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How can a place so uproarious exert this kind of peace?
A billion gallons an instant rumbling ashore
wearing away my world
in a cacophony of crashes that holds me in
a hug of white noise that blurs, polishes and carves out
the hollows of my terrestrial life
to leave me feeling reborn as I recede.
In my work with children and teens, I’ve found extrinsic rewards helpful in promoting a sense of play and excitement. After a session of difficult reading comprehension work, or a barrage of sensory cognitive stimulation for more accurate reading, who wouldn’t want a bit of a reward, a dip into the Prize Chest?
For me, writing in the morning, in the predawn stillness as the sky turns azure and blazing orange over the Victorian next door, the smell of robust coffee wafting about the kitchen, is its own reward. But when I come home from seven hours of remedial language processing work, nearly as drained as my students, I definitely appreciate incentives for my writing, when rewards of renown and remuneration seem so distant. So I’ve decided to give myself small incentives for working on my novel, for advertising workshops,for writing these blog posts.
It might be a stop at a coffee shop on the way home from work, a song download, or even a five minute dance break when I get to jump out of my seat and bounce around like a monkey, rock out to my favorite dance track, and just let my body go wild and free. Sometimes, as writers, we need to let ourselves go wild and indulge. Schedule those indulgences. Write them down and track your progress toward your goals, giving yourself fun along the way.
Writing lets me escape the incessant chatter and thinking that goes on inside my head. Once I start writing I usually enter a certain flow, a movement that feels close to the wind, ocean waves, and the roots in the earth. I step out of my own mind and get swept up in a tide.
I love many of the exercises in Karen Benke’s marvelous book Leap Write In, a book for “tweens, teens, and other Earthlings,” and I have found in working with my students that her exercise on Personae is especially powerful. You recall a journey to a natural place – a park, the ocean, a favorite tree – and imagine the route one takes getting there. At the same time, imagine one person you meet along the way. Here’s the simple catch: give yourself a new name.
This last instruction pulls the writer out of her personal mindset and frees her to become a new character. Combining familiar settings with a new mindset frees the critical mind. Through this process, I’ve seen shy students transformed into rock stars, concrete thinkers morphed into artists, and the most hyperactive minds channeled into concentrated imagination.
Try this: Write an account of a place you’ve been in nature, all you felt and smelled and heard. But give yourself a new name, a new gender perhaps, maybe even a new species. I bet you’ll see that place anew, and escape for a little while from that critical mind that is always aware of who you are, your limitations and fears and distractions of daily life. Let yourself leave that version of you behind as you transform into someone else for a journey into nature.
Imagine a scene. Fully inhabit it with all your senses, especially hearing and touch and taste. Close your eyes to put yourself there fully. Breathe deeply and count ten breaths. Slowly.
How does your character react? Goose pimples rise on his flesh in the cold night. The howl of the wind reminds him of an old friend’s voice. Is this scene soothing? Frightening? Sensual?
When you’re fully present in your scene, your character will feel it. And so will your readers.
This is the first post in my yearlong series of writing explorations geared toward helping myself and other writers engage with the writing craft, adhere to a schedule, and enliven the writing mind. I realized I have many tips and tricks I’ve tried and enjoyed over the years, prompts that have pulled me from the mire when I felt stuck or discouraged in the writing process.
When I use one of these tactics, it provides a jumpstart and nudges me in the direction of writing again, so that I desire again that rush of stepping into the frightening, shadowy, yet exciting recess of the blank page. The problem for me is often simply the rut, the attitude that my life is too chaotic or busy for me to make time to be creative. I forget that I have all these tactics and icebreakers available. Then, when I don’t make time, I just feel worse.
So, as a challenge that I hope will help other writers as well as myself, I hereby present 365 days of writing prompts and inspiration. If you or I ever find ourselves in that dark, desperate place of uncertainty and self-doubt again – and we will! – we’ll have a place to turn, guideposts leading back to the page, back to the moment, back to the words that spill out like blood.
Day #1: Write it all down! Fast!
No editing, no time to listen to the inner critic. Set a timer for ten minutes and go as deeply as you can into the story or character or scene your trying to develop. Use all your senses and emotions, and be willing to risk everything in your writing. Don’t stop or lift your hand from the paper. It’s only a first draft, so don’t judge, just write. Be daring and risky; no one’s watching or reading over your shoulder. At about minute five, I usually realized I’ve cut through all the shallow descriptions and tedious details and gotten to something deeper.