I learn through my pen hand, possibly more than through my tappitytapping fingers on the keyboard. In the early 1990s, my sister introduced me to Natalie Goldberg's book Wild Mind.
In it, Goldberg sets out "Rules for Writing Practice":
1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Lose control.
3. Be specific.
4. Don't think.
5. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
6. You are free to write the worst junk in America.
7. Go for the jugular.
These are genius. Of course, this is for writing practice, for stretching and flexing your creative muscles, not for final drafts.
When I moved to Kansas in 1993, my sister and I met often downtown in a cafe or doughnut shop (Jennings Daylight Donuts, long gone now) to write together using the exercises in the book, writing and then reading aloud to each other.
The more I wrote, the more I understood my world of story. I began to write about the characters, settings and actions in whatever story I was working on for performances. I wrote backstory, stuff that you need to know but never say out loud. I wrote real estate ads for settings, personal ads for characters, and letters from one character to another. I also found new stories unexpectedly.
In the mid-90s, I offered classes to storytellers and others interested in trying this method out. We wrote, read, talked, wrote some more. I love writing with other people, hearing the gems they put down on paper. We all have the feeling that what we've written is total garbage, and then, between the writing and reading, it transforms into something strong and true.
I no longer offer those classes, but my sister and I still write together weekly, and I teach kids about Wild Mind writing, with variations. Last week I worked with a small group of high school students, teaching them this method. Each had a unique and wonderful voice. It was an honor to hear them.
Thank you, Natalie!