This guest post was written by Jen Nipps
It’s 5:30 PM on Tuesday. It’s time to go home and have dinner with your family. You feel frazzled – stressed out and borderline panicky that you didn’t do everything you needed to do before end-of-business even though you wrote it down on your to-do list or in your planner.
There has to be a better way. Something you can do to feel calmer and more accomplished. Right?
Yes. There is.
What is this secret? What magic do you have to do to get that feeling?
It’s not magic at all. In fact, it’s rather mundane. It’s writing. Or, rather, writing practice.
Julia Cameron refers to the practice as Morning Pages and recommends they be done first thing in the morning, longhand. She prescribes three pages, stream-of-consciousness style of writing without thinking about it. Others, including Natalie Goldberg, Judy Collins, Twyla Tharp, Eric Maisel, and Crescent Dragonwagon (yes, that’s really her name) all refer to it as writing practice and don’t specifically recommend a set length or time of day, just as long as you do it.
Variations on Practice
According to Crescent Dragonwagon, “writing practice” is writing without a definite goal in mind. It’s kind of like play. There are different forms you can use to practice. This way, you don’t just sharpen your skills at freewriting, but at other types, too. Three varieties of practice are:
An acrostic is a poem where the first letters of each line spell a word or phrase. A quick example of an acrostic:
Have more opportunities.
I know of a time when we
Couldn’t work outside the home.
First, make a list following a broad topic. Then go back and highlight three to five items that you want to explore further. Make new lists based on those items. Then explore them either in writing (at a later date) or additional research. (This is a simplification of a listing exercise from Crescent Dragonwagon.)
3. Interview with yourself
It goes without saying that we know ourselves best. There are times, though, that we don’t know what we know. When you’re stumped for an answer, the best thing to do is to have an interview with yourself. Start off by setting a timer. You can do this in 15 minutes, but 30 is better. Name your interviewer and interviewee selves. (Your interviewer is just labeled as “Me” and your interviewee is your name.) Be prepared with about five questions. Expect some “I don’t know” answers, but press yourself until you come up with at least one option/viable answer to the question you’re asking. Keep going until your timer goes off. If it’s going well and you have more questions you want to ask, continue until you’re done. The timer is just to give you a minimum amount of time (or if you have a tight schedule that day, to keep you on task).
Along with brainstorming and freewriting/stream-of-consciousness, you have a pretty substantial toolbox for your writing practice.
Tips for Consistent Practice
Having a full toolbox helps you in your writing practice, but it doesn’t help you to be consistent. In order to benefit from it, you need to develop a routine to help you be consistent. By “consistent,” you should do some sort of writing practice at least every day during the work week. Ideally, you would want to keep it up on the weekend as well, but during the week will help.
What do you do to develop this regularity? Here are three recommendations:
1. Make an appointment with yourself.
If you use a planner, write it in the same you would do an appointment with your doctor. Think about it as non-negotiable. It has to be done. Block off 15 to 30 minutes that will be dedicated to your writing practice.
2. Keep it simple.
You can do your writing practice either on a computer or longhand. If you use a computer, use your basic word processing program and a plain font. If you do it longhand (which most practitioners recommend), use a simple notebook and a pen with good flow. (a one-subject, college-ruled spiral notebook and a smooth-writing pen.) You want to focus on the words, on the practice, not embellishments or distractions. A scratchy pen that slows you down is a distraction.
3. Be prepared.
Have your notebook and pen out on your table/desk every morning. When your writing practice appointment comes up, you’ll already have everything out and ready to go.
You want to minimize excuses. New habits are hard to develop, even when they’re good for you. (If they were easy, more people would go to the gym regularly to exercise, right? Same concept.)
Benefits of Writing Practice
Fair warning: You won’t see the benefits immediately. It will take a couple weeks. In fact, in the beginning, your writing practice might be filled with lines like “This is a waste of time” or “This is boring” or “I don’t want to do this.” That’s fine. Just keep at it. Within a couple weeks, you’ll start noticing that you feel calmer and more focused later in the day than you did before. You might even find that you get more marked off of your to-do list by the end of the day. Who knows? It could lead to fewer days of feeling frazzled at 5:30 when it’s time to go home for dinner.
That sounds like a better way.
Now that you are equipped with more tools, some tips, and know some benefits, I’d be interested to know how writing practice goes for you. Leave a comment or send me an email letting me know if it helps you.
The opinions, representations, and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and not of Tierra Wilson, LLC as a whole. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. The company accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.
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