testing best practices

Question 6 for the DIY MFA Street Team is the following: “What’s one ‘Best Practice’ that didn’t work for you?”

First of all, I love the advice that Gabriela Pereira offers, which is to follow what works for you. Gabriela recounts trying Stephen King’s advice in his memoir to write 2,000 words a day and realizing her writing practice did not thrive. As Gabriela wrote in her email about this prompt, “Over the years, the one hard-and-fast rule I’ve learned is that there are no rules when it comes to writing. There’s no such thing as a ‘best practice’ except for the one that works best for you.”

And I’ll add to Gabriela’s note that even when we find a best practice, it may not always work. Here’s my example: In Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell describes his practice called “350s.” Here’s how they work–wake up, and before you do anything, anything at all–before coffee, before getting out of bed, before petting the cat–write 350 words. That’s it. Write 350 words before you do anything in your day.

I love this practice, and it’s worked for me before. I like that I’m still in the between-world of sleeping and waking, and I often access parts of my imagination not always easy to find. I like that my internal editor-critic is still pretty much asleep. I like how righteous I feel the rest of the day–even though 350 words may not seem like much, they’re still words, finished, written. First thing. And, I like that I can return to those words later and expand, riff off of them, use them.

Today, 350s don’t work for me. I’ve got a seventeen-year-old cat with chronic kidney disease, and he’s a talker. The first thing I do in the morning is to ensure he has fresh, clean water and food. Then I get my coffee. Then I journal. Then I give Cuddles his subcutaneous fluids. By the time I’ve walked to his dishes, my conscious mind has already grabbed hold, and I’ve lost the magic of the 350s.

And here’s my other note: Practice tweakage! It may be that a classic, first-thing-in-the-morning 350 doesn’t work for me now. But I could still practice the method at different times during the day. 350s are great for those of us with over-full schedules.

Gabriela’s advice to test, practice, revise any writing practice is advice I can always apply.

Remember that the DIY MFA book comes out in June!


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