My friends and I, we’re healthy types. We like fresh air, good food, moments of peace for ourselves when possible. And sometimes, we even take our word pills. Daily, if we can, because they just make us feel so darned wonderful.
A word pill is a small amount of time, say ten minutes, dedicated to writing, using a one-word prompt. Tomato, for example. Or listen. Or slap, sharp, forgotten, envelope, miracle, stubborn, pure. Any word will do, in fact, as long as it’s one of the words you write in those ten minutes. Or at least the title. Or at least the little push you needed to get your words down on paper. You can see there are few rules to taking these things. They can be taken at any time of day, and it doesn’t matter if you skip a day or two, and you can even take more than one at a time.
The friend part comes in like this: we send each other the words, via email, every day, back and forth, her turn, my turn, another’s turn—and then we each write on the same word, and then send that raw, new writing back to the others. Sarah Selecky started this with me, years ago (check her website out to see what she is up to now, especially if you want writing inspiration!); now my writing partners are Traci Skuce and Jenny Vester. We send the writing back because it’s good for us; we “clear the pipes” as Natalie Goldberg calls sharing work immediately after creating it, for more writing. It’s done; it’s been sent; we’re primed to go deeper.
Or, not. Some days—heck, some months—it might be the only writing we get to do. And that’s okay. Writers write, as Gail Sher says in her book “One Continuous Mistake.” It’s the first of her Four Noble Truths for Writers. The others? Writing is a process. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process. And, If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.
I like those truths. I take my vitamins. Sometimes I work on the word as a separate entity, just riff on it, and let it go. Sometimes I work on a story, each day continuing the action and including the word. I’ve written at least 3 stories like this, and even part of my novels. Sometimes, a poem comes out. Here’s yesterday’s poem below, a first-draft plea to the autumn. So far, the autumn is listening, although the leaves were falling furiously today. There’s no guarantee with these words, other than to keep your hand moving and brain engaged. Oh, and there’s no critiquing, either. We say yes, and thank you, when we receive the small missives in our inboxes, like little gifts waiting to be read and loved. And that in itself is very, very healthy indeed.
Ravish the garden, all ye birds
but leave my arugula, my
second romaine, my sage
Take the grapes, all ye raccoons
but ignore the garbage,
the porch bench, the trampoline
Cover the lawn, all ye leaves
but do not hurry; ignore the push
of wind at your sides, resist while you can.
Soak the ground, strong rains
but stay out of the attic,
the garage, everything suede
Fall if you must, dark autumn,
but let us have a bit of colour, now and again;
do not forget how dashing your bare limbs
look against a swath of blue.