Like I said in my previous post, I leave the stage to Ellen Kombiyil. As part of Project Inspire, I ask poets to share a prompt or some kind of inspiration. Ellen agreed to do a workshop right here! So here goes…the space is yours!
First of all, I would encourage anyone interested in writing to read Natalie Goldberg’s book. “Writing Down the Bones” is her first one, and a classic. “Wild Mind” is also very good and outlines the same simple method and also gives many prompts.
The main thing is, to find a time to write and then to simply do it. No excuses. Turn off your phone, don’t answer the door. Keep that time for yourself and your writing practice.
Any prompt, really, will work. It could be as simple as a word, or a first line borrowed from a poetry book. The prompt is somewhat of a red herring: it’s not the answer itself, but a way to get us to sit down and write. Once we get going, and if we really trust the mind and let ourselves go, then we often find ourselves in new terrain, far away from the original prompt. The main idea is to keep the hand moving – don’t stop to think or try to make sense. Just keep the hand moving, repeating the prompt over and over, or write, “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say” until you loosen up and grab onto an idea or image or memory or sound or sensation. Once you get going, try to stay as concrete as possible, describing what you see, hear, taste or remember, infusing the experience with details.
Don’t think, don’t get logical. Free writing works on the level of associations, images, much like dreams do. Allow the thoughts to take you without trying to control them and you’ll be surprised where you go. Remembering the keep the hand moving, resisting the urge to stop and think or try to make sense, helps us with this.
You are free to write the worst junk in the world. This one is super important. We are practicing here. Sometimes the work will be flat. Sometimes your work will be hot, sparkling with original detail. Sometimes both will happen in the span of the same piece. The important thing is to give yourself permission for the flat times, and continue the practice.
Go for the jugular. If something scary comes up while you’re writing, don’t shy away from it. Resistance is just resistance, holding us back from what we truly have to say. Once you notice resistance, dive straight toward it and work through it.
Be specific. As you’re writing, add concrete details. Remember to add the senses – all of them. If you’re ever stuck in the middle of a timed writing practice, try describing the scene from a different vantage point – moving the perspective from near to far, for instance, or from high to low.
All of these are Natalie Goldberg’s rules for writing practice. They have been the cornerstone of my practice for twenty years. If you follow the rules, you grant yourself tremendous freedom – freedom from that critic that lives inside all of us while we write and might stop us cold in the middle of a piece. You also learn a deep trust of your own mind and your own voice.
Now that you have all the tools, are you ready to practice? Have a notebook and fast writing pen ready. Here is a prompt we practiced in workshop last week. The prompt comes from Warren Wilson College’s website. Click here.
There are many other prompts listed here as well.
Set a timer for 10 minutes.
Describe the room of one of the following:
A high school student about to drop out
A cashier who just won the lottery
A faded movie star who still thinks she’s famous
A paranoid person
Be as concrete and detailed as possible. Don’t think. Go for 10 minutes.
Just keep writing!
Hope you find Ellen’s workshop inspiring! Please comment if you found the exercise useful. Thank you Ellen! Lovely having you here….