Years ago I read Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones. For a generation of writers, her ideas are iconic. She has several other books about the craft of writing as well as a couple of novels. Her writing experience has been shared with many through workshops, classes, and her books. I recently was introduced to her Wild Mind, Living the Writers Life. Like Bones, there are many gems for the artist, whether novice or tenured writer. She offers encouragement and insight to the life of a writer.
“I know many people who are aching to be writers and have no idea how to begin. It’s a great gap like an open wound.” I think sometimes our dreams seem like that, a wound that we work to heal, but it remains open, festering, bothering us just enough that we keep picking at it. There are many people who believe they have a book inside them. 83% of Americans, in fact. Some of them dive into NaNoWriMo, the month of insanity where they string word after word together until 50,000 of them form a kind of story. It might be complete, it might be harder than they thought it was going to be, so some finish later and others never get around to typing “The End” on the last page. Beginning anything can be hard, and something that requires pieces of us can keep us locked in fear and therefore not having the courage or trust to just start. How does one begin writing? There are more ways than there are books in a library. One just begins. An idea, a conversation, a picture, an event, a realization or epiphany, a dream or a job can all spark a person to just begin. Most people can begin anything, but it takes a lot to complete that same project.
“Imagine your writing hand as the creator and your other hand as the editor. Bring your two hands together and lock your fingers. This is what we do when we write.” Every artist creates differently. However, I think what many of them would agree on is that the creating needs to come first, then the editing. But what can happen, especially with someone just starting out, is that they begin to write, think about how their readers may interpret what they’ve written, then change their words, the direction of the story, make the characters less evil, less broken, less flawed. And that changes everything. Only with practice do we get to understand how the creative process works for us. What we need to begin, how to keep going when things begin to slow in the middle, and how and when to end our session comes with familiarity. We figure out what works for us, and we apply that time and again. And if we get stuck or blocked (for a number of reasons) then we change that familiarity. If we allow the “other hand” to direct the “creator hand”, then our work seems less than authentic. We keep our “creator hand” in front by keeping it moving.
“Writing practice is something fundamental . . . Writing practice asks you to notice . . . how your mind moves. And not only that, it makes you notice your mind and begin to trust and understand it. This is good. It is basic for writing.” Practicing for a sports team begets familiarity with the plays, the bat, the ball, the field, the equipment, teammates, and opponents. We begin to focus on the game, the fundamentals of the plays, the rules, the possible scenarios. Then we notice how we think, how we move in our body. With familiarity, comes understanding, and then trust. It’s helpful to create anything if we can understand the workings of it. And once we understand, we come to trust that it will operate in a particular way.
“Over and over again, we have to go back to the beginning. We should not be ashamed of it.” So after the novice, or the tenured, begins once, we return to the starting point. For some, all they want to write is just one book, one poem, one song. That’s fine. For the rest of us, we begin again because we become addicted. Whether it’s the feeling when we’re entrenched in our project, the elation and exhaustion of completion, or the opening of the floodgates of ideas from our Muse, we begin again and again and again. Sometimes we discover something vital about ourselves. Other times the dream of being a professional artist, of challenging ourselves to overcome the critic or the fear that holds us back becomes the driving force to return to the beginning. The more times we begin again, the more practice we get, the more familiarity blossoms, laying the groundwork for understanding and trust. I have returned to the beginning several times. Novels, short stories, and poems on my website track my progress and conversations with my Muse. www.myjoyenterprises.com
Have you returned to the beginning? What familiarity has your practice developed?