No less than a half dozen times in the past two weeks I have gone to the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer when I was hungry, only to discover I didn’t have the ingredients to make one meal from scratch — at least not one I found appealing.
Why do I find myself in this predicament over and over? I’m glad there are healthier quick fixes today. However, they are just not the same as having the necessary supplies to make what strikes my fancy at any given time. Ah! The lack of forethought and planning strikes my stomach again.
Honest writing, though, has no quick fixes for a lack of idea ingredients. Without a well-stocked pantry and fridge, we end up writing forced, anemic, unappealing, and malnourishing meals, ones that lack any indication of passion from us.
As an English teacher and writing coach, I know beginning a piece of creative fiction or nonfiction presents the most staggering challenge for younger writers. In fact, it’s no piece of cake — if you happen to have the ingredients for cake — for experienced writers, either, especially once one project is finished and the next day they face planning the next “meal.”
To stock the mind and soul with an abundance of ingredients, writers must keep a journal. Journaling may be accomplished in a variety of ways and in a huge assortment of physical forms; however it’s done, it’s a necessity. But what do we journal?
The choices appear limitless, but the goal is the same: draw from the well of true Self to characterize and infuse facts with that Self, i.e., add story, our story of our Self to the facts. This makes for powerful writing in the realms of creative nonfiction and fiction, blogs, websites, even journaling for mental health or anywhere voice is required — our soul, passion, and personal truth.
Here are some inital tools that may get us to peel away the ego in order to get to undiluted personal truth, the way we interpret, think, and feel about facts according to our highest Self, our Heart Self. These may provide the stock of ingredients we can pull together to create meals of writing which others can savor and appreciate. They furnish the means for conscious writing.
Brainstorming probably sounds banal to many; however, given the right prompts, the pantry starts to fill. Here are prompts to begin the work. I don’t really use a separate idea journal because I often do this at the beginning of a piece of writing just to see what lurks in the folds of my brain. Somewhere in my journals and in my running rough draft blog document are brainstorm lists at the start of many of my pieces. (This is my computer document. I write by hand every morning and have produced millions of words in journals, which I recommend here.)
I do this exercise with students and those who come to me for advice about journaling. Please remember that these are not subject to your or anyone’s judgment. Responses are honest; don’t try to limit them to what others might expect. No one else matters for this. I time each of the following for two or three minutes (journalist’s choice), don’t censor anything, and don’t write in complete sentences, i.e., only list. Brainstorm experiences that pertain to each of the following categories:
1. Mountain peak experiences — those events, people, situations, actions, interactions that evoke joy, happiness, great vibes. These memories make you feel like you are on top of the mountain.
2. Mountain base experiences — those experiences that created pain, sadness, seemingly impossible odds of going on, real bummers. They don’t have to be the worst of life, only experiences, people, times of life that affect one negatively — big, small, and in-between — whatever jumps from the brain to the fingertips to record. When you think of these things, you might feel you rolled partway down the mountain and you have little desire to even look back up.
3. Mountain path experiences — those times when people, events, actions, and interactions presented a choice that you made and your life was changed, different in some way after taking the fork in the path. These might overlap with the first two lists, but record them anyway.
Try to be as expansive and open to your intuition as possible. Books, movies, other people’s stories as well as your own experiences could be part of the above three categories or things that happened when you were three or yesterday.
Using the results of these lists makes for authenticity in writing by being conscious of our own emotions and beliefs about our life. They come from the depths of us, and when we can use some of these ingredients to make a written meal, it will be remembered.
This is the start of a process of conscious creation in which we collect what is deep within us, things with which we can begin to stock our writing pantries. Furthermore, we can use exercises like this to explore our psyche and help us through hard times. We can learn to allow tears to water the love and grow the good memories.
However, it is only the beginning, and I would like to share some developmental ideas in following articles, some steps in gathering the right ingredients and developing them into an appealing recipe.