Writing the Everyday

We don’t have to go anywhere glamorous or extraordinary, or have mind-blowing adventures to find material for our writing.  Stories are everywhere; often the most astonishing stories are ones of the ordinary happenings of daily life. Mary Oliver’s poem “Mindful” can be a useful starting point when considering writing about day-to-day events—or writing about anything, really. I encourage you to read this poem aloud. Take your time. Reflect on which parts stand out to you as particularly beautiful or wise. What is the lesson she offers here?

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Mindful

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

 

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In this poem, Mary Oliver, I think, shares a key to writing about the everyday: to look, to listen, to lose ourselves in this “soft world.” In this way we can begin to recognize the potential for stories, or moments to capture in a poem. The point is not to replicate the event exactly (unless you are a journalist doing reportage, of course), rather it is to find the essence of the experience and create a narrative based on that essence using our imagination.  In other words, being mindful in our attention allows us to see prayers in blades of grass, or infinite possibilities in the ocean’s shine.


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Writing Prompt

Here is how we can practice Writing the Everyday.  I recommend reading through the process before beginning.

1. Take a few minutes to reflect on your day, or the day before, or whatever experience immediately comes to your mind. If you are reflecting on the activities that occurred throughout your day, you will notice that they are most likely commonplace. Maybe you had a discussion with a friend who was excited about a trip they are taking soon. Or, maybe you ran into your sibling at the grocery store. Or, maybe you sat in a park feeding pigeons for a few minutes at lunchtime. Whatever experiences come to mind either make a written list of them or a mental list. Pick one and review the details of the experience. What was your sensory experience? Reflect on what you felt, smelled, saw, tasted, and heard at that time.

2. Explore the details of the experience. Take some notes on the other people involved, and where and when the experience occurred. Immerse yourself. Close your eyes if you care to and bring the situation to mind. Consider the seemingly minor details too. For instance, did a car speed by? Did a car alarm go off? Was the television on airing the news?

3. Identify each character’s desires. Consider what the needs are of each person, character, or participant involved in the situation you selected to write about. Clearly, there’s no way we know exactly what another person thought or felt; this is where the story-making—and meaning-making—starts to happen. What we do know is that everyone always has something they hope to accomplish, or has a problem they want to solve. When we look at the motivations and goals of others, mundane situations become more complex; they become an intricate web of needs, goals, and reactions. This is the stuff of stories or the tension in poem.

4. Examine the impact that this experience had on you. How did you feel in your body? How did you feel emotionally? How do you imagine other people were affected by it? Take some notes on how you answer these questions.

5. Put it all together. Now that you have gathered all of your notes, it’s time to let the story flow. As much as possible, let the words flow out of you and onto the page. Don’t stop to fix a typo or an incomplete sentence. For some, the impulse to correct a mistake is strong. The problem is, when you succumb to that impulse, you are interrupting the creative flow. You will have time to edit later. Focus on letting it flow and discovering the story as you go.

For more information on free writing, see my tutorial, The Process of Writing: Seven Steps to Help You Avoid Writer's Block and Create Polished, Professional Prose.


Let me know how this writing prompt worked for you!

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I would love to hear about your experience responding to this writing prompt. What worked for you? What didn't quite get your words flowing? What more do you want to know about "writing the everyday"? Do you have any suggestions for ways to approach this topic? Do you have any other comments, ideas, suggestions, or questions? Let's chat! 

You can contact me through this form or at abravespace@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Liz Burke-Cravens, EdD

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