Writers’ Well – ‘It’s just…’

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TS eliot teach us to care

 

Have you ever been ‘justed‘ by anyone? Have you ever ‘justed‘ yourself?

 

This is perhaps a more personal post than usual, because this is a concept I find challenging to express, and one around which I feel fearful of being misunderstood. That said, when I read aloud what I wrote in response to this prompt, one of my fellow writers immediately shared that she had experienced something similar, so I’m hoping you’ll find resonance here.

The T S Eliot quote was one part of the genesis of this prompt, and the other was personal experience, both recent and historical.  What I was trying to explore is this feeling of caring deeply about something which, on the face of it, really isn’t that important, really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. And yet…it does matter. We care, and we don’t care. We know logically that there are more important things, and yet emotionally we feel powerfully engaged with this apparently trivial thing.

I think this is a bit of a tight rope. On the one hand, it’s important to keep perspective, and sometimes being reminded that ‘it’s just…’ can therefore be useful. At other times however, such a comment can devastate our dream space. Sometimes it’s vital, informative and enlivening to defy logic utterly, and put all our care and passion into something utterly ‘frivolous’.

What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.

Elizabeth Gilbert – BIG MAGIC

 

We won’t stay there. We’ll come back. It’s a testament to the fact that we have time, any time, to focus on something other than immediate survival that we are living and not just surviving, and I believe that is gifting life back for all the magic it bestows on us.

So, that’s a little background. In terms of the prompt, this is how it worked. I placed a bowl with blank bits of paper in the centre of the circle and asked everyone to take three and write something beginning, “It’s just…” and lay each paper out for all to read.

 

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Then I asked each person to choose one of those, or indeed something else that now occurred to them, having brainstormed some ideas together, and write a story which included, somewhere within, the phrase, “It’s just…”

 

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This is what I wrote, in ten minutes, unedited:

 

She can’t sleep. She needs to sleep. She can’t sleep. She can’t stop telling herself off for getting in such knots. “It’s just a poem,” she tells herself repeatedly, when at that gone midnight moment it clearly isn’t. So what’s going on? When is a poem not just a poem?

As dryly and cruelly, in another unhelpful tirade, “But there are children starving in Yemen, whales dying with hundreds of pieces of plastic debris inside them.” And the list of recent headlines goes on. “For God’s sake, get some perspective! It’s – a – po – em!”

She’s no closer to sleep. and her inside’s beginning to feel a bit bruised. She feels herself inwardly soothing those tender spots, and a softness comes:

“If you’re not allowed to care about the little things, how will you build the strength to care for the big stuff?”

She laughs a little, moves her pillow. She feels the edge of sleep move closer, and imagines falling off it.

***

She wakes before her alarm, and before she’s even consciously awake, begins rehearsing the poem in her mind, until she catches herself, and there’s an inner slap of; it doesn’t matter!

She turns the other inside cheek, and declares everything will matter today. The poem will be part of that, but every moment, every person, it will all – it does all – matter. And if it all matters, then the caring never stops, and is never more or less, it’s just care. And if everything matters, the poem does too.

 

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

 

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Writers’ Well – Beliefs

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Just another broad, easy (!) topic to word-explore on the blank page, with nothing but a pen and an open mind – Beliefs.

i believe

 

It’s a topic I’ve used as a prompt before, in different ways, but this week we started with these half sentences. to be completed three times each, for your eyes only, however you choose:-

I used to believe… (x 3)

I still believe... (x 3)

I want to believe… (x 3)

Now read through those spontaneously collected thoughts (which could be completely different on another day, or at another time…) and let them inspire a poem, to be written in ten minutes.

This is what I wrote, and please bear in mind that this is unedited and written in just ten minutes, so it’s raw and imperfect.

 

ask and

 

Ask and you shall receive –

is that something I believe?

it seems to play out

but I still doubt

 

because sometimes it’s scary

to ask for the stars

so we ask for something lesser

and when we receive it complain

that we didn’t get something better

 

What you believe, you can achieve –

is another cliche people keep up their sleeve

but without a picture

drawn or just in your mind

how can we possibly find

the way towards what we want to create?

 

The Universe is a playful thing

but we have to join in

 

Can I put those innocent truths

back together – what’s the glue?

They were so strong  but it was

so long ago, they got broken

I don’t know how

I can’t hope to find

all the pieces now

 

so perhaps I just need to recreate them

with some of the wisdom I’ve accrued

through the years and tears

and create a container for the pieces

and let them be a reminder

 

to be kinder to the beliefs of others

 

because there is so much more in this world

than I can ever be sure of

that’s a belief 

I’m glad to no longer keep

because believing I’m right

narrows my sight

and breaking that one opened my world

into something much wilder

and more beautiful than

‘I’m right’ could allow

 

so now

all I ask to believe 

is that the world knows

my needs and talents

and will feed the one

and nurture the other

if I can believe

there’s room enough for me to grow

without taking up space

to allow others the same chance

to stretch and thrive

 

I wish

the whole world 

would come fully

joyously

alive

 

***

 

So, what do you Believe?

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers’ Well – Stop/Start

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It began with a brainstorm of Stop and Start (one person wrote stop…(something) and then passed it on, for the other to write a start response) which I’d intended to leave as an exercise in itself…but the lists were so heartfelt, and the suggestion came to use it as inspiration for a story.

This is what I wrote. Please remember this was written in just ten minutes, and has not been edited. This felt like a huge topic for me and at the moment it’s a bit fragmented, as a piece of writing, but I wanted to share it exactly as I wrote it…thought I may play with it in future. This was inspired by:

Stop cruelty to animals, Start recognising the value and vulnerability of all life.

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It was small things. Pulling the legs off daddy long legs, frying ants with a magnifying glass, treading on a spider that was rushing for the safety of a dark corner. She didn’t like it, but that was just what boys did. She raised her eyebrows, but didn’t intervene. They’d only tease her, call her wet, a sissy, after all – these were just insects – there were millions of them, and surely, they were too tiny to feel.

*****

“The grass is made so green by the nitrates,” he explained. “Farmers add them to bulk the grass up so their cattle will produce higher milk yields.”

He continued, “but that grass is too tough for grasshoppers. They decrease in number, and the birds go hungry.”

*****

She took photos, that early morning, of the spider webs lining the hedgerows that had caught the morning dew and were sparkling like nets full of diamonds. She’d cupped a small spider in her hands once, felt it tickle her palms as she took it to the window, more scared now of squishing it than of this mini eight legged beast itself.

*****

The little things. Ants will sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole, build bridges of their own bodies for others to walk safely over.

*****

The web of cruelty was out of her hands, distanced from her supermarket cheddar wrapped in cling film and far from the green fields where grasshoppers no longer fed and birds went hungry. But she didn’t pull the legs off daddy long legs, or fry ants, or tread on spiders.

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 I found a couple of links you may be interested in reading as a follow up.

https://www.princeton.edu/news/2015/11/30/ants-build-living-bridges-their-bodies-speak-volumes-about-group-intelligence

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/17/where-have-insects-gone-climate-change-population-decline

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

 

Writers’ Well – Time

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A few questions for you. Well, not exactly questions, but, if I were to offer you this start to a sentence:

 

I spend too much time….

 

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how would you complete it? Five times?

 

And what about:

 

I spend too little time…

 

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And because the best things always come in threes…

 

I would like to create more time for/to…

 

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Well, this was one of the prompts we worked with last Friday – completing those three sentences, each one five times, leaving us with fifteen insights into out relationship with the resource of Time,  how we’re currently using it…and what we dream of using it for.

Next, we wrote a poem inspired by that exploration…in just ten minutes.

There were some stunning responses, but I can only share my own for now…so, this is what I wrote:

 

If time were banked

In a building

On the High Street

One where the money banks

Have made way

What would the cashiers say?

What would their job be?

 

Because we can’t pay-in time

We could only bank memories

But we’d never be able to know

How much we had left to spend

Only how freely we’ve been spending

 

For time capsules

Buried with ceremony

Intended for future folk

To dig up and discover

Don’t contain time –

They contain memories

Just memories

Memories…

 

Maybe I could set up

A memory bank!

People would be advised to

Deposit once a week

What have you made

With the last seven days?

 

Not how much did you earn

The things that you bought

The stuff others can see

That’s not why you’d come

to the memory bank…

 

You’d come to remember and record

The unexpected conversation

You had with a friend

Or the salmon you saw leaping

Because someone called you over

You’d never seen them

Leaping before

 

And maybe that morning

Like any other morning

On the outside

But inwardly somehow

It felt different

You felt excited about

The next twenty four hours

In a way you hadn’t…

 

My father shared

Part of his own story recently

And though there aren’t

Memory banks on the high street

They exist

 

In the hearts of those we love

But need reminding to ask,

 

“How have you

Spent your time?”

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

 

 

Writers’ Well – Six word stories

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6 word story

 

The six word story was made famous by Ernest Hemingway, and I decided we’d use the idea as one of our playful prompts last Friday.

 

First, I gave the group Ernest’s example, along with a few others I’d found during a brief internet search (see Guardian article link below).

 

I then placed a pile of small blank pieces of paper in the centre, turned my three minute timer, and invited people to write as many six word stories as they wished, within that time, and place them in the centre to form a circle.

 

We read them aloud in awe…

 

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Then, I asked each writer to choose just one, which they would then explore and expand into a longer story, written in just ten minutes.

 

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Here are a few examples, made easier for you to read:

  • I’m waiting. He’s coming. I think.
  • Hundreds of people saw him fall.
  • Two drinks. Two chairs. One empty.
  • Why me? Why now? Burn it.
  • “I’m over here.” “Who said that?”
  • My favourite dress. Too big now

 

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The results were stunning. As I have often found to be the case, offering a very simple, playful prompt can be the most direct route to genuinely profound and moving pieces of writing.

As it is, I only have my own to share,  but the variety and vitality of the imaginative responses was breathtaking.

Written in just ten minutes, unedited, inspired by the six word story;

 

“Will it grow?” “No!” It grew.

 

“What are you doing?

“Planting.”

“Planting what?” He pushed her aside, “I don’t see anything?”

“That’s because it’s in the earth. Now we wait.”

“It won’t grow! No!”

 

She looked up at him , a stretch from her bent knees. The question was almost out, before she caught it. Just wait. Gardeners know all about patience.

 

He stamped his foot on the loosened earth, where the bulbs had just been nestled in. She stood, shocked.

“Stop it Shane!”

“It won’t grow. Nothing grows. Everything’s dead, dead, dead.”

He ran. She let him. She poured water over the footprint.

***

He had the photo in his cell. Bright yellow daffodils. He was allowed to receive post now, and she wrote to him often.

“It’s not a prison. It’s earth. You’ve been planted. Don’t be scared to grow.”

Her words journeyed him through the seasons he could barely see, let alone smell or touch. Seasons turned into years.

“The air tastes different,” he said, the day he was released.

 

 

This is an interesting article with other examples of six word stories, written by some contemporary authors, some of which I shared with the group as inspiration:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/mar/24/fiction.originalwriting

 

I’d love to read your own six word stories in the comments, if you’d like to have a go…

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

Writers’ Well – The Receipt

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I just love how the utterly mundane can so effectively open wide the doorway into creativity and imagination.

This week’s prompt had been simmering in my mind for a while, before I finally decided to give it a go last Friday. We had so much fun, so I’d like to share it with you.

It grew from the odd trip to the supermarket when I would find an old receipt in the trolley or basket, and glance at the items the anonymous shopper had bought. My mind would always immediately conjure up a picture of this unknown person, based on what they’d chosen to buy.

What about taking that one step further, and write a story based on a till receipt!

Having had neither the time, nor the sheer audacity, to go round collecting receipts discarded at tills, in trolleys, on the pavement etc I decided we’d create our own…

 

Step one: Everyone had three small pieces of paper, on which they were asked to write the name of a specific or generic place that would generate a till receipt, for example: Cafe, Bookshop OR Aldi, Mountain Warehouse etc etc…anything!

Step two: We then each picked ONE of these pieces of paper, now folded and jumbled up, and wrote an imaginary receipt, as if from that place. I gave people a couple of minutes to do this.

Step three: Those receipts were then jumbled up and shared out, one per person. Using that receipt as inspiration, the invitation then was to write a story including the before, during and after of that receipt….in ten minutes!

All these steps are making it sound a little dry perhaps, but it was so playful and fun, and the responses were so varied and so rich in detail…and all inspired by a humble receipt! Listening to the stories as people read them out, I was immediately immersed in a world, a life, a character that felt very real and tangible.

So, this is the receipt I was faced with:

 

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And this is what I wrote:

 

He wrapped the scarf around her neck.

“It’s cold out love.”

She nods. He buttons up his coat, and they step outside into the frosty morning. She links her arm through his.

“Watch your step. Slippy.”

They make their way down the street wordlessly. He tips his hat at acquaintances who drive past. Slowly, but surely they get closer to their weekly treat at the corner cafe.

“Honestly, you could set your clock by them!” says Jane to the new boy on the grill. “Every Friday, 11.30.” She continues to watch their steady approach through the window fogged by greasy condensation, and let’s them open the door before offering a greeting.

“Morning Jack, Marge. Beautiful day.”

“It’s cold out,” responds Jack, as they take to their table, and Jane begins to prepare the tea for two and the sausage, egg and chips they never vary from. It’s dessert that changes. But not the tip. Jane realises, as they leave, that so much seems to be said, at that table, but there are very few words.

It’s almost 1pm when they get home, and Jack unwraps the scarf from around his wife’s neck.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” she says.

“Right you are.” He kisses her, and removes his coat, to make his way to the armchair that used to be his mother’s, god rest her soul. He hears Marge in the kitchen, then falls asleep briefly, only to be woken by the sound of Marge putting the tray down on the table between them. She pours.

The doorbell rings. He can’t remember the last time their afternoon tea was interrupted.

“I’ll go,” says Marge. He puts down his mug, disturbed. Listening.

 

So, next time you’re out shopping, keep an eye out. If you find a discarded receipt, have a read and see where your imagination takes you… 🙂

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

Writers’ Well – Sensible/Sensitive

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“Too much sensible really isn’t good for one.”

I wrote this phrase in another recent piece of writing, so maybe that’s where the inspiration for this prompt came from. It is also a nod to my background as an English Language teacher, and the concept of false friends. Sensible in English is one thing, but the same word in French, pronounced sensible…means something entirely different – sensitive!

So, we began by writing sensible is… and then completing that with whatever word or phrase came, passing sheets of paper around the circle, until we’d collected some ideas. For example:

…thinking before you leap

…not putting your head in a lion’s mouth

…always carry an umbrella, just in case

etc etc

 

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Then we turned the page, and began sensitive is…, and the circle became quieter and more earnest, while writing things like:

…what it must feel like when a bee lands on a flower and tickles its way to the pollen

…allowing joy and grief – all of it

…really being able to listen deeply

etc etc

 

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The invitation was then to take that inspiration in whatever direction you wished, and write a poem in ten minutes! This is what I wrote:

 

 

Comfortable shoes

eight hours a night

eating less cake 

when my jeans get too tight

putting my wellies on

when the rain falls

answering the phone

when my mother calls

paying my bills

and being on time

live life like this

and you’ll see how the time

ticks by with the monotony

of my grandfather’s clock

on a shelf out of reach

so it doesn’t get knocked

or damaged in any way

but it’s clockwork

so when I don’t wind it up…

 

I don’t know the time

so I look at the sky

and pretend I can feel

each moment fly by

I linger to chat

to a snail on the path

tell it “don’t be so slow!

The bikes go pretty fast!”

 

I’ve forgotten my water

so I follow a sign

I’ve seen for a cafe

but I never had time

 

now I have a black coffee

though I know I won’t sleep

and it’s hard to keep

in the laughter that creeps

into cells that have known

my routine for so long

they’re confused and excited –

what on earth has gone wrong?!

 

the heartbeat, the smiling

the caffeine, the song

I do hope she won’t

keep this up for too long!

 

I pay and I leave

with a bounce in my step

now where’s that next promise to me

I’ve not kept…

 

I had a lot of fun writing that, and thoroughly enjoyed all the other poems that came out of that gathering of thoughts and ideas. Such variety! Care to try this yourself? You’re welcome to share or link in the comments below.

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/

 

 

Writers’ Well – Begin again…

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So a new season of writing groups has started. Actually, it started almost a month ago, but I’m just now catching up, so to start this new month, here’s an invitation…

 

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The first Friday back we completed with a ‘sit for 3, write for 3’…

Make sure you have something to write on and with.

Have a timer of some sort.

Sit for three minutes in silence, turning your attention inward, closing your eyes if you wish to.

Now write for three minutes, whatever comes.

Below is what I wrote that day…

 

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Is this how a seed feels before it shoots? Tingling. Reckless. Aware of the risks ahead, but not paying them heed because that crack, that sliver of light – there’s a whole, huge, wild, bountiful, beautiful world out there, somewhere. It emerges, and the dangers become easier to see, but it’s too late – life has taken over and the stretch towards the sun is…inevitable.

 

An opening. A beginning.

 

Darkness doesn’t exist in and of itself, it’s just an absence of light, not an is-ness of itself.

 

Days begin again.

School starts again.

Autumn arrives again.

 

There are so many beginnings…always, always the chance…to begin again.

 

So, all it takes is six minutes a day, and you can bring yourself and your creativity alive again. It’s just a matter of paying attention – then reflecting that back using paper and pen. And if you’d like to share your own responses in the comments below – please go ahead! Delight and enlighten me 🙂

 

Love and blessings all….

 

Harula xxx

Doing the right thing… – Writers’ Well

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What is the right thing? Is there a right thing? What does it feel like when you do the right thing? What does it feel like when you don’t? These were just some of the questions that came up when we explored the topic of ‘doing the right thing’ as our final prompt in last week’s session.

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We began by writing ‘doing the right thing’ as a title on a sheet of paper, and then added a word or phrase of our own in response. These were then passed around the circle, with each writer adding their own thoughts in addition to reading those that had already been gathered.

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We then each wrote a short story, using the lists as inspiration, which somehow explored this theme, whatever direction the writer wanted to take it in. There were a wonderful array of angles and styles in the stories we shared, reading aloud when we’d all finished. Here is my own response, written in ten minutes (no editing):

 

“Come in.”

A red faced, wet faced, screaming, resisting child follows a tired , overwhelmed adult because the adult’s hand is bigger, their arm stronger, and the child is following by force.

 “She hit Thomas again.” The woman deposits the five year old in front of the monk with obvious relief and satisfaction, as the room continues to resound with wailing. She leaves and closes the door on the monk and the child.

“Did you hit Thomas?”

The voice is kind and curious. The wailing stops for a moment to allow an emphatic shake of the head.

“Did Thomas hit you?”

The wailing stops again, and a deep thinking breath can be heard. The quiet allows the monk to gently wipe the tears from the girl’s cheeks and the silence settles and waits for an answer.

The monk has wiped away the child’s tears, and it seems perhaps he has absorbed them, for now silent sadness falls from his eyes. The child looks up. The monk smiles, which squeezes out more tears.

“Why is it so hard to do the right thing? I know you’re trying. I see you trying.”

The child listens and watches intently. The monk puts his hand on the child’s shoulder.

“Are you happy here little one?”

She nods her head.

“Shall I walk you to your classroom?”

Again she nods, and he takes her hand, making his body a little lopsided to the left, so’s not to stretch her tiny arm too much. And someone small, and someone tall open the door to try again.  

 

This was actually inspired by a scene from a beautiful documentary I saw recently, called Tashi and The Monk. Really worth a watch if you have 40 minutes. Find out more here:

http://tashiandthemonk.com/

 

So what are your thoughts on doing the right thing?

 

If you enjoyed this prompt, then you can find more here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/upcoming-writing-workshops-and-some-prompts-for-you-to-play-with/

and here:

https://wordsthatserve.wordpress.com/writing-prompts-the-elements/