Writing Practice: the dreaded 15 minute write

Almost every writing teacher argues that the basic unit of writing is writing practice, usually a timed exercise, with the admonition that through practice you actually do get better.

However, I have never enjoyed exercises like: Look at a plant. Write the life of the plant – what it’s done, what it’s seen, where it’s heading, its thoughts. I have never found advice like, try writing in your notebook upside down, or turn the book sideways, or write outside the margins to be helpful. I just do not believe that these small tasks will force me to think in creative ways, that forcing my brain to think outside the lines will make me a better writer.

I used to despise writing practice.

I felt like I had little enough precious time and I did not want to fritter it away on writing that was just practice. After rereading Brande’s Becoming a Writer, Campbell’s The Artist’s Way, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, I revised my aversion to writing practice. I mixed up their ideas and came up with a system that works for me, and it is one that I now encourage my writing students to use as well.

I advocate writing for either fifteen minutes or three pages, whichever comes first. However, from there my approach differs. I warm up with the first page of writing. I am primping the pump, so the rules are simple: Write without stopping. Do not be concerned with being good. It is warming up the writing muscle, just like stretches warm up our physical muscles.

But after the first page is done, I switch to deliberate writing, and this different type of writing. This is where I deviate from Brande, Goldberg and Campbell. In the next two pages I generate new writing. It’s deliberate. It’s specific. This advice does not originate with me—I got it from Priscilla Long who said, “The writing done in writing practice can be about anything . . .It can be an observation exercise. It can be work on an essay, story, article, or scene. It can be used to conceptualize new work” (p. 15,16).

Since I read that advice a year ago, I have done writing practice almost every day. I have written poetry. I have done character sketches. I have drafted new essays. I have done observation exercises. I’ve moaned and complained (I do it once in a while). Usually, I plan, conceptualize and draft new work.

I agree with Long when she says, “In a busy life, a week and then two weeks can go by in no time at all, with little or no writing done. The practice of writing for fifteen minutes per day simply deletes this problem” (p. 15). More importantly, writing for fifteen minutes a day helps commit to safekeeping a woman’s writing life.

#MondayGoals

Monday is a good day to start a new writing project. Research, bonafied peer-reviewed research, suggests that we may be more likely to actually follow through with our writing goals, if we start on a Monday rather than another day of the week. Monday signals a new beginning; and a new beginning provides a motivating and meaningful fresh start. Researchers found that this fresh start effect may have a serious impact on our real world behaviors. Essentially we are more empowered and motivated to pursue our goals when we start on a Monday.

A Writerly Life: Annie Proulx

“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.”
— Annie Proulx. Her short story “Brokeback Mountain” was adapted as the major motion picture released in 2005.

A Writerly Life: Germaine Greer

“… if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk, or how fast she could run?”
― Germaine Greer, The Change.

Writing Tip #9

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When you didn’t have regular time to give to your writing, let your stories* just be working in your head. You can work out all kind of important elements before sitting down to write. That way, when you started to write you are already deep into your story.

*I’m using this word generically to mean all forms and genres of writing.

Writing Tip #8

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Clock in the hours. Life – work, love, children – can get in the way of our writing plans. Do not regret the shape your life as a writer-woman has taken, don’t fret not having a regimented writing schedule, but do find a way to clock in the hours. Successful women writers may change their writing schedule when life gets in the way, but they keep at it. They clock in the hours.

A Writerly Life: bell hooks

“Like many writers, I am protective of the time I spend writing. Even though women write more today than ever before, most women writers still grapple with the issue of time. Often writing is the task saved for the end of the day. Not just because it is hard to value writing time, to place it above other demands, but because writing is hard . . . Now I accept that facing the difficult is part of the heroic journey of writing, a preparation, a ritual of sanctification—that it is through this arduous process of grappling with words that writing becomes my true home, a place of solace and comfort.” (p.22)
― bell hooks, remembered rapture: the writer at work