Finger Exercises

When my grandfather died in 1954, his only son, my father, used his inheritance to buy a baby grand piano. This piano then became the elephant in our living room, taking up about a third of the room’s space and doing nothing but sit there in the corner on its unshapely legs.

My father, utterly unlike his practical, industrious, Scottish-immigrant father, was something of a dreamer. I’m guessing he dreamed his kids would somehow, miraculously, learn how to play that piano all on our own. He certainly didn’t have the money to pay for any piano lessons. The best we four children could ever manage to bang out on the baby grand’s keys was Chopsticks.

But since then I’ve often thought that if I had, in fact, learned to play the piano, it would be vitally important to practice every day – not to entertain anyone with my stumbling scales but just to keep my fingers nimble.

These daily finger exercises would be the equivalent of the daily writing exercises committed writers must practice, what Julia Cameron, author of the mega-best-selling book, The Artist’s Way, refers to as “Morning Pages.” (For more on this, see the recent profile of Julia Cameron by Penelope Green in The New York Times, published February 2.)

A friend from Taos, I just learned, has decided to close her successful business and pursue her dream of writing one or more books. She recently asked for my advice, because we were colleagues at UNM-Taos, where I taught English and Creative Writing for ten years. This, in part, is the simple advice I would offer:


Every day.

First: Read (and reread) good books. And not in a hurry. Chew on them. Feast on them. Study them. Study the authors’ word choices, sentence structure, plot architecture, scenic descriptions, vivid characterizations, what is stated and what is implied, and so on. Learn from them. We all can learn from the masters.

In my teaching experience, the students who had the most trouble following this part of my advice were mainly older men, recently retired from successful careers, who appeared to have stopped reading literature the minute they graduated from college. In their hubris they believed writing a book of their own at this stage of their lives would come easy, off the top of their gray-haired heads. Not so.

Second: Write every day, at, ideally, the same time every day, such as early morning, as Julia Cameron recommends, when our minds are less cluttered and distracted. Write about anything, or everything – what you did yesterday, what you plan to do today, conversations you’ve had or overheard, how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, the books you’re reading, the state of the world from your point of view (!) – and let it rip, freestyle, without self-criticism. This is like finger exercises on the piano, not for anyone else’s enjoyment or enlightenment (at all); rather, for your own thinking/writing fitness regimen.

Then, when you’re ready to write your book, the thoughts and words will more likely flow from a deeper and more meaningful place.

Which is not to say it will be easy.

16 thoughts on “Finger Exercises”

    1. Thank YOU, Barb! As you’re aware, the San Miguel Writers Conference is in full swing here, so I guess “advice to writers” is in the air we’re all breathing! — xx

  1. Lovely comparison! I’ve been toying with writing my life story for my grandchildren. Your advice is great!

    1. Thanks, Kate! Yes, I’m sure your grandchildren would appreciate your efforts. I know if you haven’t read it already, you’d really appreciate Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY.

  2. Dear Bon,

    A really beautiful post. The years I spent “doing pages” as a result of Julia Cameron changed my life.I hope someday I will continue the habit, and it does become a habit. Thanks for alerting me to the article.


    1. Thank YOU, Paul dear. Yes, I’m sure Julia Cameron’s book changed many lives — having sold more than four million copies! You’re so right about the habit; it’s certainly one of my good ones. — Love you, BB xx

  3. La Bonnie! I am so happy to get your blog posts again. I don’t know why I had stopped receiving them but today (que sorpresa linda!) I found this one. Yes, we all need finger exercises. Mine are at night porque soy lechuza…I am a night owl. Enjoy beautiful San Miguel! Thanks for your inspirational posts. Abrazos.

    1. Gracias, querida Te! And I’m so glad you’re again receiving my WOWs. I know your writing fingers are always busy at night. You’ve written more books in recent years than anyone else I know! — Abrazos a ti, BB xx

  4. Thank you, Bonnie, I’m new to The WOW Factor! I read many of your blogs prior to signing up and so glad you popped into my world! I attended the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, online from NY, and had the good fortune of hearing from Julia Cameron. I practiced “pages”, for about 1 month, which was very valuable – however it did not lead to my book, yet! Fascinated by your blogs, I look forward to visiting San Miguel in the near future, pending receipt of my passport. I would be honored to meet you! I read about you in Elizabeth White’s book, “55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal…”which prompted my research into San Miguel. Thank you for you!

  5. Wise words. I am terrible at writing every day but I do read a lot! I am a “pantser,” which is short for “seat of the pants.” But I am always inspired by other writers — like Jennifer Clement at the SMA writers’ conference. She was an amazing speaker. Thank you Bonnie and abrazos.

    1. Thank YOU, Kim! I missed Jennifer Clement’s talk, but I did attend Susan Orlean’s closing keynote last evening. She talked about her newest book, The Library Book. She was brilliant and immensely inspiring. Now, you must get Julia Cameron’s book and begin your “Morning Pages” regimen! — xx

  6. The same is true for visual artists. I am a ceramist and in my field there is a saying; “Clay every damn day”. Every morning, even if I do not want too, I pick up the clay and sit quietly. As with morning pages, whatever comes is whatever comes. The outcome is not of importance. The value is that you are in it, one with it, and always building both skill and reverence to your craft.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.