Writers! Stop cleaning that oven at once!

I can see you.

The spray can of heavy duty industrial oven cleaner parked on the kitchen floor is a dead give away. Peel off those rubber gloves, stop pretending that your family will drop dead of food poisoning tonight if you don’t clean those charred meal residues insulating the inside of the oven right away. Follow me. Yes, just as I thought. The study door is ajar. I can see the laptop screen from here. Closer….yes, that’s it. Don’t die of embarrassment, it won’t help. A new document  is open on screen. A title?

(NB – provisional ) Of authorship and toads….

" Of authorship and toads...."

And ?  I suspected this. One paragraph indentation, and the word  “The”…...can that really be all ? Oh. There’s a new line.

“ F— this, I might as well be cleaning the oven!!!!”

I have two words to say to you. Pay attention, they really will help, I promise:

Natalie Goldberg

A few months ago, I visited Glasgow Buddhist Centre in search of a meditation stool. Yes, you’ve guessed, I had an article which had to be submitted by 5pm. I was distracted from the article by the stool, then distracted from the stool by Natalie Goldberg. Her book “ Wild Mind : Living the Writer’s Life” drew me like a lure. What a wonderful writer! What an inspiring book! Did the article get to the postbox? I’m not telling you.

Natalie Goldberg is an American writer  and creative writing teacher. She is sharp, witty, compassionate, lateral….and tough. She has bottom lines and is not afraid to state them. She has rules. My guess is, if you follow these rules on a regular basis, you’ll rarely be distracted by oven cleaning or any other form of housework ever again.

She is fanatical about writing practice. “ If you learn writing practice well, it is a good foundation for all other writing.” We need to do it as regularly as possible, she says.

“ When you sit down to write, whether it’s for ten minutes or an hour, once you begin, don’t stop. If an atom bomb drops at your feet eight minutes after you have begun and you were going to write for ten minutes, don’t budge. You’ll go out writing.”

In essence, writing practice is a technique for cracking open the confining grip of our conscious, rational mind – and flying free into the big blue sky of what Goldberg calls “ wild mind”.

Here, briefly, are Natalie’s rules:

(She also thinks they mostly work for hang gliding, tennis and sex.)

1. Keep your hand moving. If you stop your hand, you stop the creator’s flow and give the editor in you an opportunity to interrupt.

2. Lose control. Just say what you want no matter how inappropriate. Just go for it.

3. Be specific. Don’t write flower, write narcissus.

4. Don’t think. Stay with the first thing that flashes into your mind.

5. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.

6. You are free to write the worst junk in America ( or in your case, could be anywhere in the world ! )

7. Go for the jugular. Whatever comes up, no matter how frightening or disturbing, write it down.

There you are. Begin writing practice today. Next step, buy Goldberg’s books on the writers’ craft. They are a wonderful investment. I’m doing well with my writing practice, by the way. I’ve bought two new notebooks. Still can’t decide which one to start….

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

8 thoughts on “Writers! Stop cleaning that oven at once!

  1. And one more rule to add: Don’t allow articles about rules for writing become your new form of oven cleaning! (Present company excepted, of course!)

    Not that Goldberg isn’t good. She is. But oh,my. How many people I know who spend hours and hours reading about “how to write,” as a substitute for writing. I swear it’s a new form of casting entrails and muttering incantations. It’s as if they think, “If I only could find the right guru, then all would be well.” Maybe, but probably not.

    In any event, there are a couple of places where I strongly disagree with Goldberg. But, rather than sitting here expounding on that, I believe I’ll go start writing!

    1. Glad to have provoked you more than a tad, Linda! And I sure do agree with you in the general principle – applicable to more than just writing – that entrail-casting and incantation-muttering can and does function as a substitute for JUST GETTING ON WITH IT!

  2. I loved this pointer: “Don’t write flower, write narcissus.”

    A lot of this post applies to drawing or painting, and with art – its very easy to stay focused when keeping your eyes on the ‘target.’ So drawing and painting might help train others in the discipline of attention?

    1. Thanks, Lisa. And yes, it’s surprising ( or maybe not…) that there are general underlying principles of engagement and practice which apply to all art forms, not just to writing.

  3. Is it some kind of synchronicity that I was cleaning the oven today and felt utterly fed up….. I think I should pin that list to the fridge…. 😉

  4. This is a great book and a classic. I read it years ago when I was first starting out and it had a big influence on me. Having said that, I’ll be the first to confess I do most of my housework (in the summer it’s gardening; oh gods help me that’s the ultimate distraction) while flagrantly avoiding writing or painting.

    I’ve found there’s a subtle difference between running away from a creative project for fear of the Void and stepping away to let it come through. I’ve come up with some of my best stuff on walks, while pulling weeds or cleaning litter boxes (lol). But that’s the exception, not the rule. Most times, it’s a matter of sitting here and suffering because not everything that comes up is brilliant and inspired. One has to write — and rewrite — a lot of crap before things start to shine. I’ve spent days circling paintings before they started to feel right. There’s a kind of faith involved.

  5. Thanks for dropping by, F.T, and giving us a shaft of light into your methods for encouraging the Muse! Natalie Goldberg is certainly a brilliant helpmeet…but the old cliche of “99% perspiration, 1% inspiration” still holds pretty true, in my experience too…

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