How to Flourish in Your Writing (Plus Three Writing Prompts)
By Natalie Goldberg
Writing Down the Bones,
Thunder and Lightning, and
Long Quiet Highway
An excellent way to feel fully free and really flourish in your writing is to develop a sweetheart inside you that encourages you and, most importantly, counteracts your monkey mind or inner editor or critic.
My sweetheart isn’t very complicated. As I write and hear from the critic—who says something along the lines of, “Nat, this is stupid, you are dumb, what you are writing makes no sense”—my sweetheart says something along the lines of, “It’s OK, Nat, keep going. Keep going. Like a swimmer, you’ve got to do those laps.”
Keep your sweetheart simple. I know how complicated a critic can be, but if the sweetheart gets complicated, too, then your two voices will start battling and arguing, which is a waste of your time. Don’t give the critic something to latch onto. Keep it simple; keep writing.
And of course, you have to be free to write the worst shit in America in order to write something good. It’s better to keep your hand moving for ten minutes or a half hour than think for a half hour and have three crossed out words. If you’ve read Wild Mind, you know what I always say: keep the hand moving, don’t think, lose control, say what you want to say not what you think you should say.
And use detail. It’s not a tree but a sycamore, not car but Cadillac, not a horse but a palomino. But listening to your sweetheart, do not chastise yourself if you write “city” as opposed to “New Mexico.” You can always come back a week later and define your city, specifying London or Omaha.
Always have great kindness for yourself. Look over your shoulder: there is no one there. No one cares if you write. It has to come from you, from your effort. There is no hierarchy in writing; you elbow your way into the lineage by your human effort. It is democratic and should be in the declaration of independence—the right to liberty, justice, the pursuit of happiness, and writing. Only human beings write. Clouds don’t, ants don’t.
It is your human right to know your own mind and write your own words. Let your life shine. Tell your dark and dirty, mysterious, bloody, real, and glorious story.
Tell your story of love and loneliness. Tell about the moon, the night you realized you were not going to be a doctor, the morning you had to admit you wanted to write more than anything. Tell how you are scared and what you love to eat, your first kiss and your last. As Jack Kerouac said: be submissive to everything, open, listening. Accept loss forever. Write in amazement of yourself. What about rain and no-rain and the street you live on? What about sickness and ice cream? And don’t forget what you lust for.
Let yourself be alive. This is your one true life. I don’t know about any other.
With your sweetheart in tow, use these three ten-minute writing prompts to write right here, right now:
1. Tell me everything you remember about third grade.
If you don’t remember anything begin by telling me that.
2. Give me memories of red, but don’t say the word red, use words that engender red in the mind, for instance, rose, fire, beets.
3. What do you regret?
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