of the “10 Habits”
1. Eat Healthfully
2. Be Physical
3. Laugh Out Loud
6. Practice Spirituality
7. Pay Attention
8. Give Back
9. Connect With Another Writer
Writers, like other artists and creatives, are easily seduced by our work. The creative process really can cast a spell. We forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to move our bodies; we isolate, become self-centered (the work is everything). I think we forget we’re merely human—physical beings in a physical world, fragile and susceptible to all manner of ills, of the body as well as the spirit.
Balance. That’s what the “10 Habits” mean to me. Taking care of our bodies, not taking ourselves so seriously, filling the well that we empty by doing our work, participating in the world we live in. Our creativity is a gift, whether it’s writing, visual art, dance, music, cooking a delicious meal, crafting a beautiful vase, building a cabinet, decorating a room—all these creative gifts are meant to be shared. Give back to the world and the world will gain in ways we may never know.
Writers need one another’s support because creating our particular art is a solitary act and who can better appreciate that than another writer. Who can better understand the particular rigors, joys and disappointments of writing than another writer? Who better to help puzzle out a problem or to know what kind of celebration is called for when a poem is finished or a story or a book, especially when the writer herself is pleased with the work?
And that last “habit,” number 10: “Write.” This is what I find many who want to write don’t do—write every day. Even if only for ten or fifteen minutes. Give it half an hour; who knows what can happen. If we don’t write every day (or at least five days a week), we lose touch with our writing muscles, our imagination goes a little brittle, words hide out. The worst part about not writing, especially when we intend to write but somehow just don’t get to it, we feel bad about ourselves; maybe a little guilty, maybe embarrassed or ashamed to admit to ourselves or others. When we feel bad about ourselves it’s more difficult to get the pen moving. So we may miss another day, and then the next. The more we don’t do it, the worse we feel and the harder it is to “just do it.” But, by simply putting pen to page every day, or fingers to keyboard, even if what we write is what Natalie Goldberg calls “the worst junk in America,” we keep the creative muscles limber and the self-esteem healthy. The more we write, the better we feel about ourselves not just as writers, but in other areas of our lives, and so the more we write and so it goes. Daily practice. No judgment.
Download the completer version of “Ten Habits That Make Good Writers” here: ten habits