The Writing Project

Writing is hard. It’s not for lack of “juice,” to use one of those corny words for something intangible. I find my brain is constantly sifting through things slowly, reflecting on the big and small picture in life. Often things form a solid shape, but I’m not in a time or place to take advantage of the moment. By the time I actually sit down with a cup of coffee on a clear morning and get to thinking again, too many other things have blown through my mind for me to recall exactly what I thought. I come back around days or weeks later, only to find that what I’ve experienced in between has pushed something else to the forefront. Every once in a great while, things crystallize at the right time and I come up with something, but those times are all too few.

One thing I know about myself is that I often need something to work with— I can work hard and fast, and I can think creatively, but I need a starting point. I tell my wife and my manager at work often—“gimme a list.” Starting from scratch can be difficult for my brain to get around, but give me just one prompt, and I’ll knock it right out of the park. I didn’t connect this to my writing until just last night. My wife and I are on a road trip through the American Midwest, and are visiting her college town in Columbia, Missouri. While browsing through a “radical” bookstore (one of my favorite ways to find a “diamond in the rough”—and there is a LOT of that rough), my wife stumbled on a book from the San Francisco Writers Grotto simply titled “642 Things to Write About.” It’s a compendium of prompts to help people bust through writer’s block… bingo.

What I hope with this little project is to get the machinery that transfers thoughts from mind to paper well-oiled. As a classroom teacher, there are many procedures that were alien and uncomfortable to me in the beginning, and at first were awkwardly executed, that are now nearly automatic. The classroom presents a set of constantly shifting circumstances, but it’s now routine for me to customize my execution on the spot, because I don’t have to think about “how” to do it. Just like a practiced soccer player doesn’t have to think about how to move the ball around, and can focus on surveying the field and the constant process of doing the right thing at the right time, with practice from these prompts, I hope to make writing itself automatic, so I can focus on writing the good stuff at the right time.

I do love a challenge, though, so instead of jumping around in the book and finding stuff I like, I’m going to tackle each “prompt” in order, one at a time. I’m a believer in prompts, after all, no matter how uncomfortable they might be at first. Give me the battlefield, and I will make the tactical adjustments to the reality of the setting. It’s devilish fun for me. Prompt #1: “What can happen in a second”—loaded with potential for corny bullshit and grandiose speechifying. Time to set an ambush…

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