I was just going about my day when I exclaimed: “F@#k! #TuesdayThoughts!” and rushed to my computer. Writing Tuesday posts is not a routine for me so it so happens that I sometimes forget about it. But here I am, ready to share my insights with you.
As I finished typing the title, I made a face. “Homework for Life” (HfL) does it not sound depressing? It sure does for me and I think this is the worst name in the history of writing exercises. We have all been through our school years (some of you might still be there) and were happy to leave the homework life behind once we graduated. “Are you telling me I need to do homework? Every day?” I asked when I first saw the title. It put me off, but I decided to give it a shot for my Lenten challenge (as mentioned in my yesterday’s #MondayMotivation post).
The premise is simple – at the end of the day, sit down and pick a moment out of your day which could serve as a basis for a story. It can be something that happened, or simply inspired by someone or even something that was said. In the past, I tried this exercise with no results. My life was simply too boring. I would get up, go to work, come back from work, eat dinner, and go to sleep. There was nothing to write about. This time, I imposed a 40-day challenge on myself and I was not going to quit. Moreover, what was different this time was my better understanding of the exercise. Before, I thought I was supposed to write about something that happened to me. Now, I know that it can be set off by anything really.
The fun part of this challenge is that you do not actually have to write a full story on the spot. Just write down some key words or use bullet points. Whatever it is, make sure that you will be able to understand the idea even if you come back to it days, weeks, or even months later.
One day, during my walk, I saw intertwined trees, which made me think of a love poem. I still have not fully written it, but the idea has been jotted down for when I decide to go back to it. Another time, I was picking up food (in a car), and the restaurant insisted on me staying in the car and them walking it out to me. It all sounded great until the rain started pouring and the poor employee without an umbrella had to come out multiple times (to check what I ordered, to deliver the food, to collect the payment, etc.). All that made me wonder about this person’s thoughts. Was that the last straw? Would they quit their work? Or did they want to but have someone relying on their income and therefore are unable to leave? It is also possible that they got angry and decided to stab me for making getting them drenched. Of course, those are only some possibilities but not all.
I will not bore you with any more examples. Hopefully, you are now able to see how a single person, thought, or action can spark a whole new world. That is the most important lesson I learned after doing this exercise for forty days. If you read my yesterday’s post, you know that it is not something I do on a daily basis anymore. Why not? It is mainly because I feel it is unfair to my ideas and to myself not to fully explore them. Out of the forty or so ideas, I only fully developed a couple. While it is good to have some inspiration to look back on at a later time, I fear that it would only make my problem of not finishing creative writing pieces worse. I still do HfL at times, but do not beat myself up for not doing it regularly. This exercise does become a bit more difficult if you work from home and do not leave the house the entire day. But even then, you interact with others remotely, read, watch movies, etc. All of that – even a single word or facial expression can prompt you to write.
The second exercise that I did for the duration of this year’s Lent is called “Morning Pages.” The name pretty much explains it all – you write pages in the morning. To give you a bit more context – you are to write three pages by hand first thing in the morning. Three. Not two and a half, not five. Three. It is best if you do it as soon as you wake up.
You know how certain people tell you to “just write” when you have writer’s block? This is similar, only you do it on a daily basis. There is no script. You write about whatever is on your mind. It can be about your relationship troubles, your social anxiety, or maybe the bread you baked the day before that was so delicious. Oh! Because it is likely that, like most people, your day is action packed, it is recommended that you get up earlier to write. Julia Cameron’s book suggested I get up 45 minutes ahead of my schedule. That sounded like A LOT. In the end, I found that, on average, it takes me about 15 minutes to write those three pages (A4 or 8.5″ x 11″). So, if you are willing, try waking up 45 minutes earlier, but then feel free to adjust once you figure out the amount of time YOU need for your writing.
Because the book that I got this exercise from is about different ways of listening, my first entries were about what I was able to hear first thing in the morning. The humming of the fridge, the chirping of the birds, my partner turning in bed. The benefits of this activity were quite profound for me. I can only hope that I build on them.
First of all, my arm definitely was out of practice when I first started Pages. Now, it is much better and I am able to write without my hand cramping.
Additionally, pretty early on, I discovered that paper does not have spell checker! What was I going to do? It terrified me at first, but then I realized what an amazing opportunity it was for me to not rely on the computer to autocorrect my writing. I recommend either an old-school dictionary or a phone (or other device with access to Internet). By not using a phone or computer, I limited my distractions.
As I write by hand, somehow it is easier for me to spot repeating words than to do that on the computer. This exercise definitely highlighted certain words for me that I use too often. What is the solution for that? A thesaurus! Again, I recommend a paper copy, but an electronic version will do, too. Just remember not to get distracted or your three pages might take more than 45 minutes.
Due to my new listening skills, I began to describe things more vividly. I was able to see with my eyes closed and then I would translate it onto paper. It is my belief that it is a fantastically helpful thing for a writer.
In the beginning of Lent, I could barely keep my eyes open as I wrote the first lines. However, I was definitely wide awake by the time I reached the end of page number three. This activity enabled me to become engaged and focus so I could forget about the sleepiness. Now, two months later, I no longer dread getting up earlier to write Pages. In fact, I get up earlier and once I am done with writing, I stretch and start my day.
This takes us to the mental benefits of these Pages. It is recommended that you write right after you get up because that way your brain does not have the censor option enabled just yet and you are able to write things you might not share later in the day. You are more honest then. Your mind is a somewhat of a blank canvas, untainted by the day. You know how you are eager to start a new day and then you get to work, someone annoys you and your mood is destroyed? You are not so eager anymore, are you? Same with writing these Pages. At one point I was unexpectedly woken up ahead of schedule and was forced to deal with things before I could write. That day my notebook was filled with things that happened before I was able to sit down and write. Pages are not mean to be a diary. It is not for you to report on what happened but more on how you feel and what is on your mind. Some people swear by the Pages, saying they are able to see certain problems even before they arise, therefore, they are able to deal with them painlessly.
Since I am not naturally a morning person, I usually need some “me” time when I get up. I can get quite snippy if you talk to me and I am not yet fully awakened. Getting up earlier and writing has allowed me to create that quiet space as my brain powers on. By the time I am done writing, I am able to face the day. Pages give me the ability to start my day on the right foot!
- Have you tried any of those exercises?
- Would you be willing to try either one of those?
- Do you have some writing exercises that you do regularly?
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