Allegra Newman is a guest blogger and author of 365 Things to Write About. She shares ways to enhance your creative writing skills and journaling. Check out her blog by clicking the above photo.
Ten months ago, I would never have written about a hermit crab. Or a lemonade stand. And certainly not my perspective about the color orange. No, ten months ago, I would have hemmed and hawed about writing anything, despite the fact that my biggest dream has always been to be a professional writer. However I thought about writing much like someone thinks about eating healthier: a lot of thinking, but not much doing. I really want to, but today’s just not a good day was a common excuse, followed with a weak explanation. I don’t have enough time. I’m too tired. The kitchen cabinets are practically begging to be cleaned out and reorganized again. There’s a ten-hour marathon of Project Runway on TV. Or my personal favorite: I don’t feel inspired.I’ve always loved thinking up stories in my head but hate them as soon as I try to describe their characters and actions on paper. My laptop has been witness to many of my awkward coffee shop dates with fresh, blank Word documents, where we stare dumbly back and forth, silently waiting for the other to initiate the conversation. Needless to say, most of those dates did not lead to serious relationships. In January, I decided to take a different approach to writing. First, I gave my laptop a vacation, and I picked up a pen and notebook to engage in that old-fashioned ritual of longhand writing. I’ve sometimes found that I have better luck scribbling out a rough draft than attempting to type it onto a glaring screen.
Second, I committed to journaling EVERY day instead of once a week or month, as I’d become prone to doing. Instead of waiting until 10pm to jot a few tired sentences into my journal, I started waking forty-five minutes earlier and forced my hand to fill three pages with whatever jibber jabber poured from my sluggish brain. I didn’t give myself time to think about what I was writing and how someone might react if they read my entry. I just wrote. My thoughts were all over the place, my word choices pitiful at best, but by 6:45am, I would set down the pen and close my journal feeling elated because I’d actually fulfilled my first daily writing goal. I quickly noticed that using a free association approach to journaling was actually allowing me to unleash fears, doubts, and insecurities on the page without any reservations. It also helped me to acknowledge my strengths and recognize goals. Vent or whine about relationships and work. Express my point of view. Take notice of the small things in my life. Without an expectation to write the most interesting and thought-provoking journal entry ever, I felt empowered to fill pages and pages with whatever thought, idea, or colorful description sprung to mind. As I became more comfortable with writing in my journal, I decided to apply the free association technique to describing random objects around my apartment. Rather than deliberate for an hour over the perfect analogy to characterize the houseplant by the window, I gave myself 10 to 15 minutes to write whatever initial thoughts I had about its big, flat leaves and long, gnarled vines in my notebook. Writing this way had a liberating effect on my creative esteem. When I gave up control over creating the perfect story and let the prompt tell me what to write, I found my imagination bending and expanding in directions I’d never considered before. New writing styles and character dialects flowed from my pen onto the page. And I enjoyed the act of writing again! From those exercises, the idea of a creative writing journal called 365 Things to Write About was born. How might a Friday night, Buckingham Palace, or slime inspire my imagination…or someone else’s? I thought it would be helpful to have a book with one- or two-word prompts like those listed at the top of lined pages where writers can explore their personal and creative thoughts about them as a daily exercise or whenever they want a change in their writing routine. I encourage people who use 365 Things to Write About to withhold judgments on their writing, style, or story idea and simply express on paper what they associate with the given prompt. There are no rules for how the prompt is used – it can be the main character, a vehicle for change, a metaphor, or simply the prop which opens a scene. Be goofy, pensive, or observant. But most of all – have fun! 365 Things to Write About can be purchased online at Amazon.com or at BarnesandNoble.com.