Freeing the Writer Within

The-True-Secret-of-WritingI have long tried to silence the critic in my head, telling me my writing is never good enough, I can never succeed, and what makes me think I can be a writer. It’s called ‘the impostor syndrome’ when your inner critic tells you your writing is worthless. For years I was governed by my inner critic, with the result that none of my writing ever saw the light of day, and remains locked away in dusty archive boxes on an unreachable top shelf. It was writers like Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) who began to free me from this destructive and inhibiting thought process.

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Freeing the Writer Within

In her classic book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg contends that writers need to practise their craft in the same way that musicians, athletes or Zen meditators need to perfect their practice. She gives writers the following four rules:

  1. Keep the hand moving. It’s better to be writing anything that comes to mind, than to sit there chewing your pen or staring at the blank screen. The main thing is to keep the hand moving. Even if you write about how you can’t write, some words will appear before too long.
  2. Don’t think. Write so quickly that your internal editor can’t keep up with you. Most of us have a critic sitting on our shoulder, telling us what we’re writing is ridiculous, illogical, or maybe too revealing (what will people think?) Writing fast helps to overcome this inhibition. You can always edit/delete later, but at least you’ll have some raw honest material to work with.
  3. Lose control. Follow where your imagination takes you, even if it makes no sense. It’s a bit like recalling a dream. Write it all down, without trying to work out what it means. Afterwards you will know what to keep and what to discard.
  4. Devote ten minutes a day to this ‘free writing’ practice. It can be anything – memories, fantasies, the good, the bad, the ugly and the nonsensical. Writing practice helps you to build your ability to translate thoughts into words. It also establishes a habit so that you can get ideas down quickly, spontaneously and fearlessly. In Goldberg’s ‘timed writing practice’, she suggests setting a timer to, say, three minutes and then writing down a memory or free association triggered from a random topic (eg ‘tree/blue/tooth) as fast as you can without stopping until the target time is reached.

The writer Andy Griffiths credits Goldberg’s book as “completely transforming my approach to writing”. In his recent article on Natalie Goldberg, he writes that before discovering Writing Down the Bones, he rarely wrote freely or spontaneously. This book, Griffiths asserts, helped him to lay strong and sure foundations for his writing practice, and he now has thirty best-selling children’s’ books to his name (the much-loved Treehouse series), and has been published in over 35 countries.

Adapted from Writer on Writer: Andy Griffiths on Natalie Goldberg, Newswrite, Winter 2020, Writing NSW.

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