Tag: practice

Are You Writing Fit?

Credit: iStock

Two weeks ago Austin Kleon interviewed Sam Anderson, a staff writer for The New York Times, on Instagram Live about their work spaces (Sam’s library is enormous!), their appreciation for open dictionaries, and Michel De Montaigne, a mutual influence on both writers. Near the end of their chat (33:40 on the video) Sam mentions an exercise he does (I presume) most mornings:

“I do a morning exercise in my library which I stole from my high school English class. My English teacher was talking about revision and the sentence I remember her putting up at the front of the room on a screen was just the sentence: the man walked. She was like, ‘think about all the different verbs we have in English to describe how somebody moves or walks.’ The man ran. The man shuffled. The man slumped. You can get so much colour and meaning by changing one word in a sentence.”

This is the simple and lasting power of choosing strong nouns and verbs in your writing.

In Writing Down the Bones Natalie Goldberg compared writing practice to running. The more you do it the easier it gets. It’s never easy, but it gets easier. The comparison stuck with me for years until I read Scott H. Young’s Ultralearning this past month. One of the principles in his learning framework is ‘drill’ and the story he uses to illustrate the principle is how Benjamin Franklin learnt to write persuasively by reconstructing passages from one of his favourite magazines The Spectator from memory. That makes me think: who else drills? Athletes.

Fighters spar and hit combos on the punching mitts to prepare for a real fight. Tennis players drill and practice their forehand and backhand before they compete on the court. So why should we not also prepare ourselves for writing in the same way? Perhaps, for some, identifying as a writer is more important than actually writing. Their very identity hinges on the perfection of the next sentence so the mere thought of scribbling words on a page to warm up or straining to remember the order of someone else’s argument to improve your own arguments can unleash heavy resistance.

But not to worry, it gets easier.

Write morning pages. Write notes. Drill. Journal. Get yourself in writing shape.

As Kleon says: do the verb, forget the noun.


For more see: Renewing Confidence in Our Writing, Dare to Be Stupid, How Do Writers Write?

Renewing Confidence in our Writing

In a recent issue of his newsletter Subtle Maneuvers, Mason Curry counsels an anonymous freelancer afraid of failing in his/her new career by quoting the therapist Esther Perel:

[…] Perel has this idea that relationships go through cycles of harmony, disharmony, and repair. And [the writer Sheila] Heti said that she thinks the same thing is true of the writing process: You go through periods of feeling like a freakin’ genius (harmony), and also periods of feeling like your writing is utter garbage (disharmony). And after moving through these two extremes, you eventually end up with something that feels right (repair). And then you start the cycle all over again!

Very true. When I wrote the first draft of this post, which was about a different topic altogether, I felt deflated because it came out so clumsy and a familiar voice said “this is it, you’ve lost it.” But, like I wrote elsewhere, life goes on and there is repair. Because I have a regular writing practice that includes this blog it doesn’t take long for me to prove that familiar voice wrong.

That’s what does the trick: a regular writing practice. Today may have been no good but you’ll be back tomorrow. And the day after that.