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:
- Number the left side of your paper from 1-100.
- Write as fast as you can on one topic (see below for topic ideas)
- You don’t have to write in complete sentences. Just get it down, even if some of it doesn’t make sense.
- Repeats are okay.
- Write the list in one sitting. It is the sheer volume of entries that dredges up the information from your subconscious mind.
- 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
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.