“Writing, which is my form of celebration and prayer,
is also my form of inquiry.” Diane Ackerman
You may be at a point, when putting down some facts about your life for your family, telling some of the stories of your experiences for pleasure, or writing the things you remember, as a form of seeking inwardly for answers, seems a good idea. This short, five session course (offered free) will help you move through the disjointed stages of collecting material, expressing yourself, and creating something tangible. I hope you find much pleasure in the exercises I suggest, and help in the ideas I provide.
Ask yourself, “Why my life? Why now? When you have the answer, you have your central focus for moving ahead.
Journaling is a rich source of information. You may have been writing in a diary or journal all of your life. If not, I suggest you start now. Choose a time and place and discipline yourself to write. This can be as little as ten minutes before you go to bed, or as long as an entire morning. There are different ways of journaling:
Journaling to find your voice – styles of journaling. You experiment with different formats for journaling identify the type that suits you best.
Journaling through the senses – sensory stimulants. You experiment with sensory stimuli (e.g. lighting candles, playing music in background, writing in nature), discovering ways of increasing creativity and productivity.
Journaling to find peace – finding forgiveness. You explore areas of emotional darkness and lets them go through writing and ceremony, moving toward a lighter, brighter life.
Journaling to grow – re-visiting experience. You recall the happenings in your life to understand how they influenced your personal truths and who you are today.
Journaling to find self – being. You tally the abundance in your life, identifying that which provides your greatest joy and well-being.
Suggested Operating Systems for Write Your Life
System 1: Obtain a loose leaf binder. Make a list of headings, such as farm life, Dad, school, Olympics, the cabin, under which you can store a wealth of stories and memories, as you harvest them from your brain. Using plastic inserts, collect memorabilia that reminds you of various times in your life, about which you will write.
System 2: Another way of collecting material, is choosing a coil scribbler, with a heading at the top on each page, and a manila envelope, in which to store your collectibles. This is a little more limiting, as it doesn’t allow you to move material around, as you expand your material.
System 3: Use a computer, compiling your list of headings on one page, then expanding pages, as you choose and write stories, journal, or list facts under the various headings. Tangible objects, articles etc., might be photographed or copied and scanned into your pages.
Your sources are limitless. Collect letters, diaries, journals, pictures, mementos, newspaper articles, community info (newsletters, books published, Yearbooks, art work, music sheets).
- Choose which operating system best suits you and prepare your system:
- Write your headings on individual pages (e.g. family, school, camp, marriage, children, etc.)
- Under each heading make a list of story ideas or facts that will inspire a story (e.g. when Dad ran out of gas, B’s appendix attack, flunking French etc.)
- Choose one of your ideas under one heading and develop a piece around it, using any genre you like (e.g. short story, memoir, journaling, writing a letter, poetry, list of facts in point form etc.)
Preparation for Session#2 of Write Your Life
Find a photo that reminds you of a special time in your life.
Café writing is a concept begun by American ex-patriots who lived in European cities in the pre-second world war years. Such writers as Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce created this custom. Often they were stringers for American newspapers, providing the articles on European customs and people, that so obsessed the American populace. These pieces provided their bread and butter money, allowing them the time to produce great classical stories like The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby.
Often they wrote in café settings, because they could not afford fuel to heat the tiny garrets, which was all they could afford. They went to a café to eat a meager meal, and stayed to write. The proprietor’s allowed this, just as they allowed many painters to do the same. Sometimes, work was exchanged for food. This created a culture, where-in artists, of all kinds, met and mingled, exchanging ideas, providing support (practical, emotional and artistic) and stimulating an age of wondrous creative work.
The exercises below, allow you a way into the world of café writing. Relocate, if possible, for each exercise. Relax, enjoy the process. The end results only have to please you.
Exercise 1 Make a list of the restaurants, bars, lunch counters etc. in which you have written. You may have jotted a postcard, or a few notes for a story idea on a napkin; or made an entry in your diary or journal. Think back. Which is your strongest memory and why?
Exercise 2 Describe from your sensory POV (point of view) the setting you are in. Write five minutes.
Exercise 3 Choose someone you see in the restaurant and write a short story around who they are and why they are there. Be creative – expand your imagination. Write 10 minutes.
Exercise 4 Four people enter a restaurant. Tell what is happening from each person’s point of view while they are waiting to order. Have fun! Write for 20 minutes.
Exercise 5 Explore this experience, either in the restaurant, if you have time, or at home later. Journal about your feelings, response to the situation, and what you liked or did not like about the exercise. Conclude which approach best works for your writing style.
I find café writing a unique way of stimulating my creativity. Just moving into a new environment, or choosing paper and pen over computer, may create enough change to nudge you out of a rut, give you new perspective, material, or a snippet you might write down and use months later. Breaking routine almost always causes a little chaos, and sometimes that shakes up the order of your life, heading you in a new direction. Café writing holds you in the present, and there is no better place for the ultimate adventure.