Look for an old photo. One from decades ago, or one from a few years back. A photo old enough that you may look different from it now, or your life’s circumstances have changed and the you in the photo may not be the you of today.
Now take out a piece of paper, or hop on your computer. I prefer you use pen and paper, but if you’re a dedicated computer writer, use it.
Set a timer and write for 15 minutes nonstop about the photo. Yes, I said nonstop. There is something significant that happens when you allow yourself to simply write (or type, but I would prefer that you have pen and paper) for pages and pages with wild abandon. Or at least until your egg timer dings.
Why? Because you want to get writing done and this is one way to do it. And because it’s good for you. Yes, I said it’s good for you and I say that as someone who has written her entire life, does this sort of exercise, and then wonders why I don’t do it more often.
The prompt of a photo draws your brain away from left-brained analysis and list-making. It pulls you away from what Buddhist’s call monkey mind–the chatter of ego telling you the writing sucks; who are you to call yourself a writer; you’re nothing but a hack. Writing without pausing tells the monkeys to go eat bananas and quarrel among themselves.
The photo pulls you in the direction of introspection and freedom from self-criticism. You may have 500 words when you’re done, or more. Some of it will be sloppy prose and some of it will be good.
And some of it will out and out startle you in ways you could not have known had you not done the exercise. It may be brilliant. Really brilliant.
You will tell a story for certain, even if you find that story in just one of the sentences you wrote. Your newly crafted, short memoir may encourage you to start a daily writing practice that makes your overall writing that much better.
Or it may prompt you to write a blog post like this.
Whatever it is you end up writing, this 15-minute vacation from your everyday reality is a piece of work you can save and use in other ways, or type up and send to your Mom who’s been waiting for you to use your writing skills since high school.
Do not over-think this exercise. It’s just a way to be creative and to stretch your mind. I want you to get your writing done, and this is one way to do it.
And please, if nothing else, don’t disappoint your Mom.