Reconnect with your writing practiceJul 18, 2022
Erica Machulak shares a short prompt to discover and refine your daily writing practice.
Someday, I’m going to write a short story about our current media climate that maps directly onto Geoffrey Chaucer’s House of Fame. This poem defined my career as a medievalist, and it continues to shape my storytelling as I cohabitate the parallel worlds of “Erica the Hikma Founder” and “Erica the work-in-progress trying to get her book written from her dad’s dining room table.”
I won’t tell you about Chaucer’s wander past a stained glass standoff between Dido and Aeneas, his witnessing of the shapeshifting tyrant Fame, or the “man of great authority” who disappears and leaves us all confused about whether anyone can ever have the final word. Instead, I’ll share one of my favorite bits:
Sound is naught but air broken,
And every speech that is spoken,
Loud or private, foul or fair,
In its substance is but air. (765-768)
Why would Chaucer write a devastatingly clever and beautiful poem claiming that words don’t matter? Here’s my take: writing is an act of profound self knowledge that builds our strength to face an unpredictable world.
Most of all, the poem reminds me that writing is a process, that rabbit holes are often the point, and that self-reflection is a powerful engine for creativity and connection. Writing in community gives us the empathy and resilience to think about our audiences, learn about ourselves, and make our work better.
In June 2022, we piloted Hikma Writing Club with a community of writers who shared their daily processes and cheered each other on. Each day, we asked participants to complete a daily log with a brief self-reflection exercise.
This short prompt includes the three questions that I still use to hone my daily writing practice. Feel free to crib, modify, and reframe this prompt to suit your needs. Chaucer wouldn’t have it any other way.
A Brief Prompt for Your Daily Writing Practice
Make this prompt your own with a notebook, a running writing log, or a moment of silent reflection to wind down your writing session. If you prefer, you can modify the prompt as a jumping off point for your day. The ritual matters at least as much as the answers.
1. Did you write today?
“Yes,” “No,” and “Not Sure” are all correct and generative answers to this question. They are also words on the page. Score!
2. What worked well? What could have gone better?
This is the question through which you honestly assess whether your process is working for you. Jot down not only what you got done, but also where you were challenged, how you felt, and the ways that you designed your writing session to work for you.
3. What is your writing goal for tomorrow?
The key here is to keep it as concise and specific as possible. Before you commit to an answer, try asking yourself this “litmus test” question: would you assign this goal to your favorite colleague? If the answer is “no,” recalibrate. Consider also which kinds of goals or intentions will be motivating for you. Writing for a set amount of time? Mapping a specific section? Hitting a certain word count? Downloading a source you need to read?
Through my daily practice, I’ve noticed that, for me, momentum is the most important factor in my confidence as a writer. When life gets complicated, any kind of forward motion is a win. This is a discovery that surfaced gradually through years and years of testing, evaluating, and trying something else.
Early in my career, my lists of action items looked as long and torturous as Doestoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Gradually, I winnowed them down to three bullet points. Even with a shorter list, I would feel stuck on tasks that were spinning my wheels, or I would kick myself for missing a mark that was unrealistic in the first place.
Reflecting on how and why I set certain goals has shaped the way that I create the best conditions for my writing. I’ve gradually made the transition from “do X, Y, and Z” to “get words on the page.” This flexibility frees me up to write intuitively and celebrate progress at any scale.
Find Yourself in Community
Much of this fine-tuning evolved thanks to my first writing group with fellow medievalists, dear friends, and first writing accountability partners, Dr. Anna Siebach-Larsen and Dr. Amanda Bohne. Their friendship carried me through my dissertation during a time of deep grief and high stress. While our occasional draft exchanges were incredibly helpful, I would not have completed my thesis without our daily emails to vent and celebrate.
As we grow the Hikma Collective, we’re excited to learn about how, why, and with whom you learn best. Thanks to those of you who participated in our Hikma Writing Club pilot! Your insights are shaping our next steps.
Want to stay in the know about the next iteration of Hikma Writing Club? Join the waitlist.
Want more Chaucer?
Read a free translation of the House of Fame at Poetry in Translation
Read Chaucer’s House of Fame in Middle English at Project Gutenberg
Listen to segments from Chaucer’s other works, read in Middle English by the inimitable David Wallace and made available by Penn Sound
Erica Machulak, PhD, is the Founder of Hikma.
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