Going into the Cheryl Strayed workshop, the tally of words written on my new project was exactly: 0. And it had been that way for longer than I care to admit.
I’m not normally one to delay starting a book. In fact, if memory serves, the first section of all eight books is mine. When we were writing together, Beth and I had a deal that if I started the books, she’d end them. This is, by the way, why you should get yourself a writing partner. For the co-dependent coping.(image source)
Usually, staring at a blank page is not a problem for me, whereas it makes Beth feel like all good has left the world and she’s standing on the edge of nothing and if she so much as types a keystroke, Michiko Kakutani will read it and mock her like a mean middle-school girl. On the other side of the coin, I am the worst at wrapping up a novel. If it had been my job to end all of our books, they would have each concluded with a section something along the lines of: Why are you still reading this? It’s over! Can’t you see that?! What do you need from me? Should I kill all the characters off? Would that help? Yes? Fine, they’re dead. All of them. Now GO AWAY.
But for whatever reason starting this book was proving daunting. I’ve blogged about writer’s block before and I’m happy to say I have a new cure. Hang onto your dentures. It’s a revolutionary one. Ready for it?
That day Cheryl had us do a series of 10-minute writing bursts based around prompts. When she first announced that we’d be doing this, I felt a little grumbly. I wasn’t in my writing chair! And there were 200 people in the room! And my hair hurts!
I’ve had to do these writing exercises before and often the prompts themselves are painful, very “what kind of tree would you be and why.” Usually I spend the entire 10 minutes writing some version of: I’m not a tree. Why on earth would I be a tree? This writing prompt makes no sense…
The prompt Cheryl started with was: Write about when you knew something was over. My fingers hovered over my tablet. I had something for that. In fact, I really wanted to write this story. The clock started and soon my fingers were flying, a sensation that felt even better given how long it’d been.
We did a handful of other prompts and by the end of the day, I was a believer in the power of writing prompts. I won’t use any of the short sketches I pecked out that day, but they got me back on the horse, so to speak. And they reminded the physical me of how this whole writing thing felt and the mental me that this was a thing we knew how to do.
And since then, I’ve been making slow and steady progress on my new book. The secret to writing is, and always ways, writing itself.(image source)
But if you need a little help getting unstuck, Cheryl was generous enough to share her writing prompts with everyone. You can find them on Albert Flynn DeSilver’s blog (he was the organizer) or I’ve pasted them below. (Oh, man. That first one is so good. Maybe I’ll write that one just for fun.)
Cheryl Strayed’s Writing Prompts
Write about a time when you’d dressed inappropriately for the occasion.
Write a few pages in which you obsess over something meaningless.
Write about something/someone being born.
Write about something you can’t deny.
Write about what you have too much of.
Write about when you knew you were in trouble.
Write about something you don’t exactly remember.
What about what you used to know how to do.
Write a long apology.
Write about a secret being revealed.
Write about all the secrets that have been kept from you.
Write about a gift that was not well received.
Write a long thank you letter.
Write about something you are certain of.
Write about having no fun at all.
Write about when you knew something was over (or had begun).
Write about someone you forgot.
Write about a question you wished you’d asked.
Write about something that was too small/too big.
Write about what you’d planned to do.
Write about something that doesn’t get better.
PS Can we talk about Anne Lamott one more time? I was listening to “This American Life” a few weeks ago and encountered this piece with Anne. It’s definitely worth a listen. It’s about faith, her fear of flying, and music.