stock writing

You have no time to write, right?

Sure you do.

We all have the time. It’s about taking the time. And summer is a great time to squeeze in time for that novel you want to start. Or finish.

You don’t need 24 hours. You don’t even need an hour. Start with 10 minutes. Then expand to 20. Then to 60.

Author Natalie Goldberg introduced me to a technique called “first thoughts” in her book, “Writing Down the Bones.” She encourages 10-minute writing exercises.

The idea is to write fast – faster than your inner critic/censor/editor can discourage you. My inner critic is swift, so my pen and fingers have to be even faster to sprint ahead of all that criticism and fear. I’ve heard writing is a marathon, not a sprint, but a marathon looks too daunting to me. I break my writing down into daily sprints. I get to cross a finish line every day. Add them up, and it’s a marathon.

Why do you need to practice writing? It’s like piano, guitar or violin. The more you play, the more your body remembers the melody. It becomes organic. You train yourself to blast through the fear and all those false beliefs that keep you from writing.

As basic as it sounds, it is a deep, powerful, truth: If you want to be a writer, you must write.

Timed writing exercises break through the constipation of all those thoughts and ideas stuck inside you.

Writing exercises poke a finger in the damn and the flow begins a trickle that turns into a flood.

I once taught feature writing at the University of Akron. We did free writing for 10 minutes every time we met. Then, those who wanted to, read their work. The power in those words could light up a city.

It’s simple: Write a topic on top of your page or screen. Then, set a timer or have someone else keep time. No matter what, commit to 10 minutes. It helps you focus and get in and get out.

Mix it up. Write in a different place, in the laundry room, a coffee shop or near a pond.

The process of free writing reminds me writing and editing are separate actions. Editors and creators are two different beings. You need them both, but not at the same time.

Here is a list of topics to try. Some are mine; others were suggested by my students:

  • The last movie I saw that made me cry
  • My favorite children’s book
  • The dumbest thing I ever did for love
  • The most interesting person in my life
  • The one toy I always wanted and never got
  • The first place I ever went on vacation
  • The first book that rocked my world
  • The worst job I ever had
  • The most nurturing person in my life
  • The happiest day I can remember
  • I can still smell ...
  • The most frightened I have ever been
  • The place I love most
  • The song I can’t bear to hear
  • An ideal day for me would mean...
  • My grandma’s hands
  • My greatest joy at recess
  • The most daring thing I’ve ever tried
  • If I could talk to one person who has died, it would be
  • If I knew I was going to die, my last meal would be...
  • If I could live one day over again, it would be...
  • My biggest fear is...
  • My greatest joy is...
  • If I put my philosophy on a bumper sticker, it would read…
  • My most prized possession is...
  • My best friend
  • My biggest hero
  • The words I want on my tombstone
  • My handwriting says this about me...
  • The smell from childhood that brings me the greatest comfort
  • If I created a menu of the best comfort food it would include...
  • If I could undo one thing in my life...
  • My favorite song when I’m sad
  • The teacher who inspired me most
  • The most nurturing person in my life
  • The most frightened I have ever been
  • The book that I must write before I die
  • I’d stick this fortune in a cookie...
  • I thought my life was over when...
  • The best day at my worst job
  • If I could live as the opposite sex for one day, I would...
  • The hardest thing I’ve ever done...
  • What I remember most about first grade
  • The one thing I will never do again
  • And finally: If I had more than 10 minutes to write...

Connect with Regina Brett on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans. 2018 Best Columnist, AJPA Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary.


Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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