As a long-time student of Natalie’s Goldberg, I get miffed when I hear people refer to writing practice as “free writing” or “prompted writing.”
In free writing, as I understand it, you explore the mind for material, and in prompted writing, you are simply using a word or a phrase or an idea given by someone else and taking off with it. Writing practice allows for both of these benefits, but it is so much more.
What makes writing practice distinct and powerful is the opportunity to meet your mind on the page, to see who you are and where you are in the present moment, without judgment.
Which means that some of the most beneficial writing sessions are the ones when you don’t get anywhere, because those days provide the opportunity to see and accept where you are and what you are feeling.
Maybe you are distracted or maybe your mind is dull. Maybe you find yourself making a to-do list or plans for the week.
Instead of chastising yourself for being tired or filling up on caffeine or deciding to run off and accomplish the items on your list, you notice where you are.
Seeing and accepting the mind and the present state of your body breeds self-compassion, which is essential to staying in there with writing.
The same principle applies to meditation (remember, that Natalie developed writing practice as a Zen practice).
You know those days when you sit down on the meditation mat and you feel peaceful and calm and then you get the idea that it will always be like that or at least you want it to be? But then the next day, you sit down on your mat and your mind wanders everywhere?
It’s not because you are a bad meditator. The mind is simply doing what it does.
The trick is to keep showing up no matter where your mind is.
In Why We Write, a volume of essays edited by Meredith Maran, dozens of wildly successful authors in multiple genres share their secrets for success.
The most universal tactic is showing up no matter what. Successful writers are not necessarily the best ones. They are the ones who continue writing no matter how badly it seems to be going.
That doesn’t mean you need to write every day. Some days you need to rest and some days you have to get your other shit done.
But you don’t make a decision to write or not based on whether or not you’re in the mood.
Most days, writing practice will help you move through whatever you’re feeling. Sometimes, you’ll see on the page that you need to take care of yourself in other ways.
More often, the writing will loosen something inside you. The mind will move, the body relax and you will be ready to meet your day.
Either way, you are free. You have let yourself say what is true and your days can unfold from there.