Above one of the bookcases in my writing room, a whiteboard reminds me of this message from Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake:
The Four Noble Truths for Writers
- Writers write
- Writing is a process
- I don’t know what my writing will be until the end of the process
- If writing is my practice, the only way to fail is not to write
Sher’s book has a central spirit in common with Natalie Goldberg’s books and methods. Writing practice, as Goldberg defined it, emerged from Writing Down the Bones, published the same year as the Amherst Writers & Artists methods flowed from Pat Schneider’s work. Sher, and Schneider as well, codify the practice methods more rigorously than Goldberg does. In Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg says
Writing practice embraces your whole life and doesn’t demand any logical form. It’s a place you can come to wild and unbridled… It’s our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden, write our fine books and novels.
What we do in our workshops is create a safety net for sharing the deep writing with each other. We are invited to read our work aloud. We honor the writer by listening carefully. We respond only with what we like, what stays with us, what moves us.
Yes, it’s all practice. But the safe, confidential space where a writer receives affirmation and echoes of their success on a first draft — that’s what sets AWA practice apart. Those Bones do “Free the writer within,” as the well-thumbed copy of the book in my library says. With freedom can come danger to new writing, easily damaged by negative judgements. Practice starts with an “unmissable writing period,” according to Sher. Weekly is good to begin with, but daily is better. Knowing that your writing matters to other writers can help extend a weekly three-hour writing group to a daily practice.