Today’s guest post is by Anuradha Prasad.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about practice.
Did you know that all art forms and spiritual work are rooted in deliberate practice? Practice is the time set aside every day to honor your work and develop your skills. It takes the shape of rituals and exercises. Practice gathers your attention and brings it to your work.
Ballet dancers train for hours. Even the most basic steps are repeated over and over again. The movements and the dancers are inseparable. When they are on stage, these movements are transformed into performance.
Singers warm up with the basics, stretch their vocal chords for two to three hours a day. Athletes and gymnasts train every day. They are always in shape and ready to push to the next level.
How can you bring that disciplined practice to your life each day instead of jumping straight into a project and laying fallow between these projects? What are the warm-ups that you as a writer can do? What is the jumping jacks equivalent to writing?
You can easily develop your writing practice by planning your time, what you’ll write, and what you’ll read. And then do it. Every single day.
Planning Your Practice Time
You’ll need to set aside at least two hours every day for dedicated writing and reading practice. It excludes projects that you are working on and books that you may be reading for pleasure. The first two hours of the morning or the last two hours before you hit the sack are ideal, as your mind is clear and there are fewer interruptions.
When you write in the mornings, as soon as you get out of bed, the writing may have a dreamlike quality to it. Another benefit? The censors are not up just yet.
If two hours is too big a chunk out of a busy schedule, you could set aside an hour in the morning and an hour at night, or even in the afternoon. It doesn’t matter when you practice so long as you don’t skip the practice.
Making Reading Your Practice
Reading practice involves reading with a goal in mind. The goal is to analyze the text that you are reading. Instead of reading for pleasure, you need to dive deeper. It means you will cover less ground, but it’s thorough.
When you read as a writer, you’ll be looking at the writing techniques used and the craft of writing. You could annotate the text and make notes on the side. Pay attention to how sentences are structured and what purpose they serve, symbols, repetitions, other standout literary devices, plot points, and so on.
Reading deliberately is an exercise in developing discernment. What makes good writing? What works and what fails? Books that will give you guidelines on reading critically include Roy Peter Clark’s The Art of X-Ray Reading and Francine Prose’s Reading like a Writer.
Flexing Your Writing Muscles
Your writing practice should ideally include a freewrite in the morning when you wake up, as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Cameron suggests engaging in three pages of uncensored writing, which she calls the morning pages, as soon as you wake up.
You could also work with prompts and freewrite for ten to fifteen minutes. The purpose of freewriting is not to create perfect writing but to simply exercise your thinking and writing muscles.
Prompts can be found online or in books on the craft of writing such as Natalie Goldberg’s. You could choose a phrase at random from a novel or a poem. See what it triggers. Or try exercises that are specific to writing techniques, such as description, dialogue, or character.
You may have a few favorite prompts. However, it works better if you constantly work with new ones. Just think, if you do only your favorite ab crunches, the rest of your body will remain weak. Push yourself out of your comfort zone with a new prompt every day.
These practices don’t take up much time, and they will help you stay in the habit of writing. Often new ideas for projects are born through these simple practices. And when you do start working on a project, you may find that your skills have vastly improved.
It will help to continue your writing practice even when you are deep in a project, though you may want to shorten the time spent on it. No athlete, singer, or dancer would get into the meat of their practice without a warm-up. And that goes for the writer too.
Anuradha Prasad is a writer and editor. She also writes poetry and short fiction. Her work has appeared in Muse India and Literally Stories. Visit Anuradha at her blog.