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Friday Speak Out!: The Relationship of Writing: Mad Dash or Life-Long?

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by Amanda Russell

When I think about the writing process and how creativity works for me, I cannot separate it from a regular practice.

I used to write a lot during my teen years and in college- those times when everyday life is intensified by complex ideas like who am I, what do I believe/think, where am I headed and the ever-present how do I get there?

As time progressed, I found that my muse was not ever-ready in the wings. It seemed that my existential searching was part of her fuel. So, I began to look for her, to wonder if she’d ever return. Then, I found her. Where? In practice.

My Writing Experiment

Several years ago, I was put to a challenge by a spiritual father of mine to make writing my rule. He had patiently listened to what I loved about writing, what I wanted to convey about the human experience and how. When he asked me what my practice was like, I was stumped. I did not have one! Then he put me to a challenge: write every day. Make writing your practice.

In searching for how to do this, I came across Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones. The author was attending sit meditation and inquiring about Zen Buddhism. “Why do you come to sit meditation?” her Roshi asked, “Why don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

In that book, I found the guidelines for what I now call my Writing Experiment. I set out to write every day following the rules for writing what Goldberg calls “First Thoughts”: In order to do this timed exercise all you need to remember is to keep your hand moving constantly, no crossing out or editing, no worrying about spelling or grammar, let go of the control, do not allow logic to get in the way, and go deep without fear or judgement. According to Goldberg, first thoughts allow a writer to “capture the oddities of your mind” and “explore the rugged edge of thought.” Yes please!

I began to do the timed exercise daily and found that the muse came back. But I was building a life-long relationship with her instead of the hot mad-dash that results from inconsistency. This practice filled many notebooks, and I began to realize that I was doing a lot of personal work in my writing, moving through times of uncertainty and processing all kinds of ideas and experiences from joy to grief. My forthcoming poetry chapbook, Barren Years, is a product of this experiment.

The other day my four year old son asked me, “Are you a fill-in?” I puzzled him back by answering, “No, Love, I’m a full-time.” Whatever he meant by that question, I may never exactly know, but it surfaces again and again in life as an invitation to show up and be present, to practice.

* * *

Amanda Russell is a poet living in New York with her husband and two children. When she is not busy with her family, she enjoys reading the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver and Stanley Kunitz, spending time connecting with friends, gardening, writing, sewing and other creative endeavors. BARREN YEARS, her debut poetry collection, will be published by Finishing Line Press in June 2019.
Would you like to participate in Friday “Speak Out!? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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