Writing as a practice

Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones

Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones

Writing as running as practice. That resonates with me. I like to call myself a runner, though it’s only the last ten years of my life that I’ve regularly run. I feel I can call myself a runner not because I’m an elite competitor, but simply because I get out and do it. Three or four times a week.

Some runs are inspiring. Some just tiring. But they all are necessary – the practice of getting out to run is what it’s all about. With practice comes improvement.

As Goldberg says, using another everyday comparison, “we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game; yet in writing we rarely give ourselves the space for practice.”

It brings me up short to realize that I don’t practice writing as often as I practice running.  I don’t sit down, three or four times a week, and just write for an hour or two. I do manage some scribbles and notes here and there, and sometimes block a day or half day to focus on writing. Yet too often I let that ‘blocked’ time go for something that seems more pressing. We all know that the list of apparently urgent (non-writing) to-do items is never ending.

So can I call myself a writer if I’m not actively practicing it?

Goldberg makes a good case for the value of practice. Her books create parallels between the development of her writing and her Buddhist practice. I’m not a Buddhist but do appreciate the value of meditation, of constantly returning to the basics, of practice. Repetitious doing. Mindful doing.

The theme is repeated in Goldberg’s more recent Old Friend From Far Away. “Writing is an athletic activity,” she writes. “It comes from the whole body…And just like any other sport, it takes practice.”

I played one of those interesting little web games recently where you can paste a section of your writing and an analytical tool will tell you which famous author you write like. I pasted a section from my essay, Today is the Frontier, and the digital algorithms came up with Stephen King. I write like Stephen King. Ha!

I presume, of course, that the analytics look at sentence structure, the complexity of diction, and similar factors. Whatever. King is a less literary author than I would aspire to emulate but, hey, he’s got one prominent characteristic that I lack: persistence and drive. He heads down the hall to his study every day, closes the door, sits down and starts writing. He fires off a few thousand words every day. As I recall, he works six days a week.

Stephen King - On Writing

Stephen King – On Writing

King’s “On Writing” is a surprisingly insightful guide to a writer’s head, from a popular writer who many would dismiss by adding the adjective “just,” as in “just a popular writer.” King, I discovered, is not only wickedly funny, but a very self-aware and committed writer. He writes so much that his writing is his practice.

Like an everyday runner who needs no warm-up, King just closes the door behind him and goes.

He is a practicing writer.

It is a habit I could emulate.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Most interesting Lorne. The idea of practice as habit makes much sense. I wonder how many days a writer has to follow a specific routine before it becomes a habit? And how long does it take to fall out of that habit, once won? I know when I used to run regularly, it didn’t seem to take long to lose the fitness edge (now I have nothing more to lose). Same applies to writers? Ben Z

  2. Yes, I’m sure that the writing habit, like the running habit, takes a while to acquire. And the skills do diminish if neglected, as you note with running experience. I used to write a regular newspaper column and was much sharper and quicker at composing and editing than I am now. The challenge is to build and maintain the habit.
    Thanks for the comment Ben.

Share Your Thoughts