Writing Warm-Ups

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by Debbie Vance

Runners jog before sprinting, yogis do downward dogs before inversions, lovers have foreplay before sex…why is it that writers believe they are the sole subset of humanity that can accomplish their main objectives without any warm-up exercises?

In her craft book, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s LifeNatalie Goldberg says this:

Knowing the basics of writing practice is what kindness is about. It is about developing a foundation as a writer. Just as we would never ask a child to multiply by six-digit numbers the first day of first grade, we shouldn’t ask ourselves to begin page one of the great American novel the first day after we have realized our with to write. We have to build slowly. This is kind consideration. We acknowledge who we are in the present moment and what we need in order to continue.

I think this is so helpful. Simply allowing yourself this kindness, this idea that you can sit down and start wherever you are that day, word by word, sentence by sentence, is instantly freeing. (At least to me, anyway.) Even the most advanced writers have to settle into their words, their stories; the basics are always fundamental. Natalie Goldberg continues:

We don’t drink a glass [of water] once and never have to drink one again. We don’t finish one poem or novel and never have to write one again. Over and over, we begin. This is good. This is kindness. We don’t forget our roots.

Allow yourself this kindness. Begin over and over again. Start with 5- or 10-minute warm-up exercises. Natalie suggests a 10-minute freewrite stemming from the words “I remember,” and then another from the words “I don’t remember.” Or try writing like Raymond Carver and start with one sentence you love and let the story unfold from there, “one line and then the next, and then the next.” Allow your mind to stretch and exhale before plugging it deep down in your big project.

In training for sports, I was taught that a 1% increase in body temperature resulted in a 10% increase in strength. I’m sure there must be some sort of correlative truth to the mind. A little warm-up workout might do wonders for your creative productivity.

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