What are you doing right now?
Reading this? Wondering what you will be writing? Sitting crooked? Worrying? Noticing that the sky is turning pink?
You can answer a question like that in a zillion ways. Whatever your answer is, write it down.
On the next line, write “Before that…” and write down what you did before that.
Then on the next line (you guessed it) write “Before that….” Write down what you did before that and keep going so that each thing you write down jumps backwards in time from the one before. Fill up a page—or more. This is an especially good exercise to do on a day where the ogre in your head is calling you lazy or accusing you of “doing nothing.” It’s funny how you can think you’ve “done nothing” all day when really you’ve simply forgotten all that you’ve done.
You can write short things or long things, one word or a whole page. You can skip back one nanosecond in time, or 3,000 years. If you skip back to the Big Bang and describe what happened before that, nobody can say you got it wrong.
Try not to plan it all out ahead of time. Don’t commit to what you are going to put down until you are writing “Before that”. In fact, if you think you know what you are going to write and something new comes into your head while you are forming the letters of “Before that,” write that new thing down instead.
When you have finished, go back and read it all over. Add things if you need to. Put the date somewhere on the page and give it a title. If it seems like there is a lot of empty space on the page, fill it with doodles or find a picture and tape or glue it onto the paper.
You can find an example of what you can do here: http://authornancycasey.com/before-that/
Do this exercise a couple of more times during the week. Here are some ways you can change it up:
· Don’t write about yourself. Instead of beginning with what you are doing, begin with something nearby—a person, an object, a plant, a pet—and say what they are doing instead.
· Add lies. You can slip in a single false detail, or you can make everything false from beginning to end. Or to really twist up your mind, alternate between telling the truth and lying with each line.
· Start at some point in the future and end in the present.
· Go back to a “Before that” exercise you have already done and add things to it to make it twice as long.
At this point in your writing practice, you have likely assembled an impressive little sheaf of pages. Go through them and make sure they are in order—whatever kind of order seems good to you.
If you are doing your writing practice on an electronic device (tablet, phone, computer, etc.) print the pages off. (And back them up!) There’s just no substitute for handling and admiring the physical pages of your work. Do something to the pages to turn them into something done by a human, not a machine—draw a border, add some artwork, write jokes to yourself in the margin.
If the whole sheaf of pages had a title, what would it be?
Nancy Casey is a writer and teacher who has lived in rural Latah County for many years. You can see more of her work at http://www.authornancycasey.com.
If you like the idea of writing every week, but want to do it with others in a class setting, you are welcome to attend “Writing Journeys” with Ginger Rankin on Wednesdays from 4-5 at the Latah Recovery Center. The class does exercises from this blog and other things as well.