I come from the writing practice school of writing that says to be good at anything you have to practice. Everybody knows pianists have to train. So do dancers, actors, singers, and athletes. Even artists have sketchbooks, which serve as their practice pages. But there seems to be some vague notion that somewhere deep inside the desire to be a writer is the inherent knowledge of how to go about it. As many bloody-fingered, would-be writer, hip-deep in wadded up paper and frustration can attest, this just ain’t so.
Natural talent and all the breaks in the world notwithstanding, to become good at anything, you’ve got to do the drills. To quote Mick Jagger, “You have to sing every day so you can build up to being, you know, Amazingly Brilliant.”
When I talk about writing practice, I’m talking about both the practice to get better, and practice as the mindful doing of a thing—like a yoga practice, or meditation. The focus need not be on what you write, or how you write, or how good or not good the writing is (I prefer to say I’m either “present” or “not present” with the writing), what makes a successful writing practice is regular attendance at the page. Going daily, if possible, to your writing desk or chair or favorite café with pen and notebook and intention.
Within the daily ritual of writing practice, the stories that want to be written find their way from our deepest self and onto the page. At any given time, you may not even know what these stories are. With writing practice, we surprise ourselves, that’s part of the fun.
You can trust what appears in your notebook during writing practice. This is where your authentic voice explores its range. Consider practice to be voice lessons. Notebooks will be filled. Page after page of original writing. Not all of it good. But not all of it bad, either. And some of it absolutely gorgeous. For some, this is enough. Making daily contact with our writing is a way of touching home. It’s an affirmation of our deepest longing. The process is what matters most.
Others discover what they want to write about. Through practice where no directive is given except Write, writers find their voice and the genre in which it hits its truest notes. Many fiction writers use practice sessions to deepen scenes and characters. Memoirists plumb memories, creative nonfiction writers explore themes and pose questions, poets uncover fabulous images. In all of it exists the freedom to take risks. “One may do anything,” Rilke told us. Go ahead, this is just practice. Write with wild abandon and no ambition except to be present.
Writing practice is trying out ideas and auditioning words and writing nonsense and secrets and lies and maybe the largest truth you’ve ever written. It’s liberating and joyful and playful and exciting and sometimes scary and often surprising and almost always spontaneous and fulfilling. It’s a place for grieving and healing and working through and remembering and recovering. It is expansive and expanding.
Practice is not just to get better at something. Practice is how you become what you want to be.