Today, we're going back to the basics. When you undertake any writing exercise, the goal is to get your juices flowing, to write without thinking too hard about the words you're putting down on the page. By giving you a topic, a jumping off point, or a shove in a particular direction, the writing prompt allows you to write without all of that baggage that can weigh down your words. But most importantly, the writing prompt encourages regular and consistent writing. When your practice falters, exercises allow you to keep cultivating your writing habit.

Instituting a timed practice, regardless of whether you're working on your own project or following a prompt helps make this a reality. As Natalie Goldberg describes it, the timed exercise is "the basic unit of a writing practice." Everyday, commit to writing for a block of time--start small, if this is new for you--and stay committed to it for a week. Whether you decide to write for ten minutes or two hours, stick to it and throughout your dedicated practice period follow Goldberg's sage advice:

1. Keep you hand moving. (Don't pause to reread the line you have just written. That's stalling and trying to get control of what you're saying.)

2. Don't cross out.  (That's editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn't mean to write, leave it.)

3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don't even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)

4. Lose Control.

5. Don't think. Don't get logical.

6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

These are the rules. It is important to adhere to them because the aim is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel. It's a great opportunity to capture the odditites of your mind. Explore the rugged edge of thought.

--Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambala, 2005)