Write a 5-Sentence Mini Memoir

I’ve “found” my voice, then, just where it ought to have been, in the body-warmed breath escaping my lungs and throat.
Nancy Mairs

 

One of my mentoring clients mentioned recently that a writing teacher once told her 90 percent of writing comes down to “butt in chair.”

 

True, your butt has to be in the chair in order to write.

 

But what if your butt is in the chair, and you are not? In other words, your butt—your body—is in the chair, but you are not in your body?

 

One of the challenges many women writers I work with face—myself included—is to stay in our bodies when we write as opposed to rocketing up to our heads or, as the case may be, to the ceiling above the chair our butt occupies.

 

There are many reasons for this, from past trauma to internalized cultural shame that surrounds the female body.

 

But writing is a present-time activity. You have to be present in order to write, and you have to be in your body in order to be present.

 

For this reason, I am a firm believer in “supplementing” your writing practice with a mind/body practice (emphasis on body) such as yoga, walking, or EFT tapping  (to name a few) that quiets the mind and returns you to your body, your breath, your voice.

 

Last month I attended a “yogatry” workshop (that’s yoga + poetry) where I experienced first-hand the power of what I call embodied writing.

 

The workshop was set up so that we did a half hour of yoga followed by a half hour of writing followed by a half hour of yoga and so on.

 

My friend Laura-Gray Street, author of Pigment and Fume and co-editor of The Ecopoetry Anthology, led the writing portion of the workshop.

 

She reminded us that writing is a physical activity—that the movement of the hand simultaneously “stirs the mind,” delivering images to the page, even as it settles the mind, drawing us beneath the mind’s chatter.

 

In other words, the physical act of writing to the rhythm of your breath drops you beneath the surface chatter of your mind—Natalie Goldberg calls this “monkey mind”—and into your body, where you connect to your voice.

 

“Language engages the physical world the way yoga engages the physical body,” Laura-Gray said. “Your hand on the page will start telling you things to write.”

 

She emphasized that concrete images (as opposed to abstract ideas) make our stories “touchable, solid, embodied.”

 

One way to practice writing concrete images is to tune into your senses and write what you hear, see, smell, taste, and feel (as in touch).

 

After all, your senses are of your body. Therefore, in order to engage your senses, you must occupy your body.

 

Butt on mat, pen in hand, present to our breath, engaged with our senses, we wrote.

 

In this embodied state I wrote from my deep, wise writing self, the part of me that knows. Words flowed onto the page.

 

Before I knew it, a structural obstacle I’d been facing in the writing of my memoir cracked open and a resolution possessed of an internal, associative logic presented itself. The page may as well have been a silver platter.

 

Such is the power of embodied writing.

 

Now it’s your turn.

 

The following writing exercise will help you tap into your mind’s associative logic.

 

The mind’s associative leaps energize writing with a deeper meaning that often eludes us when we set out to “figure out” what we want to say.

 

Like yoga, this exercise is about twisting, reaching, opening up. It will get you out of your own way so that you can inhabit your own being and discovery what your deeper writing self has to say.

 

Laura-Gray calls this prompt “5 Easy Pieces,” or 5 Sentences. She first came across it in The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach by Robin Behn.

 

Here it is, filtered through my interpretation, several people removed from its original source. I’m calling my version the “5-Sentence Mini Memoir” exercise.

 

Write a 5-Sentence Mini Memoir

 

To begin, focus your attention on your breath. Breathe in and breathe out. Notice each inhale and each exhale. Do this for several minutes. Your attention will wander. This is normal. Release the thoughts that flutter into your mind, then return your attention to your breath. Repeat as often as necessary.

 

Once you are settled into the rhythm of your breath, think of a person. Choose the first person who comes to mind.

 

Then write the following five sentences.

 

(Note: If you find yourself “overthinking” any one of these sentences, you’ve likely gone up into your head. Close your eyes, return your attention to your breath, then resume writing.)

 

Sentence 1. In one sentence, describe your person’s hands.

 

Sentence 2. Write one sentence that describe what your person is doing with his or her hands.

 

Sentence 3. Write one sentence that uses a metaphor to say something about a foreign or distant place.

 

Sentence 4. Write one question you would like to ask your person in the context of the foreign place and the thing he or she is doing with his or her hands.

 

Sentence 5. When you ask your question, your person looks up, notices you there, and answers your question in a way that suggests he or she “gets” only part of what you asked—the answer is an incomplete or oblique response. In one sentence, write your person’s response to your question from Sentence 4.

 

Read your five sentences aloud. Listen for the deeper theme that unifies your sentences into a cohesive mini memoir.

 

What did you discover? Any surprises? Let us know in the comments below.

 

And remember, next time your butt is in your chair, tune into your breath so that your hand on the page (or keyboard) can start telling you what to write.

 

Writing is, after all, a mind and body activity.

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2 comments

  • Zoya February 18, 2015   Reply →

    Thank you for posting this exercise, Marilyn! I sat down and did it was surprised what images came out of 5 sentences of writing. Just what I needed today. 🙂

    • Marilyn Bousquin February 18, 2015   Reply →

      Hello, Zoya! So good to see you here, and I am delighted to hear that this exercise hit the spot for you today. I am always amazed at how our mind hands us the images that tell our story beyond what we can ever “think up.” Looking forward to hearing more about your writing soon! Best, M

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