Here's one I heard last year and it has stayed with me.
“I've found by doing the writing exercises and assignments (instead of just writing what I FEEL like writing) that what I NEED to write isn't necessarily what I WANT to write. That’s great and awful at the same time.”
If I collected a quarter each time I “found myself” writing what I need to write instead of either what I want to write, or what I initially set out to write -- well I could visit all the Laundromats within 10 miles on a busy Saturday morning and treat every customer to a free wash cycle.
Once, I set out – in response to a prompt -- to write about why I thought my sister would have been very happy as a nun, and before I knew it, I was writing about the crises that erupted for me when she left for college just as I started kindergarten.
Not long ago, I sat down to revise an essay I “sold” two years ago to a magazine which folded before the piece ran. I thought it needed just a bit of tweaking before sending it out again. Today, I no longer feel the need to say most of what was in it…but on page 4, something jumped out at me, and I started writing about that.
I’m also in the middle of another narrative nonfiction piece, which began life when a section of it seemed to sort of appear on the screen in front of me one day when I sat down to hammer out the bones of another piece entirely. Huh.
I’m not sure I believe that writing impulses come from some mysterious place, or that any mystical thing happens between the brain and what emerges from the fingertips onto the page or screen. But clearly there must be something else going on, in some undetectable area of the creative psyche, which asserts itself when necessary. Maybe that’s one reason I’m such a fan of writing prompts and writing exercises. Some of my best work started there, and where it came from and why I wrote about it, in many cases, I still don’t know. That's okay.
The first installment of this new series ran last week.