An Online Writing Retreat

Part 2

Welcome back to SPARK! An Online Writing Retreat. I hope that the Part 1 left you inspired and moving forward with intention and ease. 


Before the start of each part of this retreat, please be sure to take the time to get grounded, prepared, and situated as described in Part 1 so that you can make the most of this hour. I will remind you, of course! And, remember to have your articulated intentions nearby to inform how you engage the exercises and writing prompts moving forward. If you need to, take a few minutes to "empty the gutters." In Part 2, we will: 

  • Explore the idea of "writing what you know"
  • Learn about the relationship between memory, imagination and writing
  • Reflect on writing about personal experience
  • Being consciously using writing as a process of discovery

Sound good to you? Ok, let's begin!

Writing What You Know

It's very common to hear people give advice to writers: "write what you know." All in all, I think it's sound advice; however, for me, what's more interesting than what you already know is what you can discover about your experience that you were not aware of, some insight into the complexity of memory, relationship, and emotions. Writing can help us discover those nuances of experience that add a level of specificity that brings our writing alive.

First, however, it's helpful to start with the concrete details of what you have observed in your own experience, after all, you have lived it and felt it. You do not need to write autobiographically, but I do recommend writing about topics on which you are an expert. Thankfully, each of us is an expert on many different things--your passions, hobbies, work environments, families and relationships, travels and chance encounters.

Some of the most interesting writing comes from those experiences that only you know about, a secret world that you have had access to--a place that no one you know has ever been or witnessed. These secret worlds could include, for example, the break room at your first job where your co-worker secretly smoked cigarettes; the space under your bed where, as a child, you hid from ghosts; the taste of your first kiss in the darkened basement of your best friend's house; the sweet smell of the panadería on 24th Street where you witnessed, through the window, your parent kiss someone you did not know; and the time driving on the freeway with the windows down in your beat up Toyota feeling truly free for the very first time.

Point is, we all have our secret worlds, our moments that we know like no one else. These worlds are ripe for exploration and for creating evocative, intimate, and powerful images in your writing. 

Set your timer for 20 minutes. Start by spending a few minutes making a list of your secret worlds. Then, select one world that you are drawn to and describe it, in detail. Is there a story there? What did it feel like to be there? What were the smells, tastes? How did the air feel? Start with what you know about the secret world and see where it leads you, be open to what you might discover. 

Take a 10-minute break before moving forward.

Writing from Memory and Imagination

As you have likely experienced, writing from our memory requires imagination. Some would argue, in fact, that memory is the source of imagination. For our purposes, the important thing to note is how memory and imagination are connected. After all, what we write, no matter how inventive or fantastical, it is in some way based on what we know. 

Using memory to our advantage is helpful in facilitating the creative process. Each person experiences a situation or event differently, so reconstructing our version of a past event is always going to be a creative project. Our own personal version of the event is shaped by the details we choose to include or exclude. 

Those details are what eventually become the images in our writing. Without images, your writing risks being vague and imprecise and will fail to convey much to the reader. An image, when doing its work, can direct a reader toward some insight, bring your work to an emotional pitch, embody an idea, or draw your reader deeper into the intimate world of you are creating. 

Set your timer for 20 minutes. Before starting, take 5 minutes to make a list of significant life events or rites of passage. Review your list, choose one that stands out to you, and start your timer.  As you write about it, consider what details will help capture your perspective at that time. You might consider using words that you would use at that age. Where were you? Who was there? When did this happen? Consider the sensory experience of the event. Tell the story.  

Reflecting on Part 2


Take a few moments to reflect on your experience with these two writing exercises. Did anything come up for you? Were you surprised anything you wrote? Did you discover something about yourself or your experience?




Before moving on to Part 3, take a break of at least 20 minutes.

Get up, stretch your legs, have a snack and some coffee or tea, step outside--whatever you need to take of your body and get centered for what's next.