I like the concreteness of things. Focusing on them while writing also frees me from my vague and persistent thoughts. Put an old key, a knife, an unfamiliar picture, or brooch in front of me, and I feel interest in at least describing the item. That inevitably leads to a connection with my own experience and, sometimes, a new question.
In her handbook, Writing Alone and with Others, which is filled with attractive writing exercises, Pat Schneider offers many examples of using objects as “triggers” in her workshops for writers. Sometimes, she places a covered basket of 30 or 40 items on a table, removes the cover, and asks group members to take one or two objects, hold them, and freewrite for 10 minutes or so. Other times, she has multiples of the same item, and hands one to each member, getting them to all start writing from a similar place, as a way of seeing how individual writers will all mull differently over a shell, for example. Some items she suggests, like cinnamon sticks, even have scent.
- Here are Schneider’s suggestions for a diverse basketful: shaving brush, rusty horseshoe, a ball and jacks, baseball, crocheted doily, piece of frayed rope, bottle of pills (with label scratched so pills become unidentifiable), rosary beads, crumpled cigarette pack, page of scripture written in Hebrew, small teddy bear, broken dish, mirrored compact, man’s pipe, baby bottle, old piece of jewelry, spool of thread with a needle stuck in it, dog whistle, artificial flower, plastic Jesus figuerine, and empty whisky bottle.
- Suggestions for multiples of same object: mothball (in plastic snack bags to protect hands), piece of penny candy, a nail or screw, a vitamin pill, acorn, torn piece of a map, slice of raw carrot, rock, a small piece of sandpaper along with a bit of cotton, or a long stem of wheat or grass.
Collect some acorns. Buy a bag of wooden clothespins or new potatoes. Make your own object-filled basket. Offer surprise to your students. Or, assemble a collection, put it aside for a few weeks, and then take it out again to prompt your own writing. Surprise yourself.
Picture credit goes to BBC Food.