Tuesday, January 29, 2019

More Five-Minute Jobs for Writers — Memory, Language, and Links

Making every minute count was central to my last post. This is work that must be nurtured intentionally. In the old days, writers at least got some reading done while waiting or making the most of “found” time (such as when meetings or tasks finished early). Now, the phones come out, and email or stocks or social media are checked lest a chance for digital connection be wasted.

It is connections with people, our environments, and our inner lives that make the most difference for writers developing their craft. So, before I leave the subject, I’ll offer a few more suggestions on small jobs you can do anywhere in short bursts of time.


Five minutes:
  • Conjure up the image of someone you knew long ago. This may be the first person who kissed you or a teacher who encouraged you as a writer or someone who snitched on you. It helps, when doing this, to think of the person doing something. Activity may be more accessible than still pictures.
  • If a family member made a treat you haven’t had for a while, see if you can recreate the smell, the taste, the appearance. As an alternative, identify a smell in your environment and see if you can recall the last time you smelled that odor. The more distinctive, the better.
  • Who’s your favorite singer? See if you can remember all the lyrics to one of his/her songs. As an alternative, dredge up a song you had to memorize for grade school.
Ten minutes:
  • Put yourself into a natural moment that you experienced. Waiting for a bus on a frigid, snowy day. Sitting on the beach with sand between your toes. Watching a bird feed its young.
  • Bring back a moment of acceptance, one that involves dialogue. Making a date with an attractive person who seemed beyond reach. Getting hired for a job. Making a deal for a job or a house.
  • Articulate as well as you can what your image of death or heaven or damnation was when you were seven or eight years old.
Fifteen minutes:
  • Bring back a wonderful moment of your life—of honor or connection or self-discovery (maybe all three). First, thing of the space and time of day. Then think of who was present. Then ground the memory with specific tangible elements—the fabric of your coat, the scent of nearby flowers, the scuffs on the floor. Finally, fall into the emotions. If necessary, play out the sequence of events, but try to do it without internal narration. Just go through your senses. When the emotion is strong, note how it affects your body.
  • Do the same thing for something you witnessed that was pivotal in someone else’s life. Tragedy is likely to come to mind, but something positive may deliver more as an exercise.
  • Recall a time when a happy moment became horrible or the reverse. Even more challenging, see if you can re-experience a moment that was both deeply troubling and joyful and put it into words.

Five minutes:
  • Describe a beautiful person without using cliches.
  • Find a way to say I love you in a new way.
  • How would you tell someone who had never experienced a thunderstorm what it was like?
Ten minutes:
  • Rephrase an aphorism or motto so that it is more compelling, memorable, and current.
  • Describe someone who has just lost a loved one or is reunited with someone who changed his/her life.
  • Compose a haiku about washing your hands.
Fifteen minutes:
  • Take a well-known folk tale and tell it in a different way, say as rap lyrics.
  • Turn a song you love into prose for a children’s book.
  • Create a Hallmark sympathy card for the surviving spouse of a person who died tragically, like Mary Todd Lincoln.

Five minutes:
  • Compare and contrast a brick and a feather.
  • Which famous person do you or someone you know well most resemble? (It doesn’t need to be a physical resemblance.)
  • Which color do you believe evokes the most emotion? Which emotion? Why?
Ten minutes:
  • How would you, with your skillset, help someone prepare for a marathon?
  • How would you repair a memory of harm with a new experience?
  • Think of someone you knew as a child. Imagine he/she is now a star. How would you argue with the bodyguard to get to see this person face-to-face.
Fifteen minutes:
  • Imagine your favorite person from a story or movie. Then another from a different story. Then have one convince the other one to skydive or publicly declare love.
  • Compose five questions to ask a childhood enemy or bully that might change your view of your traumatic experience.
  • What would you put into a letter of commitment to someone you care for as a friend or lover?
I hope between the two posts, there are some that will help you to take advantage of time available to become a better writer. The suggestions in these posts are not essential, and they may not be you. But I hope they inspire you to create your own tiny exercises, including some that will advance your craft and your stories.

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