Every Wednesday morning, my friends Doris and Nicole and I meet by phone to do some writing. We call in to our conference call website at 7:30 a.m., one of us gives a prompt, we hang up, write for 20 minutes, then call back for a 40-minute conversation about what we’ve written. We read our pieces to one another then talk about issues that came up, or offer advice for how to expand or edit the writing.
A prompt can be a phrase or an idea that’s meant to inspire writers in a new way. We use them a lot in writing workshops. The best part about them is the time constraint. The writer is forced to think quickly, and more importantly, not to over-think the things that come immediately to mind. I’ve found over the years that some of my best writing comes out of these quick assignments.
Nicole, Doris and I have learned that being the person who gives the prompt is hard. Not only do you have to come up with something inspiring (pretty much anything, but there’s that nagging insecurity we all deal with), but you don’t have the advantage of not having thought about it before the meeting. Nicole came up with a great solution: She’s keeping a list of possible prompts that she’s numbered. Doris or I will pick a number and that’s the prompt for the day. Nicole is almost as unprepared as we are and writes just as easily.
A prompt might be:
Look out the window and describe what you see (Doris). What I saw was that our Husky, Tasha, had pooped out there and I needed to pick it up. I also wrote about the new, bigger Anderson windows we’d put in and how the extra light was making a difference in my life.
Nicole’s prompt based on a Annie Dillard quote about feeling both the sublime and the absurd simultaneously – a quote I can’t remember, but which caused me to write about wanting to find the balance more often.
The hour I first believed, (mine) which could be about pretty much anything. For me it was remembering the moment when I knew for sure that I had the ability and the power to change my point of view (from distraught to accepting, for example) by simply choosing to. I’d proven it to myself over and over again (but not as often as I would like!)
Last night I finished a book that my kindle somehow knew I needed to buy called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He’s not a touchy-feely, soft-spoken kind of guy. He gets right to the point about what it takes to write well (or sing well, or build a business well, or design a dress that you’re proud of): Work. Practice. A ruthless commitment to the hours that must be spent to increase the odds of accomplishing what it is you want to accomplish. Saying no to everything that keeps you from doing the work you need to do. It’s an in-your-face book and very good for me to read right now because while I write with Nicole and Doris every week, and in between whenever there’s a spare moment, what I’m mostly doing with my time is playing the piano. Every day. Three or four hours a day, and I wish I had more time to play. I’m learning scales and arpeggios and playing simple notated pieces that a much younger player would normally play, and sure enough I’m getting better. I use a metronome while I practice so my sense of rhythm is improving, and I finally know almost for sure what flats and sharps are in the major keys. Six weeks ago, I could have figured it out but I hadn’t done the work. As long as I get my hours in every morning my conscience is clear. I’m free to do all the other things I love to do, and the things I have to do. I’ve thought about and talked about wanting to learn this stuff for years, and it’s finally happening!
Life is good.
Love to you all,