Why Start a Writing Practice?

Writing is a practice. Because most writing is solitary, we rarely see the hours writers spend getting words onto the page and we think good writing flows effortlessly out of the naturally talented. But no. Just like becoming a better quilter, a more skilled guitar player or progressing with your tennis game, getting better at writing requires doing it. Over and over and over again.

Just like a tennis player will hit thousands of shots out, the quilter will sew crooked seams, and the guitarist will labor to find the right rhythm and notes, as writers, we have to put words on the page. Lots and lots of words. Many of them will not be stellar or notable or something we want others to see. That’s okay. Much of our work is to simply write and worry about the rest later.

A writing practice is like mining for precious metals or gems. When mining, the result is a lot of mud and muck and rock and dirt. It’s rare to hit the vein immediately. And yet it’s all there, deep under the earth—and deep in our minds—the bright, shiny beautiful stuff we’re after. Miners know digging through the muck is simply part of the process. They don’t judge themselves or feel angry at the ore. No, they dig and dig, knowing mining of the ore is the path to what’s precious.

A writing practice is the same. The words we put on the page in our practice are the raw materials. Mining for the ore of our words is an essential part of the process. We want the dirt, the muck and the mud for it contains our own precious truths. The path is muddy and messy, indirect and uncertain. We don’t know what it will turn up or when.

Putting pen to page and writing, whether we think the writing is good or bad, this is the work. We come to the page over and over again, trusting in the practice itself to deliver us to the rich vein of what we want to say. By consistently putting pen to page, whether we feel inspired or not, is how we mine our own minds for the thoughts, memories and ideas that move us.

Don’t have a consistent practice? Start one now.

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to do this is with timed writing to a prompt. The prompt serves as a spark to jumpstart your writing and keeps you from staring at the blank page wondering where to start. There are no rules with the prompt—you don’t have to stay on the topic or wind up back there. The only rules are to put your pen on the page, keep your hand and moving, and try to catch your “first thoughts,” the ones that are the truest. They’re the thoughts we have before we judge, correct or edit. Go with those in all their honesty, political incorrectness and messiness. What you are writing at this point isn’t necessarily what you’ll put out into the world.

At this starting point, we are trying to come home to ourselves, to hear our truest, most authentic voice. We are granting ourselves the freedom of discovery, inviting ourselves onto the page with kindness and lack of judgement. Crafting and editing is for later. This point in the process is for delving deep, seeing what’s on our minds, what’s important, what rises to the surface. This sort of regular practice allows us to find the themes and ideas we want to write about, to cozy up to ourselves, to befriend our minds and let our words flow.

You can do this on your own or through a class at Writing Unleashed. Gather around the writing circle with your stories, memories, dreams.


Chris Chandler