Welcome back! I've heard from so many of you over the past two weeks here on the blog, on facebook, and in emails. Thank you for you comments, questions, and enthusiasm. Remember, too, that if you post any exercises you've written on your own blog, you can give me the url for the post and I'll be happy to share it here. Please feel free to pop in and let us know how the exercise went for you, too. You can even share a favorite sentence or two in the comments.
Some folks told me that they fell right into last week's map exercise and the time flew by. Others said it was a struggle to stay focused. If you're having a hard time staying on track, or if you get stuck during an exercise, don't lose faith! Keep writing. Remember how I mentioned that kitchen timer of mine? It's true that I'll often set it for twenty minutes or thirty minutes just before I begin to write. That doesn't mean I can't write for longer. I can write for an hour or two, if the spirit moves me. What the kitchen timer does is keep me glued in the chair for at least thirty minutes no matter what. If I get stuck or frustrated, I simply keep my hand moving across the page. I'll even write, "I'm stuck, I'm stuck, I'm stuck" or "I don't know what to write next. I really don't know what to write next." And I'll scribble things like that for as long as I need to. What happens is that my brain gets sick of writing silly stuff and kicks itself back into gear. It's a trick I play on myself, and it really, really works. Distraction is the plague of our age, and it can be tough to really focus on only one thing. I turn off my cell phone ringer and any other electronic device that might buzz or bell or ring. I also stay away from my computer during a freewrite session. The temptation to check email or facebook or a hundred other naughty things is just too great. For those thirty minutes it's just me and my pen and my notebook.
If you've tried all this and it's still not working for you, invite a friend over. Not just any friend. Make it a friend (or two or three) who also likes to write or thinks she might like to write. One of you set the timer and then go! Afterwards, if you feel like it, you can share what you've written. I've belonged to many a writing group over the years, and there's something about sitting in a little circle with like-minded souls that can really make some magic. If you try this idea, please let me know how it goes. In a week or two, we're going to do a collaborative exercise that will help you feel a little bit like you're in a virtual writing group.
Early 18th c. color wheel. Image found here.
Like last week's exercise, this one begins with a warm-up. Think of a color. It may be one you really love, one you dislike, one that puts you in a certain mood, or one that you associate with a particular person, time, or place. Whatever color you choose, make it one that matters to you.
Spend a good half an hour to an hour (or longer, if you can) noticing things that are that color. They may be things in your house, things at work, at the grocery store--wherever. You might even want to take a walk to look for your color. If you feel like it, jot down things you see in your notebook; include the small details.
In addition to things that you see, you may even want to think about sounds you hear or things you smell or taste that remind you of the color. Does that sound a little crazy? Let yourself play. What is the color of a horn blaring? What is the color of a long gulp of cold water? Things we can't see at all can feel like colors. That's why they call it the blues and why when we get angry we see red. Synesthesia is the name for this crossover of senses, and it is a beautiful writing tool.
So, after you've sought out your color, now comes the freewrite. Your instructions are simple, but you may find them challenging to follow. Open your notebook and write for twenty minutes (or more) about your color without ever saying its name. If your color is blue, you are going to show blue without ever writing the word "blue." You may want to simply describe the things you've been seeing.
If you have time during the week, try this same exercise with another color. Does it trigger a memory for you? A scene? Let that memory come into your writing. Show the color as vividly as you can using as many of your senses as you can.
Several people told me that when they tried the map exercise last week they were surprised to find that even though all they were doing was describing a journey, their piece of writing took on a tone and an emotion. This same thing can happen with the color exercise. Have fun, and please let me know how it goes.
P.S. For you photographers out there, you could pair this exercise with a photography exercise. Imagine a series of brown photos, a series of whites, a series of pinks, etc. . . .