For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part!
Alrighty pals! Let’s consider this a bit of a clean slate. We’re about half-way through the year, and last session’s Cut & Paste gave us an opportunity to revisit our handiwork, pluck out the parts we especially liked, and put them in a special place—okay, a word doc—for safe keeping and easy access. Revisit that collection when you need a boost, return to it when you want a prompt, or let it hang out for a while, untouched, and rediscover your gems a little later on with fresh eyes.
Now, it’s time again to turn our attention outside ourselves. We’re askin’ questions; we’re gettin’ answers; but most of all, we’re listenin’ and we’re learnin’.
#9: Q & A & Q & A ….
First, a quick mental exercise: think back to the last person you met and immediately found to be—for whatever reason—completely, totally, irresistibly captivating. The thrill of getting to know someone new can often fade away as familiarity takes hold. But while you may think you’ve heard all of someone’s tales, even those we know the best have epic stores of personal history that have the potential to surprise, delight, horrify, titillate, and intrigue. So for this exercise we’re asking family, friends, people we know (and maybe some we don’t) about their lives.
Rather than run with the old “write what you know” adage, we’re going to tweak things a bit and be inspired by what someone else knows.
-Family. Friends. People you know (and maybe some you don’t).
Sit down and talk with folks you care about. Get chatty with intriguing types, particularly those you’ve always wanted to know better: ask questions; listen to memories; then ask; then listen. This isn’t necessarily an opportunity take narratives whole-cloth from the facts of someone else’s life. Instead, consider it a chance to build new understanding of those who inhabit your orbit.
On a recent trip home, I sat down separately with my mom and dad and started wondering aloud with them. In the span of a few hours, I had gleaned an entire treasure trove of familial facts that I never heard in all our 32 years together. It was exciting, it was fun, and yeah, it was a little emotional—and there’s undoubtedly far more to find out.
When exploring your curiosity, be respectful of the fact that opening up is a gift. Be sensitive. The act of communicating is key here: reaching out and taking in. Don’t record conversations or take notes while you’re listening. But do spend some time afterwards jotting down the parts that struck you the most while they’re still clear in your head.
-Chat with at least two fellow humans.
Before or after talking with your subjects, pull out some old scrapbooks and photo albums, too. Browse on your own or with a partner in crime. Unlock those old memories.
As always, if you’re just joining us here, now’s a good time to catch up on the previous posts in the series.
#8: Cut & Paste
#7: Show & Tell
#6: Stop, Look, and Listen
#5: Take a (Mindful) Break
#4: Go Big
#1: Pencil on Paper