Do You Ever Wonder?

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, the first of our “Second Sunday Writer’s Circle” gatherings at Farmstead. I had a basket full of writing prompts, a timer, and an eager handful of poets from Washburn, Ashland, and Trego. I’d grab a prompt, set the timer, and the room would fall into a vigorous silence only punctuated by the scramble of pens on pages. When the timer chimed, we’d set down the pens and read our works in a circle, unedited.

In the spirit of Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” the focus of the gathering was to infuse our practices with the rigor of the timed writing exercise, paired with the camaraderie of working amidst other writers. The format was simple: write, read, write, read, write, read (rather than write, critique). The idea was to create gatherings that were an energy boost and chance to explore and experiment in an encouraging environment.

The first prompt to be lifted from the basket read “I wish I could tell you.” You can try this yourself! Grab a notebook, write the prompt at the top of the page, and give yourself five minutes. Don’t let the pen (or pencil) stop until the time runs out. Let the writing take you wherever it needs to (there’s no wrong way to go with the content from the prompts). Here is what I wrote, thinking on this newly formed writer’s group:

I wish I could tell you how much writing has been for my life—a friend in loneliness, a confidant in time of fear and doubt. I wish I could tell you my fascination with words, with the process of forming words from thought and ideas into patterns that can be shared with you.

I wish I could tell you it’s easy. But of course, it’s not. Sometimes the well of words runs dry and the best thing in the void of communication is a hug or a soft piece of music. Sometimes getting to the right word is like hauling a boulder uphill or petting the porcupine the wrong way. Sometimes it makes me cry from a deep, raw, vulnerable place within.

I wish I could tell you it will be okay. That if you trust in the process and get out of the way, the words (the right words) will always be there. But that makes it sound so effortless. Getting out of the way, it seems, is forever the hardest part of the process. Because it is a process.

***

And then the timer went off, we read our first works of the afternoon, and we then moved onto the next prompt—sunsets, movie script ideas, a favorite character from a story. Our final prompt of the afternoon was “Hard rain on a steel roof,” and I had to chuckle. The prompt could have easily been “Do you ever wonder” because that’s right where my writing went:

Hard rain on a steel roof… Makes me think of a question an inquisitive client asked earlier this week over lunch with her family. “Do you ever wish you were doing something else?”

I paused, reflecting on how to answer the question. Well, sure, there are days when that would be tempting. We all have those days in our lives, right? Days when it’s 90 degrees out in the glaring sun and you’re making hay in long sleeves with no wind, hand-stacking the 40 lb. square bales onto the jostling hay rack with equipment from the 1950’s that keeps breaking down.

All of a sudden, a storm comes out of nowhere—high winds, instant night. You’re trying to get what you can into the barn, tarps blowing, soaked through and covered in hay chaff. It rains on the hay you couldn’t get in, ruining all that work and critical winter feed.

It rains so hard it sounds like hail on the barn roof, running in a brown river down the gravel road to the creek. Finally it subsides enough that we can scramble back into the house, only to find that the power is out so no one can take a shower or warm up dinner, and we lay there, sweaty, soaked, dirty, on the linoleum kitchen floor, waiting for it to be over.

On days like that, yeah, something else really sounds tantalizing. But then I think about my Millennial friends with the job they resent but keep in order to pay off the student debt, the apartment rent, the car payment, the trap of society. And here I get to be my own boss in my own place, without all those ominous pressures. And so I console myself, knowing that everyone has bad days, and the sun really will shine again, and the power will come back on so I can take a shower and have a meal and recover from the day.

How easy it can be to latch onto the negative things, even when the positives abound. It’s as if the miseries are the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, while ease rolls along, only missed when it’s gone.

***

Often the timer went off right when we were launching into the meat of a story, but these are just starters—places to get the writing energy flowing—and can be revisited and encouraged to grow and flower at any time. You can use this technique too, whether at home, at a coffee shop, in a waiting room, over the kitchen table with friends.

And if you’d like, you can also join us on March 11th, starting at 1 pm for the second Writer’s Circle gathering. This event is free, and writers of all styles and skill levels are welcome. Do you ever wonder what you might write about? Well, stop wondering, grab a pen and paper, and start, right (write) now! See you down on the farm sometime.

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