Scribbler, Scratcher, New First Drafter, how does your garden grow?

February is the scarcest month. The winds still carry the threat of frost, and the starving moon casts its light on barren fields, where nothing yet dares to sprout. The frozen soil keeps bound its dormant seeds, and so we wait for the earth to thaw, for the snows to cease, for the lengthening days to warm.

Meanwhile, winter stretches.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that nothing blooms in all seasons (however much the very hardy lavender on our Barcelona balcony tries). I find that this is especially true when it comes to writing — and to our creativity in general. If, like me, you’ve spent months — or even years — head down in a single creative project, sometimes reaching the end can feel less like a breath of fresh air and more like the yawning edge of an abyss.

Similarly, you might be just starting to explore your writing or perhaps you’ve taken an extended break from the craft. No matter when you decide to pick up the pen, it can feel like waking up in the midst of winter. You may find yourself wondering if the well has run dry — or if there was any water in it to begin with.

But then, one day — some mundane morning nearing the end of February — the very first snowdrop may poke its budding petals up through the hoarfrost and rime. Spring is on the horizon. You must trust that the world, and your words, will bloom once more.

Exercises for Cultivating a Blossoming Writing Practice

No matter where you’re starting from, I’ve found that often, nurturing a flourishing writing practice starts with collecting seeds. Whether you’re just starting out, or if you’re looking to re-cultivate the joy after a break or in the midst of a long project, it’s never the wrong time to take stock of your ideas and figure out what it is that you are truly driven to write about.

Exercise 1

One of the most common exercises for this sort of work is the simple practice of keeping a small notebook on you at all times. Whenever you catch yourself thinking of a story fragment or image or snippet of prose, capture it in the moment the old fashioned way, with ink on paper. Always make sure you put it on your side table at bedtime — I find the most inspiring snippets often come on the verge of sleep.

Exercise 2

If you’re looking for a more structured way of reseeding your literary garden, here’s an exercise that I often use with clients struggling to get to the heart of what they’re writing and why. The exercise relies a bit on freewriting. But hopefully, given fifteen minutes to start and some quiet space to think in over the course of a week, it can help spark a few ideas that not only feed into new stories and new work, but also feel vitally important to you as a writer.

First Step: Take between 3 and 5 minutes each, and Make a short list under the following topics:

  1. My strongest memories
  2. My greatest influences
  3. Topics / Opinions / Issues that I feel are important

Step Two: Once you’re done listing for each category, let them all sit for a bit. Then, over the course of a week, as part of your morning journalling or whenever you have time, you want to choose one item from each list. Choose whichever one resonates with you most strongly in that moment.

Step Three: Once you’ve chosen an item, set a timer for 10-15 minutes. Now start freewriting about that memory / influence / topic. Don’t stop until the timer goes off.

There are so many directions that this exercise can take you. If you’re primarily a non-fiction writer, these idea lists, kept in a safe place, can help spark new material for any topic you want to explore. (I particularly like combining this with Matt Ortile’s exercise for using identity as a lens in personal essays).

If you work more in fiction, then let the freewriting take you beyond the topic’s natural boundaries. Hopefully you’ll find ways that you can give your strongest memories to major characters and explore them from a different point of view. Or perhaps it’ll spark plot points and stories that are particularly centered around issues that have always been important to you.

Either way, trust that you always have everything you need to start writing. Sometimes all it takes is a little effort to discover the seeds already within you, waiting, patiently for you to help them grow.


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