In elementary and high school, writing was a foreign concept. I thought only those inherently talented in English could do it right (you know, those already in the school publication or sent to contests against other schools), and I wasn't that good in that subject then. Assignments and on-the-spot class activities on writing essays or poems was a nightmare. I would look at a blank piece of paper the whole class period and feel very helpless. English had us write in Formal Composition notebooks, where my half-assed essays written hurriedly at the last minute would return filled with teacher's corrections scrawled in red. The low grades didn't encourage me. My group of friends then were well-spoken in English, so articulate in their writing, already having intelligent discussions on Harry Potter... while I nodded along on the sidelines feeling out of place. Most of my school life is me trying to not draw any special attention to myself.
I picked up Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg sometime in high school. I bought it, thinking I would finally learn that elusive secret of writing. Instead, it contained things I didn't expect about writing. It wasn't a writing book at all, the author was just talking simply about her life and experiences. I first learned the concept of Zen from this book. The 'rules' in the book were really simple and I found it easy to follow. The book said: "These rules are the bottom line, the beginning of all writing, the foundation of learning to trust your own mind. Trusting your own mind is essential for writing. Words come out of the mind."
1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Lose control.
3. Be specific.
4. Don't think.
5. Don't worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.
6. You are free to write the worst junk in the universe, galaxy, world, hemisphere, Sahara desert.
7. Go for the jugular. (Something scary comes up? Don't stop, that's where the energy is.)
I think I breathed with relief during that chapter. Until then, what I knew about writing was from English classes. We studied grammar rules, elements of literature, and diagramming sentences. For the life of me, I can never understand why we need to diagram sentences. I always thought it was silly. I would have found writing more interesting then if they taught it like this. It was simple freewriting as a start.
The first activity she suggested was to simply write for 10 minutes without stopping, starting on "I remember". Just write and keep your hand moving. The book says we each have the 'creator' who writes, and an 'editor' or the inner critic. The goal is to stop that inner critic from interfering with the creator, and tap the unlimited creative potential of our minds and unconscious.
The #4 rule is, Don't think. Goldberg calls her process writing practice, and not journaling. This rule is important because as she says: "We usually live in the realm of second or third thoughts, thoughts on thoughts, rather than the realm of first thoughts, the real way we flash on something. Stay with the first flash. Writing practice will help you contact first thoughts. Just practice and forget everything else."
This book taught me that I don't have to always be a good writer with perfect prose, but allow myself to be illogical, to be boring, to write what I want and what I really feel, to write complete nonsense replete with errors or expletives. I don't have to care, as I'm writing for myself and not for anyone else, not for a teacher I have to please for a high grade. I don't have to measure margins, to crumple paper when my handwriting goes bad or the erasures are too much.
And since then, I've probably written thousands of words. I have a lot of words to write still. I'm no longer scared of writing. It had no magical secret or anything. I just keep my hand writing.
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One last quote from Wild Mind:
"So finally a writer must be willing to sit at the bottom of the pit, commit herself to stay there, and let all the wild animals approach, even call them up, then face them, write them down, and not run away."