Courage and Craft, a new book by Barbara Abercrombie, is chock full of good, practical writing advice and exercises for the writer at any stage. Based on the course of the same name,which she teaches at the Writers' Program-UCLA Extension, the books focus is on "turning your life into story"~molding the events and experiences of your life into meaningful essays, stories, or books.
In the first chapter alone there were at least several positive writing "igniters," as I call them, ideas to get your pen moving across the page. My favorite is the "five minute free write." Take a topic, a sentence, even just one word, set a timer for five minutes and write without stopping...do not lift the pen from the paper, or your fingers from the keys.
"Don't think," Abercrombie cautions, "you just write whatever comes into your head. If the subject or word you've given yourself to write about stops you dead in your tracks, you write your way out of it by writing about being stopped dead in your tracks. If you stop to erase something, or pause to think, you'll get in your own way. Even if you're writing nonsense or what you're going to have for lunch, you're writing. And writing leads to more writing."
The five minute time frame seems to allow for the most potent bursts of creativity, the wildest unleashing of ideas and emotions, since we feel some sense of pressure to get everything on the page we possibly can.
Write about the room you're sitting in, get down every detail you can. Write about your first time at the beach. Write about falling in love, or out of love. Write about strong coffee or good wine. Write about snow. Write about the thing that most often keeps you from writing!
Set the timer...ready, set...
Abercrombie also co-authors a great blog called Writing Time, with excellent tips and encouragement for writers of all levels. She's currently posting lessons from her class on Courage and Craft.