On The Clock

Backstory: May 26

10-minutes to clean out mental clutter

Each week in workshop, we begin with a 10-minute warmup exercise to help participants shake loose of the mental clutter of their day, to turn off the critical part of their brains and open up the awareness that comes from a deeper place. A teacher of mine called it the inner-omniscient — that part of ourselves that knows more than we know. Call it the unconscious or the aspect that taps into archetypes. The goal is to create room for it to emerge on the page.

Often, workshop members write surprisingly complete pieces in 10 minutes. Generally there isn’t enough time to create a work of flash-fiction (a short-short story), but writers can come up with glimpses of life from unique angles.

Last week, we began with the prompt to write about a time when you experienced physical closeness. Responses were diverse. Iris Shepard responded to the warmup this way.

By Iris Shepard

The house is pre-dawn quiet. A cat or two sidles past me through the screen door I’m holding open for them. Once it bangs closed, the silence really settles in.

Hot water for the French press, three morning pages to write, a brief meditation. I mix a batch of poppy seed muffins and then start the morning ritual of slowly waking up the house. I open the blinds, unlock the front door, turn on the light in the fish tank.

The boys are still submerged in a sleep so impenetrable that the warm smell of baking muffins, the thin morning light, the bird songs don’t reach them, but it’s past seven — less than an hour until they need to be in school. I cannot imagine how my sleep-rumpled son, Robin, cocooned in his covers will be dressed, fed, teeth-brushed, hair-slicked back smooth, and smiling in his blue chair at his table in his kindergarten classroom. It’ll take a feat of magic.

I stoop and lift him out of bed; he’s a little sweaty, smells a little sour. Sleep has plumped his cheeks, his arms. He’s still asleep when he wraps his arms around my neck and lays his hot, pink cheek damply against mine. I cradle him, this boy who used to be my baby, and walk from his room towards the bathroom. That sleepy morning hug can’t last more than five seconds. He wakes a little as I walk through the kitchen. He pulls his arms away from around my neck, angles his head back, away from mine. And it’s over, that delicious, sleep-infused hug. He won’t get that close again until tomorrow morning.

Ten-minute Prompts

Ten-minute prompts can be very useful for waking up the inner-omniscient, whether for writing or for other creative endeavors — or to bring your day alive.

Writing practice guru Natalie Goldberg (”Writing Down the Bones,” “Wild Mind”) teaches a kind of time-compressed freewriting that involves keeping the pen moving on the page without ceasing and simply allowing the mind to spill forth every thought, image or idea. She provides specific prompts and asks writers to approach writing the way they might approach Zen meditation, allowing the mind to chatter while deeper awareness surfaces.

That technique can be terrific for helping writers gain confidence in their voices and give up the goal of perfection. Powerful material, including whole and substantive stories, can come out of such freewrites.

Writing for a very short period of time while allowing pauses, scratching-out of passages, chewing on the pencil, and other acts that happen when writing a longer work, can make for a different kind of product: a verbal snapshot. Here are some prompts that might work well if you’d like to write under pressure of time:

• Write about the first time you were aware of yourself as a female or male.
• Write about being shocked by an incident.
• Write about a revolution (defining revolution in any way that works for you)
• Write about a coincidence.
• Write about something that happens under the covers.
• Write a piece that includes rain and a visitor.
• Write about a sunset without being schmaltzy.
• Write as though you were flying.

If you take on any of these prompts, I hope they help you to feel energized and connected to a part of yourself that you don’t normally encounter.

*No part of Iris Shepard’s piece may be used without the author’s written consent.

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