How to Find Your Zingers

I attended a writers’ retreat at a scenic guest ranch last weekend and had two days of blissful solitude to dedicate to writing. As the twelve other writers in attendance furiously tapped out world-record word counts, I barely managed to scribble one hundred incomplete sentences.

If it sounds like a serious case of writer’s block, you’d be only partially correct. (I can blame this bout on the grief I experienced recently when I my website was hacked and I realized I would need to start over.) But more importantly, I discovered that I needed the solitude to reflect on more than just my writing.

The ranch was a gorgeous, inspiring place to move in and out of my head. I walked along the river, hiked up into the hills, exchanged warm greetings with the resident furry beings and admired the tranquil beauty of the place. I sat upon a gigantic pancake-flat rock along the river’s edge to watch the birds bathe and preen for so long that my butt froze. My camera accompanied me everywhere and it seemed that everywhere I turned, a picture was begging to be taken. If it’s true that a picture says a thousand words, than I suppose I “wrote” plenty.

Truth is, I’m feeling restless. Early winter always puts me in a bit of a funk. I know that I need a new, engaging project, especially this time of year. My intention is to wake each morning eager to do something that grabs hold of my attention with such vigor that time becomes a non-issue. My life, by intentional design, is open to endless opportunities. And with this blessing comes a seemingly impossible list of options from which to choose. Sometimes the enormity of choice feels overwhelming and I’m tempted to respond with apathy.

When I was a working stiff (meaning that my job wasn’t a good fit for me), I’d hit the snooze button on my alarm clock at least a half dozen times, then make my grumpy commute. At work, I’d watch the wall clock all day, urging the arms to tick forward faster so that I could punch out and make my escape. That was hell. I wasn’t making a living — I was earning a slow death. Once that realization hit, I was no longer willing to participate in that kind of “life”.

One introspective day, I asked myself what I wanted to do when I woke up. “Toss the alarm clock, sleep until I’m done and work at something I love to do, from home, in my pajamas.” the little voice said. I figured out how to make it happen. And I lived. This shift happened only after I could identify what it was I wanted to do.

And this is where I tell you about zingers and the 100 incomplete sentences that I wrote during the retreat this weekend.

My spare words came as a result of a simple ten minute writing exercise. Here’s how it works:

  1. Number the left side of your paper from 1-100.
  2. Write as fast as you can on one topic (see below for topic ideas)
  3. You don’t have to write in complete sentences. Just get it down, even if some of it doesn’t make sense.
  4. Repeats are okay.
  5. Write the list in one sitting. It is the sheer volume of entries that dredges up the information from your subconscious mind.
  6. When you are finished, look for patterns. Usually the first thirty items are pretty obvious to you. The second third often contains repeats, and somewhere in the last 10-20 answers, you’ll find a zinger that surprises you.

Some Ideas for Lists of 100:

100 marketing ideas for my business
100 ways I can make money
100 things I want to do
100 things I’m good at
100 things I’d do if I had the time
100 things I’m grateful for

I chose to write a list of 100 things I want to do. Many of my responses were predictable for me (places to see, ways to be creative, nature appreciation) and some took me completely by surprise (ride a zip line, attend a sand castle contest, stay with a host family in an African tribal village). And then, just as predicted in the instructions, the last dozen were my zingers:

89. hit the road and go wherever we want to go
90. settle in and snuggle
91. see the world
92. wonder
93. feel
94. experience
95. live
96. be awake
97. be amazed
98. feel content
99. find the story
100. tell it.

As soon as these items were out, I knew what I wanted: I envision hitting the road with my family in a cozy, snuggly home-on-wheels and letting curiosity lead our way. I want to experience amazing places and meet amazing people. With a camera in one hand and a pen in the other, I want to find the stories and share them.

Try it. Find your zingers. Live life your way.

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18 thoughts on “How to Find Your Zingers”

  1. It’s funny, up until a few months ago, I was never a lists person. I mean, I have run a marathon, done a bungy jump, worked in the space industry as well as the film industry, written three (terrible) novels and many other things but I have never had a list where I could strike those things off.

    I think I’m going to write two lists to compensate for my previous lack of any kind of list. The first is about my future but the second is about the ‘now’ (to keep things in perspective):

    * 100 Ways I can Increase My Savings
    * 100 Things to do Before I Die

    There, that should do it :-)

  2. Ah, I did this several years ago with life goals. Didn’t make it to 100 but a few years later I did look at my list and was amazed how many had come true. Especially the improbable ones!

  3. Jen,
    It is great to hear your experiences. I’ve listened to Brian Tracy recently say the same thing, “Write it down on paper”. Thanks for your insight; another creative approach at helping me and other get ahead in life.


  4. I’m a list person. Always have been. I find they bring clarity and direction to my life, and without them I tend to wander around in apathy. Lately I’ve been feeling how you were. I little lost, with things floating through my head which I couldn’t quite grasp. I think it’s about time to try your exercise and see what I come up with. Thanks for your constant inspiration, and I’ll be looking forward to the day all your great content is back online.

  5. I like the idea that the first 80-90 items are (possibly) just clutter and that once those are out, the real “zingers” (to use your words) appear. I’ve done this in the past but I need to do it more often since I find myself a little adrift trying to decide what I want to do from time to time!

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  7. Jen,
    This post really resonates with me. As you may recall, I’ve been living a ‘new dream’ since August. I know without a doubt that I’m doing the right thing now because when I am doing it, I lose track of time and don’t continually question if what I am working on in the current moment is the ‘right’ thing. In fact, the only time I question my use of time is when I’m not working on something related to it! Time mgmt. has always eluded me. And what I’ve discovered recently, is that when you are living your true passion, the issue of time mgmt. goes away because everything you do just seems to flow and at the end of the day I feel fulfillment and pure joy. A red flag for me now is that if I feel guilty at the end of the day because of the things I didn’t get done, it’s an indication that I am getting derailed by something else instead of simply pursuing my passion (& true calling).

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  9. Pingback: Lists of 100 « Mama Knows Best
  10. Jen, great ideas! I will definitely give a try tonight. I love lists (not to-do lists ;o)

  11. Thanks for the great spin on lists. It reminds me of doing timed writing practice- you burn through the obvious and just maybe get to something real by the end. It works because there’s a goal and a very short amount of time – no room for editing. Just push it out. I’m going to try it out and post my best results.

    100 things to do in 2009 to catapult my dream
    100 ways to afford living on one-income

  12. Thanks for the great spin on lists. It reminds me of doing timed writing practice- you burn through the obvious and just maybe get to something real by the end. It works because there’s a goal and a very short amount of time – no room for editing. Just push it out. I’m going to try it out and post my best results.

    100 things to do in 2009 to catapult my dream
    100 ways to afford living on one-income

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  14. Great post. I somehow have lost the ‘passion’. But, it is my resolution to try my best to find it, again. I am putting up front to do those things that once inspired passion (sewing, writing, figuring out how to travel) and also trying new things (like stop being intimidated, saying ‘hi’ to new people). To see if I can find the passion, the drive again.

    This is a great exercise. And one I look forward doing tonight. :-)

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