I’m often asked how to choose a story to write about by people who feel the urge to write but think they either have too much or too little to share. For anyone just starting out, my best suggestion is to follow your creative energy. A great way to begin is with a ten-minute timed writing topic called “What I want to write about ….” Let it all out, don’t edit! Create a bullet point list of all the stories, topics, and memories you want to record in writing.
Keep your pen moving; don’t stop and wait for the perfect words to arrive. If you run out of things to say, keep repeating the same word until something new arises. It always does. At the end of your ten minutes (or longer if you get inspired), you’ll have generated a rich list of topics for the stories that want to be told.
So now you’re ready for the next step. Choose one story or topic from your list. Perhaps you’ve decided to write about your African safari. However, when you sit down for another timed writing, what shows up instead is a memory of your mother’s garden. The one with her favorite flowers; red tulips in the spring, blue delphiniums in August to attract hummingbirds, orange chrysanthemums in the fall. My best advice: follow that impulse and indulge all of your senses in the garden. You never know how your African safari and your mother’s flowers might be related. If you block the creative impulse that’s emerging, you may never find out.
Remember, I’m giving these suggestions for anyone at the beginning stage of their writing journey. In my entry-level writing series, I always recommend to write what comes. You may be surprised at what shows up; savor the unexpected and carry on. When you have enough written material assembled, then you begin to see emerging themes and can start looking for deeper connections.
This is a process of walking into unknown terrain; ideally you will have a guide or mentor along with you in the form of a writing buddy, a supportive group, or perhaps a teacher.
I can give you an example from my own writing. I’ve committed to write a 2500-word creative non-fiction piece for a contest. When I met with my mentor yesterday (yes, I believe every teacher needs a mentor!) I outlined my next writing project. I wanted to explore the topic of writing process– writing together, reading aloud, and having words received. This morning I sat down and what emerged was a piece about memory: my curiosity about memory, and my mother’s final years with dementia. I didn’t sit down to write about the writing process with any conscious thought of my mother and her generous tending of her garden, always juxtaposed against her less-than-tender treatment of her children. What floated up first was this fully-formed haiku:
Gladiola bulbs Received mother’s tender touch Children – not so much
Surprised and inspired, I continued writing in narrative, letting my curiosity about memory connect the words flowing onto the page. Even as I write this insight post, my excitement about memory – the line between remembering and forgetting – is alive within me. Since I’m at the “fresh writing” stage of my new writing project, I feel free to let the creative impulse run free. I encourage you to do the same.
If you are curious about what it might feel like to write within a supportive group, writing the stories that want to emerge, consider joining our next Step Into Your Story group, beginning March 30th.