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9 Steps to Developing a Writing Practice

If you’re a writer, write!

Or so a writing instructor of mine used to declare.

I have to confess: it did nothing for me.

My brain would start exploring the “if you’re a writer” question, with all those associations that come with the W word.

Writer means writing stories.  Writer means you’re writing a novel.  Writer means you can do dialogue.  Writer means getting published.  (Or at the very least: on the way to, wanting to, knowing how to.)  Writer means professional.

Writer means: something other than you.

Which meant the second part of his command, to…


… fell on rather deaf ears.

Oh, I know what he meant of course.  That if you want to be a writer, that if the act of writing is important to you then you can’t just sit around thinking about or talking about it, you have to get on and *do* it.

But then that part, that getting on and *doing* it part, is the crux of what proves so elusive, and so difficult to bring into constant, creative and enjoyable being.

That’s not to say it can’t be done.  I realised at the end of last year that I had established what now looked like a semi-regular writing practice, and I had as a consequence produced a body of work that felt substantial and that I was proud of.  (You can dip into it here, at Poetry Practice).

It is a practice which I enjoy, and which enriches my life, totally.

And it is a practice which is allowing me, or rather… starting to allow me to accept the label of ‘writer’.  Of ‘poet’.

I wouldn’t like to pretend there is a single declarative sentence that will allow you to follow suit.  Nor am I pretending that there is a 9 step action programme that you can follow.

I did however think it might be useful to share some of the things that worked for me, and bundle them into a list post (because I still love list posts.)

Without further ado, here are the 9 things that helped me to develop a poetry writing practice.

Getting Into the Flow of a Writing Practice

Uisge, by Joanna Paterson

1. Call it practice

Calling both what I was doing and what I was producing practice allowed me to navigate my way past the slings and arrows of the outrageous inner critic.  (Of course some of it turned out to be proper ‘writing’, but it only came into being because I gave it permission to be practice.)

2. Commit to the practice

I made a commitment to write something every day.  And I told others that I was doing so (well, eagle eyed fellow tweeters noticed anyway ;-) )  This definitely made a difference.

3. Be realistic (and kind)

I didn’t manage to write every day, but this didn’t seem to matter.  I didn’t berate myself for not writing each day.  What I found was that I did write at least once a week, and I wrote a lot more material than I could have imagined before I started.

4. Make a space for it

I created a place where I could post all of my poetry practice.  This sent a signal to my creative mind that I was serious about it.  It also meant I could quickly see the evidence of my practice (often with surprise, and delight.)

5. Reduce your borders

Although I was posting the material online, so technically findable, I didn’t point to it or tell anyone about it for quite a while.  This helped me create a smaller and more intimate sense of space, without the huge and potentially overwhelming sense of exposure than can come if you share too wide too fast.

6. Share what’s unshakeable

There will come a point in your practice when you know you’re ready to share a bit more.  Feedback gives life to work.  Words want to be shared, poems want to be heard… there will come a point where you know you want to share.  In line with reducing your borders (the point above), you might want to be selective at first, and just share some of your output.

What I mean by sharing what’s unshakeable is… something that is on solid ground, rooted in something intrinsic to you, or something you just ‘know’ will resonate.  (You will know it when you see it: you already do know this.)

7. Let others encourage you

One of the many benefits of thinking out loud on Twitter is that those who know you and come to know you through your musings will notice when you are in flow… and when you are not.  I am very grateful to those who have prompted and encouraged me to go and write when that was clearly what the doctor was ordering ;-)

8. Acknowledge the other parts of the writing process

The more that writing practice has become part of my routine, the more I am aware of the other things I do that are essential to the act of writing.  Simple rituals (the feeding of the birds), taking photographs, walking in the middle of the winter.

Reading.  Blogging.  Thinking.

Doing none of the above.

Getting enough sleep.

As one of you described it recently: it’s creative crop rotation.

It’s all part of the practice.

9. Notice any difference

And not just in your writing (though you will notice that.)

The real difference for me when I’m in flow, when I’m engaged in regular writing practice is that I feel more grounded, more cheerful, more resilient, and more congruent.

It is this difference, more than anything, which gives me the confidence to say:

I will remain in the flow, I will stick to my writing practice :-)


What things have helped you to develop and stick to a writing practice?

What kind of writing practice would you like to develop in 2011?

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  1. Hamid Saidi says:

    I wholeheartedly like the tips mentioned above

  2. Just write something | Daniel Johnson, Jr. says:

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  3. Jamie
    Twitter: twistedjam

    Good stuff. I myself started doing the following steps before reading this entry. I can attest that it works.

  4. Wendy Altschuler says:

    I used to write fairly regularly then I had kids and sort of became all self-conscious. What if I died in a freak accident and they were left with my journals…what would they think of my thoughts uncensored? So now I’m realizing that it would be a gift to them to really know me and know what my thoughts were. I’m trying to write more honestly and have a regular writing schedule.

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  7. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Glad you all found the tips useful

    @Wendy Altschuler: that’s a very powerful reason for writing Wendy. I think sometimes when we know why we need to be creative and express ourselves, the how becomes a lot easier.

  8. Angela Atkinson says:

    These are great tips. Personally, I don’t have the gift of poetry-I’m more of a journalist, but I have real passion for what I do (and, if I do say so myself, I’m pretty good at it! Hehe.) Even so, there are days when I find myself procrastinating and not getting the work done-and the thing that helps me out is to just get started.

    Even if I have no clue how an article is going to begin, I just start typing, and before I know it, I’ve got a place to start. I might have to go back and reorganize the work and cut half the words-but at least I’ve got something to work from.

    It was really interesting to read this post from a poet’s POV. I know things aren’t the same when it comes to poetry-it seems like it’s more of a “gotta be inspired” kind of art. Thanks for giving me a peek into another writer’s head! :)

  9. Becadroit
    Twitter: becadroit

    Some of these things I’ve done without thinking about it - like creating a blog and slowly building up to mentioning it to friends and on Twitter and the like. I’m glad you’ve clarified it in a process.
    I’ve found blogging different to writing a journal - my journals used to be complaints or turn into book reviews and they never felt like practice - or writing. Blogging in awareness of a potential audience feels different - like it is more work-like, somehow.

  10. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @Angela Atkinson: hi Angela, there’s a lot to be said for just getting started… it’s a way of getting into flow. Plus the words seem to take on a life of their own.. ;-) I’m enjoying learning about the writing of poetry. Some certainly arrive purely ‘inspired’, but I’m writing a lot more as a result of making more time, trying new techniques,experimenting more, and letting it all just be practice.

    @Becadroit: blogging *is* very different - it seems to inhabit a space between ‘writing’ and journaling - one of the reasons I love the medium so much. You’ve expressed it really well with these words

    “Blogging in awareness of a potential audience feels different” - yes, indeed, and that’s what makes it so engaging (and of course pulls in the audience…)

  11. Writing Spirits
    Twitter: writeawriting

    write, write and write more and when taken with the block then read, read and read and you will find yourself instantly refreshed.

  12. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    @Writing Spirits: reading is good… but then there’s also sleeping, and walking outside, and just enjoying doing nothing…:-)

  13. Jackie J. says:

    I especially like the notion of calling it “practice” instead of writing. I think half my battle has to do with the pressure I put on myself to perform, to create. And creating really shouldn’t be about pressure. It should come natural. Will definitely implement the “practice” perspective.

    Thanks for the pointers!

  14. Helen Cassidy Page says:

    I loved this post and so happy I found this site. We can’t have enough encouragement to just do the thing we love most. Yet it is hard, so much pushes against the impulse to write. Years ago I realized that writing was my spiritual discipline. It was a long time before I could do it every day, but my daily practice is my teacher, allowing me to know myself in ways nothing else has. And the days I don’t write teaches me as well. I try to hold onto that voice that says, yes. Do it. You have as much right as anyone else.