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How I'm Learning to Trust My Writing Voice

Organizing my mind, and exploring myself to become a better person and writer.

By RJPublished 2 years ago 13 min read
How I'm Learning to Trust My Writing Voice
Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

Some are born with a purpose, others have to wait until a crisis for clarity, and for some, it never comes. For myself, it's always been writing. That doesn't mean I didn't deny myself my occupation. I convinced myself it was too competitive or that I lacked the talent. I refused to accept my purpose because I was scared to fail.

Instead, I pursued being a lawyer or a doctor. School came naturally to me, and I wanted to help people. I thought the only way was to work directly with those who needed help and physically mold the world to be better. My family was happy, my peers at school were happy, and I thought I was too.

"There is freedom in being a writer and writing. It is fulfilling your function. I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it."

― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Nothing filled me with joy and awe of the world around me like writing. And so I had to face the music, though it rarely comes easy, if you are a writer, you write. Books, unlike most things, can grab us, and remind us that we don't have anything figured out. You see the world a new and are changed forever. Intervals of my life are marked by the book I was reading. Fiction or non-fiction, both genres have found a way to touch me. Natalie Goldberg describes the sensation as "breathing that author's breath" and living their inspiration.

Writers take in the world- they absorb the young woman with the cigarette hanging from her lips at the bus stop. They notice the flecks of violet in a stranger's hair. Writers feel the sun, and they observe the horrible parts of society too. It leaks out through a character or scene. I remember reading "Tale of Despereaux" and thinking that no one could write a fairy tale in that way. Kate DiCamillo showed the depths of cruelty in a castle dungeon while highlighting a small mouse's courage.

"Writers are great lovers. They fall in love with other writers. That's how they learn to write. They take on a writer, read everything by him or her, read it over again until they understand how the writer moves, pauses and sees. That's what being a lover is: stepping out of yourself, stepping into someone else's skin."

― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

The writers who change us find a way to open themselves and let the reader see what they've taken in. From my experience, this level of connectedness cannot be taught in a classroom.

Luckily, Natalie Goldberg, a chocolate cookie lover from Brooklyn New York, has written a book that helps writers trust their own voice and say what they need. Natalie is easy to step into; she's unapologetically human. The way she strings sentences together leaves space for you to sink in. She deeply loves words and writing, seeing the most minute details as diamonds.

Lately I’ve felt stagnet and unable to feel connected with my work. I need to reset and change my perspective of writing. If I ever want to transcend good and connect, share myself with the world, it requires trust and the willingness to let myself go beneath the surface to see what's in my heart. To see what I need to say.

Writing Practice

“It’s good to go off and write a novel, but don’t stop doing writing practice.”

― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

By Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Zen meditation is a habit that spreads to benefit other areas of life. Colors are more vibrant; you gain clarity and a sense of calm. Your physical health improves, your creativity enhances. What Natalie Goldberg calls "writing practice," combines writing and meditation to experience another level of self.

To do writing practice, you set a timer for however long you want to write and let your mind go. The first thoughts are said to be your surface-level flash inspiration. As you continue, you relax and drop into a different level, where you express from the heart. For some, feelings emerge that can be very painful. A man in her writing class recounted his experience with substance abuse in San Francisco and how it felt to lay next to his brother's cold corpse.

"Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open."

― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Lowering down the protective barriers and letting someone see you can be scary, but there is freedom in being understood.

Before starting writing practice, I had stopped using pen and pencil to write. But a line struck me in "Writing Down the Bones" about handwriting being connected to the heartbeat. Natalie describes writing as a kinetic act. I never considered how the motion of my pen against paper could help me get in tune with my body's rhythm.

The Seven Rules of Writing Practice

These are the principles of writing practice that I am implementing into my routine. To refresh my outlook and gain better understanding of who I am and what I want to say.

By Mark Duffel on Unsplash

"So, I will repeat them again here. And I want to say why I repeat them: Because they are the bottom line, the beginning of all writing, the foundation of learning to trust your own mind. Trusting your own mind is essential for writing. Words come out of the mind."

Natalie Goldberg the Rule of Writing Practice

1. Keep Your Hand Moving

It's easy to confuse the creator and the editor. The editor wants to go back and make sure each sentence makes sense and is structured well. While the creator wants to expend energy, it wants to run wild. So let it, by not stopping and continuing to write, you don't allow the editor to stifle your creativity.

2. Be Specific

"Not a codependent, neurotic man, but Harry, who runs to open the refrigerator for his wife, thinking she wants an apple, when she is headed for the gas stove to light her cigarette."

Natalie Goldberg in Rules for Writing Practice

Create a picture for your reader; what kind of car is pulling into the lot? What type of flower is sitting in the window? There is a time and a place to be vague but if you can, help your reader experience the scene, place them under a maple, and not simply a tree.

3. Lose Control

We go through our days filtering our speech and thought. Most thoughts never have the chance to see the light because we are terrified of what others will say. But they can't peer into your notebook. Drop away all rules, and inhibitions, tell the inappropriate joke. Let your mind have the freedom to say things that may not resonate with everyone.

Natalie tells a story of a student named David that she knew was talented before producing any meaningful work. After a writing practice session, David got up and read what he had written to the class. In a loud voice, he projected the following: "Masturbation, masturbation, m-m-ma-ma-ma-masturbation." And so on, in a beatbox-type fashion. He said what he needed to and had the courage to read it aloud, even knowing the room's reaction.

4. Don't Think

This rule goes beyond the desire to be polite. It requires you to be absent from your writing. You become the characters and the moment. Free from your influence the story can be what it wants. When I write, I feel responsible for each word and sentence. I want to shape them in the way that I see fit. But if I could gain a little space from the work and write from something other than logic, my writing would become more of its own.

5. and 6. You Can Write the Worst Stuff in America & Grammar Doesn’t Matter

You don't have to consider grammar in your notebook. No one but you will see it unless you allow them to. So write the worst stuff, it doesn't matter. Don't use a period-ramble about the wallpaper in your grandmother's home for pages on pages. You've been conditioned to worry about making everything perfect. Raw material can always be cleaned up, but first, you have to create, and creating is messy.

You can be more specific, if you like: the worst junk in Santa Fe; New York; Kalamazoo, Michigan; your city block; your pasture; your neighborhood restaurant; your family. Or you can get more cosmic: free to write the worst junk in the universe, galaxy, world, hemisphere, Sahara Desert.

Natalie Goldberg in Rules for Writing Practice

7. Go for the Jugular

If something scary comes up, go for it. That's where the energy is. Otherwise, you'll spend all your time writing around whatever makes you nervous. It will probably be abstract, bland writing because you're avoiding the truth.

Hemingway said, "Write hard and clear about what hurts." Don't avoid it. It has all the energy. Don't worry; no one ever died of it. You might cry or laugh but not die.

-Natalie Goldberg

I struggle a lot with the opinions of others. I wonder if they understood what I meant, and it makes me want to write another sentence clarifying. I swallow sentences that wanted to be released because I worry about their impact. If I wallow in this way of thinking, all my work will be watered down. I won't have ever said anything.

But to say what I need to and trust that it's authentic, I have to explore my thoughts completely. I have to reach down, past all that I've been avoiding, and possibly cry, or laugh, but I won't die. The next day my writing will show my sacrifice, and I can begin to connect with myself. For this reason, everyone should write in order to meet the deeper part of you and connect with your being and thoughts in a way you never have before.

Katagiri Roshi's Three Rules for Life

Beyond being a better writer, I want to be a better person. A complete individual with a code of ethics, and I want that code to complement my writing. Natalie studied Za Zen from Katagiri Roshi, and he imparted precious writing and life advice upon her.

What I loved was his enthusiasm, his ability to be in the moment and not judge and categorize me. He had a great sense of humor. I admired his dedication to practice and to all beings and his willingness to tell me the truth, with no effort to sweeten it.

  1. Continue under All Circumstances.
  2. Don't Be Tossed Away—Don't Let Anything Stop You.
  3. Make Positive Effort for the Good.

Continue Under all Circumstances

Writing is one of the hardest and most competitive occupations to have. When I tell people I'm a writer; I can see the gears turning in their heads. They're confused; they wonder if I make money and if I do how much. It's also a lonely pursuit.

Articles tank that I spent hours on, I don't win the challenge I was sure I would, someone else gets the opportunity I had hoped for. Resistance is inevitable, but it's so comforting to know my job is to write. My job is to fulfill my purpose, and it's not to receive admiration. So even when it gets hard and my energy wears thin, the act of writing changes everything.

“We must continue to open in the face of tremendous opposition. No one is encouraging us to open and still we must peel away the layers of the heart.”

― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Don't Be Tossed Away- Don't Let Anything Stop You.

This rule is powerful. Because life will attempt to toss you away, you will be overlooked, rejected, criticized, but you have to keep going in the face of adversity. You must continue to show up and do the work. You have to be relentless in your pursuit, to tell the truth. Writing isn't easy, there will be bumps in the road, but it all makes for a good story.

Make a Positive Effort for the Good

By Clay Banks on Unsplash

I used to carry around a negative view of people and the world. I thought of people as inherently bad, and it showed through my writing. Writing requires compassion, the ability to see the bad and still notice the beauty and tenderness of the good. Writers see the strength in an ant and the intricacies of a fly. As writers, you can describe the world and possibly change the way someone sees it.

I try to write about the good, I love people, and instead of describing the sins, I want to tell of the beauty. I make my effort for good by trying to help others. All that matters is that you try.

Parting Words

In the spring, the trees that have lain barren for months begin to bloom again, it signals growth, within nature and within ourselves. I'm crafting my writing voice and learning more about myself with the hopes that I will also grow. To quiet the voices in my head and to create space in my mind to write. Organization extends farther than our physical environments into ourselves.

Life is a swirling vortex. It's difficult to make sense of anything. To organize my life I focus on what I know is important to me. At the intersection of my anxiety, happiness, and introspection is writing. It helps me understand myself and connect better with the world.

Writing practice is a cornerstone habit that will help me find peace and beauty in everything around me. It is helping me find more enjoyment in my work, and connect with a part of myself I've never met. It feels as though this spring, I'm going to bloom with the trees.

"We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency.

A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children.

We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within


About the Creator


Find me on Instagram at @awriterwhodraws

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