a guide to writing
The beauty of the journaling process is that it can be simple or it can be complex in a way that reveals itself as a personal, daily, moment-by-moment choice. What enriches the journaling experience (if you’re willing), is variety, is texture.
Imagine eating the same salad every day of your life. You can argue that rich, leafy greens provide minerals and nutrients essential to optimum health. You can also argue that periodically a bowl of thick, smooth, mocha fudge ripple ice cream has the capacity to transport you to your happy place, to a time when summer afternoons sprawled under the shade of a leafy maple counting squirrels in the branches above was the most important assignment of the day. Variety. Texture. Sometimes the best you can do is bolt down a protein bar on the run. Other times, you want to immerse yourself in the sensual, primitive pleasure of a feast of market fresh produce, a plate of pasta cooked perfectly al dente and smothered in an aromatic sauce of eggplant and basil and roasted peppers.
Sometimes your journal is where you lock in and unload your thoughts of the day, the dramas of your life, your hopes for your lover, your future, your Self. Sometimes your journal is a train and each entry is a station. Sometimes the station is the destination, sometimes it’s the jumping off place, the place where adventure begins. Neither place is superior to the other, it is enough that they are what they are. However, this journaling assignment is about the jumping off place, about getting to the end of everything you know, standing poised on the edge with your toes hanging over, a yawning expanse of never been-there-but-open-to-the-possibility. This is the station where you disembark the train and immediately jump into a waiting cab and vanish into the landscape.
This drill can be accomplished using any number of ordinary household items, a hammer, a clothes pin, a plum, or in this case; an orange. Choose any orange you like; choose a sweet as candy Clementine, sometime that rests in the palm of your hand like a tiny jeweled box. Or select a bouncy navel with its nubby button and thick peel. A secretive blood orange, interior cloaked in a plain wrapper. Don’t agonize over the choice; one is as good as the other. Remember, this isn’t about the orange. The orange is only the station platform, the way in.
Remember before, when I suggested that you enter a room and stay there until you’ve achieved the mission of full emotional disclosure? Of going to that place where you blink into the darkness, open your ears to the music of the silence, of letting the air move over the surface of your skin and registering the sensation with words on a page? This is more of that. It is probably easier to make this a timed writing, because the level of difficulty might otherwise persuade you to pitch in the towel long before you get to the juicy bits, the place where you discover something new. With a timed writing, you are not focused so much on the content of the writing, as in the endurance of the time.
A funny thing happens with the timed writing exercise. Generally, you take off with great alacrity, writing everything you know about a subject. Interestingly however, if the time is of a challenging length, the writer finds that she runs out of known material in a relatively short period of time. She finds she has a surplus of minutes, and a surfeit of words. How does this happen? It is a trick of the mind. No matter, this is where it gets interesting.
Find a quiet place to write, free of distraction. Set a timer and begin. First, pick up your orange, close your eyes and inhale its tart-sweet fragrance. Really smell it. Roll it over the skin of your throat, across your chest. Toss it from one hand to the other, examine the surface of the peel, each dimple, every blemish. Experience the orange with your senses as fully as possible, then set it down nearby and begin to write. You may begin with a literal description, and you may actually get a paragraph or two from the physical presence of the fruit, the weight of it. Then what? Then we meet the cousins of “reality” namely imagination, and memory, we are about to move beyond what is and approach what if.
Here are possible ways to go from here. Write about:
- Your first memory of citrus fruit
- The girl you knew who smelled like orange blossoms
- The texture of the creamy white pith beneath your fingernails when you peel it
- the camping trip you took where after three hours of steady hiking you stopped by a creek and tore the flesh of a tangerine and drank the pulpy juice with absolute gratitude for the miracle of orange-ness the way the skin split, revealing the color of a ripe sunset on a honeymoon cruise and dancing under a full moon and the feel of sin on skin, of succulent, sweet juice dripping down your chin at dawn
You see -it’s not really about the orange. At least, not necessarily so. The orange is a trigger; it is the beginning place that has the power to transport you to another time and place for the duration of whatever time you establish at the beginning of the writing.
It’s important in a timed writing to stick with the intended time. If you establish a fifteen or twenty minute limit, stick with it. If you find you run out of preconceived ideas of what you think you should be writing about, stick with it. Let go of the idea that you choose the words to commit to the page. Let the words choose you. Let the idea pick you up and shake you loose of everything you thought it should be. When you come to the place where your treasure chest of “good” ideas is empty, be patient. Be calm. Wait. Let the ideas float into your mind and don’t judge them, don’t try to shape them. Write them down. Let the ideas flow and allow the gentle waves of the stream of consciousness lap gently at the shores of your mind. This is the place where new ideas are birthed. This is the place where imagination and memory merge, form something new, and your job is to write it down. It sounds simple; it is. It sounds difficult; it is not. All you have to do is be willing to let your subject: the orange, the plum, the paper clip -reveal a story to you, and then your job is to introduce it to your journal.