Bones and All

Bones and All

I did writing practice a lot just out of high school. Writing practice, if you’re not familiar, is a concept I got from Nathalie Goldberg and her book, Writing Down the Bones. The idea is that you should have a timed session every day, maybe 15–30 minutes, where you write without stopping the whole period. No matter what, your hand—she wrote longhand, so feel free to make that plural—never stops putting words down on paper.

Many were the mornings I started with, “I don’t know what to write, this sucks, why am I even doing this?” But as anyone who’s done a regular practice of any kind can tell you, it doesn’t last, the blank befuddlement. Ideas come to you like they do all day long, visions and phrases and memories. If you stay disciplined and keep doing the thing, your mind is soon distracted by its own wild meanderings, and you’re there to describe them.

The point of practice isn’t to produce beautiful, finished work. It’s to get used to how it feels to do the thing it’s referencing. Practice is the stand-in for the real thing. It hones your instincts, builds muscle memory, encourages your mind to flow freely and build up a store of concepts and understanding.

Maybe it works with anything. Basketball? Practice ticks at least the first two boxes, and there’s a tangible benefit to having a kind of library of moves at the ready when you play the game.

Habit is to build a body of work over time in steady, small increments. But implement a practice routine, and you can be ever more ready to work on your novel or painting or team sport.

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