“Just keep your pen moving.” I set the timer for 10 minutes, smile at the circle of writers around me, and nod firmly. A few pairs of eyes blink back at me, panicked. “If you get stuck, just rewrite your last sentence,” I say. “Write about your shoe, your wristwatch, what you see out the window. Just keep writing.”
I’ve chosen two phrases—writing prompts—to get us started. I open my notebook, pen in hand, and try to follow my own advice.
It’s tough—at first.
I facilitate creative writing workshops as a volunteer for Write Around Portland, and even though I repeat this phrase countless times—though I’ve been a writer since I was small, and am now just a few months shy of a Master’s degree in creative writing—still this basic truth of the craft always seems daunting.
Free-writing can feel like getting out of a warm bed and into a pair of running shoes. It’s that first step into a cold pool. It’s plunging into the ocean. At first it’s uncomfortable,I open my notebook, pen in hand, and try to follow my own advice. and maybe a little scary, to face a blank page and weigh your own beating heart. You have too much to say. You’re sure you have nothing to say. And then you start writing.
As you clear a path through the thicket in your mind, with its litter of post-it note reminders and song lyrics, you come into a clearing. In this space made of limitation and freedom, control and surrender, surprising things happen. People or events from your past show up. Words arrive toting other words with them, just because they sound good together. Maybe you invent a character, and begin to sketch an apartment around her, peer into her kitchen cupboards.
No matter what I write—whether it’s a sonnet, a short story, an essay, or an academic paper—at some point, I have to enter into this posture of play or curiosity. Even if I think I know where I’m going, there has to be a part of me that’s okay with not knowing.
Creativity is a kind of muscle, and free-writing keeps this muscle loose. It’s an excellent tool for people of all kinds—even ones who don’t think of themselves as creative or writers. It can help you get out of a funk, or into a time of creative work. It’s a great de-stresser, warm-up exercise, spiritual practice, and before-bed ritual.
Take a few sheets of paper, a pen, maybe a starter sentence. Set a time limit—try 10 at first, 5 if that seems too long. And then write…
It’s simple. Take a few sheets of paper, a pen, maybe a starter sentence. (Flip through a favorite book, take a line from a poem, or visit the sites below for prompt ideas.) Set a time limit—try 10 at first, 5 if that seems too long. And then write, ignoring the part of you that wants to revise, judge, or hold back. That can come later, if you like, or not at all.
There’s only one rule: Just keep your pen moving.
List of simple prompts from Write Around Portland (I love these)
Tons from Poets and Writers magazine, including a daily prompt via email
Huge list of journaling ideas from poet and writer Bernadette Mayer
A short list of more structured prompts from McSweeney’s
Impressive site from a ninth-grade teacher and writer
This month, we’re serving up bite-sized advice from experts in different fields to help us all make life a little brighter, more creative and more efficient for 2013. Think of this month as a chance to connect with yourself on a deeper level, get closer to what makes you happy, and take control of the balance in ‘work-life balance’ for yourself this year.