A few posts ago I mentioned that I would be working on assignments in a writing book I had. The book I chose, The Right to Write by Julia Cameron, was used as a textbook in one of my college classes. It has sat on my shelf untouched for 3 years, but I decided to give it another chance. Albeit cheesy and dramatic - Cameron is a playwright - the book has some good advice and interesting writing exercises to get my thoughts flowing on the page.
The exercise I chose asked that I write down a list of things that I'm thankful for, that make me happy, that are inspiring. So I wrote down 25. I shared them with my writing partner at last week's meeting, and we both liked the idea so much that we decided to make it our assignment for our next meeting. I came back with 25 more, she with 50.
We chose random numbers without looking, and then took turns reading our answers. Each of them different, but surprisingly complimentary.
At first, I thought it was just an easy way out - a good way to jot thoughts down that are floating in our heads while emphasizing the positive, but easy - is this "real" writing?
The list is easy, but it is also hard. And it encourages more than just jotting down random thoughts. It spurs discussions about things that we might otherwise have deemed trivial, but do in fact matter to us. And of course, each item begs an explanation, an articulation of WHY it matters. Suddenly, we're pinpointing specific things that make up our moments of joy, the very things that inspire us and motivate us to write.
The whole drive home I was finding things to add to the list. When I walked in my door, I immediately sat down and wrote as many as I could remember and wound up with a whole new list of 60 more! This time, I was able to articulate things more specifically, with more detail.
And then as I went to bed I was reminded of another list I had made several months ago. It was a late night, and I was frustrated. I felt lonely, even with my husband asleep at my side. I felt disrespected in an argument with a loved one earlier that day. I felt restless with my two part-time jobs that weren't giving me enough professional experience or enough money. I felt trapped without a consistent creative outlet. So I opened my journal, my pen point resting slightly on the page.
Without thinking, my journal entry became a list. An inventory. A long line of things that were following me, haunting me. As I wrote, the list became a string of words that expressed my thoughts, but didn't bother with the burden of forming full sentences.
Four pages later, I was exhausted and empty. I closed the journal and dropped it in my bedside drawer.
Weeks later I read through that journal entry and could see a pattern weaving itself through the string of words. To my surprise, the flow of consciousness through the list was clearer than some of the entries when I toiled over correct, complete thoughts.
So lists. Turns out, they're good for the writing process. Sometimes we can't allow ourselves to labor over forming "whole" arguments or ideas. We stumble over phrases and words and emotions, and we lose things along the way that might have been valuable. Our thoughts are often so fleeting that they come and go before we can wrap a sentence around them.
Sometimes we just have to go with the flow, letting all the words that come to our minds -
- pour out of us.