Archive for February 5th, 2008

Yellow blur, detail of glass globe on a lamp, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I’d been writing with a group of women locally for about a year when I told them, “Some day soon, let’s write on ‘No Topic’ as our topic.”

I explained that No Topic was like the mother of all topics. It frees you. No writing about Pickles or Hair. Not about What’s in Front of Me, or Everything I Know About the Color Burnt Sienna.

It seemed intriguing enough, yet for weeks after I mentioned the idea of No Topic, we continued to pull from our writing group envelope topics written on strips of paper.

Writing with a topic is soothing. A topic propels those first words on the line and helps guide your practice.

Writing without a topic is like coloring without a border on your page. It’s like taking away the structure that you’ve carefully created and followed over time. Will the writing still flow? Where will wild mind take you?

In our Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, we often wrote without a topic. “No topic, ten minutes,” Natalie’s voice rose from the silence. And away we’d go, our hands moving across the pages of our notebooks.

I’ve searched Wild Mind and Thunder and Lightning, two of Natalie’s books, to see what she might have said about No Topic. I find nothing. I look through the notebooks I used during the retreats — did I take notes on the power of No Topic? None that I can find.

Yet, this is one of those concepts I associate with Natalie’s teachings. A gem, a pearl of wisdom cultivated from years of studying the mind through her writing.

The more you do writing practice without the aid of a topic, the more equipped you are to write anytime, anywhere. From the “Write Anyplace” essay or chapter in Writing Down the Bones,

Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.

About a week ago, as we were thinking about a topic to use for our timed practice, one of the women in my writing group suggested we go ahead and try No Topic. “Sure,” we all said. We wrote for fifteen minutes. Then one by one, we read.

Without exception, our writing had busted open. We all felt it in ourselves and in one another.

You try it. Write without the aid of a prompt. Write with just you, your pen, and your notebook. For ten minutes, fifteen, or for as long as you need to write. Just write.

Now go.

Rose-colored glasses, detail of the glass base on a lamp, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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