Please welcome today’s guest, Leigh Medeiros, to Writer Unboxed! Leigh is an award-winning artist, writer, coach, and story development editor. She supports artists of all kinds through her coaching and story development work as well as through her online program 48 Days of Creative Devotion. Her latest book, The 1-Minute Writer: 396 Microprompts to Spark Creativity and Recharge Your Writing, has been called “fun and thought provoking,” with exercises “to help you with writing’s most difficult step: starting” by the Editor and Reviewer for NPR Music, Stephen Thompson.
We’re thrilled to have her here today to talk about the power of prompts, and the true story that became her light-bulb moment.
On Writing and Time Management: A Dispatch from the Kitchen Sink
It used to be that our kitchen sink was either full or empty depending on a complicated mathematical equation that involved calculating the estimated mass of plates, bowls, pots, pans, and silverware, then multiplying that number by the amount of currently available minutes. If the resulting sum was low enough, dishes would be washed and the sink subsequently returned to a Zen-like state of emptiness. If the sum was too high, dishes would languish, multiply, and steadily advance across counter tops like an ill-conceived army battalion.
One day, after struggling and failing to maneuver a glass around a mound of dishes to get a drink of water, I sat and pondered the wondrous dual nature of our kitchen sink. In a flash of brilliance, that can best be described as Well, DUH, I understood that the cause of dish overflow had nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with the perception of time and how I marked it.
I had, until that moment, looked at washing dishes as one task with a continuous beginning, middle, and end. I’d come upon the aftermath of the previous night’s dinner and think, this will take me half an hour, and I don’t have half an hour. What I realized in my moment of enlightenment was that I could – wait for it – do a few dishes at a time and slowly whittle the pile down over the course of multiple dishwashing sessions. Revelatory, right? To put it in other terms (ones that may salvage your impression of my intelligence), I came to understand in that moment that sustainability relies on manageability. I could not create a sustainable daily habit of washing dishes because I had not considered breaking that singular task down into smaller, more manageable chunks of time. That lack of manageability lead to overwhelm, which in turn lead to procrastination.
Unsurprisingly, my problem with doing the dishes was the very same problem I had with writing. The larger and more time-consuming a project was (i.e. books and screenplays) the less likely I was to sit down and write. The smaller the medium (i.e. emails, letters, Facebook updates, and blog posts), the easier to execute. In my heart of hearts, I desired to get those scripts and books written, and the longer I went without working on them, the more I spiraled into a morass of shame, believing that my lack of output was the result of laziness or ineptitude. I hadn’t yet had my Kitchen Sink Revelation, so I was unable to understand how my mind conceived of and worked with time.
Here’s where the beauty of timed writing prompts come into play. These little nuggets are a Godsend and antidote. They come in the form of tiny queries that act as parameters on the open-ended abstraction of time. To boot, they eliminate the phobia of the blank page by removing the pressure of How to Start, and they help you make synaptic connections between seemingly disparate things. For example, when, say, you’re prompted to write an epitaph for an empty box of cereal you might flash on a childhood memory of sitting at the breakfast nook with grandma as she pours you a bowl of “Life.” Suddenly you’re off to the proverbial races crafting a narrative about something you’d otherwise never thought of before.
More than anything, the greatest benefits to using writing prompts is the experience of finding freedom within structure. On a fundamental level, timed writing prompts have a parental quality to them, providing writers a strong container to work within, a place to flourish. If writing in small increments appears stifling or limiting, I assure you the opposite is true. I’ve found that using prompts in this way allows greater access to the worlds of our imaginations by simply removing all the drama and protestations of the writing process and letting us jump in without fear.
Sometimes it seems the only thing they can’t do is take care of the dishes. But, hey, every triumphant protagonist needs an obstacle to overcome, right? In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.
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BOOK GIVEAWAY: Want to give it a whirl? Below is a 5-minute writing prompt from my new book, The 1-Minute Writer. When finished with your writing sample, do a light edit with an eye toward clarity – but don’t overdo it. This isn’t about polished writing, but rather about the joy of having written. Post your writing sample in the comments by midnight (EST) this Friday, the 25th, and I’ll choose the one that most speaks to me. The writer of that piece will receive a signed copy of my new book The 1-Minute Writer, where you can find nearly 400 more prompts like this. Good luck!
Prompt: [Read more…]