“I think it is time for a good novel,” my aunt said.
“Oh, I am reading a good one! Portnoy’s Complaint…” I responded.
“No, I mean writing one.”
Whether or not you consider yourself to be a “good” writer, or whether or not you have aspirations to write anything, writing can be a wonderful tool for reflection, cultivating creativity, and documentation. The above conversation between my aunt and I occurred earlier today, in response to my usual blather about my worries and where they had lead me today, what insane fantasies had bloomed into highly detailed (and petrifying) “realities” in my head. And while I do enjoy writing, and hope to someday write many books, anyone can enjoy and benefit from writing their own story–be it their personal history, or an imagined world or idea.
Personally, writing has changed my life multiple times, and primarily because it allows for reflection. We all go through time where our minds seem to be running over with thoughts, worries, ideas, fears, concerns, etc. In our heads, it can feel impossible to keep track of all those thoughts, what they mean and where they are going. As soon as we write them down, however, they become material, physically visible and moveable. The effect is not always immediate. Often times I have to close my journal and leave it closed for a few days before I can make any sense of something I’ve been going through or trying to figure out. You may even feel fine, but upon writing, discover that something’s been hovering just at the edge of your conscience, waiting for the right moment to step in and make its appearance. You might wonder that the hell the benefit could be of allowing one more thought into your mind during a time when you’re already stressed, but sometimes that one thought or idea is what you need to make sense of your stress, or whatever it might be that you’re dealing with. Writing allows you to empty your thoughts into paper, therefore creating more room in your head for other things…maintaining mental freshness is important when you want to maintain forward motion… especially during a time of difficulty. Below are some easy (and fun!) exercises you can try, for a variety of purposes…
1. Stream-of-consious writing: This kind of writing both allows for the release of mental clutter and can also get the creative juices flowing. This happens because in stream-of-consious writing you’re not allowed to stop, or think. Once your pen hits the paper, you keep writing, no matter what, until you’ve a) filled a page (or two or three), or b) the timer has gone off (5-10 minutes is enough when you’re just starting out). The only rule is that you keep writing, you write whatever comes to mind, no matter how trivial or strange or boring it might seem. This kind of writing is best left unread for a couple of days, and it is not to be examined for quality. Enjoy the flow, and should any great ideas come to mind amidst all the blathering on, circle or underline them and perhaps use them in other writing projects.
2. Word connections: This is less writing and more list-making. Pick 3 words, any three words…for example, silver, cheese, doorway. Make three columns, one for each words. Beneath each word, make a list of all the other words that come to mind when you think of that word…the connections might start out as obvious ones, and then turn into more distant and abstract ones. Give yourself one or two minutes per word. This exercise is great for creative writers, especially poets, or anyone looking to simply get their creative juices flowing. Example: SILVER: metal, knife, moon, computer, wire, hanger, mirror, sea, railing, jewelry, electricity, earrings, wealth, factory, knights, swords, airplanes.
3. Write about what’s bugging you: This one is pretty simple, though as adults, we often dismiss it. Journaling about our “problems” seems inherently juvenile, but it can actually help us get to the heart of our “issues” more quickly and efficiently. Sometimes when something’s bothering us, the plethora of emotional responses can quickly snowball into a tangled web of indiscernible feelings and thoughts that allow a sometimes very simple solution to evade us for longer than necessary. This kind of writing should be non-judgemental (meaning you shouldn’t examine it for quality or “great writing”), and it helps if you write whatever you want about whatever it is that’s upsetting you, and then put it away for a little while. After a day or two, take it out and re-read it. How have your feelings changed? Does your writing make any obvious points? Is there a pattern? This can be especially helpful if done everyday, or as often as possible, during times of stress. I have some friends who like to keep these writings even after their troubles pass, and I have friends who like to burn them/rip them to shreds/throw them away after-the-fact. The choice is yours!
4. Response/theme based writing: This exercise is great for getting creative juices flowing, and for expanding the themes you’re comfortable writing about. Pick any idea, it can be an object (chairs!), a news headline, a kind of weather, a famous (or not so famous) person, your cat, a bad habit, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g at all, and write about it. Write about how it makes you feel, write about what it makes you think, write what you know about it, write any questions you have about it. Explore the thing/idea/person/whatever in as many ways as possible. This might not produce high-quality, pullitzer-prize winning writing, but it gets you thinking, and thinking means more (and with time, better) ideas.
Tip: don’t be tempted to buy a beautiful writing notebook. Sometimes, the more beautiful the notebook, the more pressured we feel to fill it with beautiful writing. Buy something that inspires writing (smooth paper, ideal line-spacing, size, etc), but doesn’t demand high quality. ENJOY!
PS: a friendly disclaimer—I am not an expert! I am only writing from experience, and am only writing about things that have helped and/or changed me. That is the best I can do :] And the above photo is of a typewriter in its case, lent to me by my friend Gerardo (his name is on it), with whom I lived in La Garzota while in Ecuador.