[This post was originally an assignment written for a writing workshop, meant to be practiced for a period of two weeks.]
|Granite rock, Yosemite National Park, USA, 2009|
For the past two-and-a-half years I have followed a writing practice from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: it involves writing three pages every morning as soon as I wake up. The writing is stream-of-consciousness, so absolutely everything and anything that comes to mind: the remnants of dreams, things I did yesterday, things I need to today, griping about what aggravates me about friends, lovers or coworkers, or the things that excite me, wishes I have, hopes I harbour. If there is nothing to say, I write “I have nothing to say” for three pages, although, quite honestly, this never happens. It’s a very simple practice, but also a very powerful one. For writers, practicing stream-of-consciousness writing enables us to get past the inner critic that says, “What you’re writing is just no good.” It helps us to go with the flow of words, and this yields, more often than not, all sorts of gems. It also gets us in touch with ourselves, which is important since creativity is essentially an expression of who we are. This writing practice has a grounding effect on our creative endeavours, just as it will have a grounding effect on our everyday lives. It takes me about half an hour to write three pages each morning. I strongly recommend that you engage in this practice. If you cannot write first thing in the morning, some other time of the day will do, although morning is best. There is no need to achieve anything with this writing, you simply write three pages of anything, and then you’re finished for the day. This is a recommendation, not a requirement. It is up to you.
Delight in Your Senses!
This week’s discussion is geared towards grounding ourselves in our bodies, in particular our sense organs. Each day for the next two weeks take five to ten minutes and divide these up into five equal segments. For one minute concentrate on everything you see around you: remark colours, shapes, visual textures. For the next minute, close your eyes and focus on the sounds you hear around you: the creaking of the building, footsteps on the ground, traffic noise, the ticking of a clock. Next become aware of touch: the fabric against your skin, your hands as they touch a glass or the keyboard or as they pet your cat. Next, concentrate on the taste in your mouth: does the chocolate you ate still linger, are there remnants of coffee in your mouth, and concentrate especially on the way your food tastes when you eat it with full awareness. Finally, notice the smells the surround you. Begin by taking five minutes a day, or even several times a day, just to become aware of these sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, smells. It is not necessary to write these down immediately, unless you feel inclined to do so.
Stories are told not in words but in sensations and it is the world around us that provides these sensations. So in order to tell stories we need first to become aware of the world around us, and the sensations that it creates in us. And just as a good story makes us feel something, physical sensations are also intimately connected to feelings. Sights, sounds, touch, tastes, smells – these are connected to emotions, feelings, and meanings that we experience in our lives.
After practicing these short periods of awareness for several days, begin to record them in writing. Since good stories are composed of sensory details, it’s important to practice translating what we sense into actual words. This need not be more than one or two sentences for each sense category per five minute session.
Towards the end of this two-week period, try to complete one of the following:
- Write out one small paragraph for each category (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell). Try to describe each as specifically as you can in a short space. You can choose either the favourites of those you encountered or recorded during the two weeks, or pick imagined sensations. Feel free to write from any point of view you wish (1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person perspective).
- Pick only one of the five categories and write a more in-depth description with as much significant detail as possible.
- For more of a challenge, complete 1) or 2) but try to link the sensation to a particular emotion, feeling or meaning that the narrator is experiencing. Try to do this without overtly telling us about a feeling, but rather by evoking the feeling through the words used in the description.
- Write anything you like. If working with this concept of the five senses leads you to write something that doesn’t fit into the above categories, go for it. The point of these exercises is to provide a structure within with your creativity can express itself, but that doesn’t mean that we want to limit it! Follow the flow where it wants to take you.
Aim for 500 to 1000 words, but consider this more of a guideline rather than a strict limit. If you are working together with other people, pick a day on which to share and comment on each others' writing!