For several years, I’ve been privileged to lead a gathering of wordsmiths in “Writing Practice” at the Carnegie Center, where for an hour and a half once a week we do short timed writings in response to specific prompts. These prompts can be as simple as single words or phrases: one popular prompt collection includes paint chips of bright or unusual colors with evocative names: “blush,” “forest light,” “firecracker.”
The point is to commit to write without stopping, without thinking through labored connections; to write quickly and from our deepest places, burning through false starts and second guesses because there simply isn’t time for unproductive dithering. Often, writing this way captures an energy of mind our more considered writing lacks. Frequently, small bits of real treasure are uncovered. We immediately read these pieces aloud. Because these pages are raw, critiques are not appropriate. Instead, reading aloud releases the words, provides a small public place for them to be heard, and allows some all-important distance between the writer and the pages that have just been filled. Sometimes what’s read is so fresh and sharp it surprises everyone in the room, including the writer.
And that treasure I mentioned? Many of us take it away and, in private writing spaces, allow it to open even further. Award-winning poems, serendipitous solutions to narrative problems, and satisfying essays have all had their beginnings in writing practice. This is the kind of practice that keeps a word-yogi limber. At their roots, the words practice and practical come from the Greek praktikos which means ‘concerned with action.’ Writing practice is one way to make our commitments to writing active, to take them from vague good intentions and transform them into embodied reality.
But you don’t have to wait to find a group to try this kind of “capture.” One of the reasons we chose to include our “Try This” exercises at the end of each piece in our anthology When The Bough Breaks was to encourage our readers to engage in their own creative process. Our “Try This” pieces are full of questions designed to nudge, suggest, and encourage the reader to pick up a pen and let that ink flow.
Why not make an appointment with yourself this week? Come on—set a timer, pick up a prompt, and Try This.
A further note: Writing Practice is a tradition Laverne Zabielski initiated more than a decade ago, indebted to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones, where in her chapter “First Thoughts” she lists “rules” to make timed writings a place where one can “explore the rugged edge of thought.”