I received an amaryllis bulb from my mother for Christmas last year, which was unlike others I’d received or bought before. This one came encased in shiny red wax, stuck upon a metal stand, and required no planting, no soil, no water—all I had to do was put it on the shelf and wait for it to bloom. Cool gift—thanks, Mom!
It’s March 10th today, and only now does it sport fierce red blooms, about to fully open, on two stems that didn’t grow beyond a few inches. I worry that some of the blossoms won’t open well, as they’re stuck beneath the top blooms, but I’m in love with its deep crimson petals, its tenacity.
Here’s an analogy for you: I think writers are similar to flower bulbs. We’ve got all that creative energy inside us, and can grow under various restrictions, always with the impetus to bloom, but when we’re given help, and optimal growing conditions, the process becomes easier.
I have been writing with friends via email for over fifteen years, in a daily practice we’ve called “writamins.” Here’s what we do: we take turns sending one word to the group (currently four of us), and from that word, we write. There are no other instructions, other than the general hope that we’ll do it for at least ten minutes, and then send it back to the group.
We read what the others have sent, not for critique or suggestions, but just for pleasure and support, and sometimes we say Yay! Or Love it! Or, often, Wow. Then we receive the next word, and write, and repeat.
We write poems, essays, stories, memoir, rants, pleas, novel chapters, blog posts. There are no rules to what we write, only that we try to do it daily, but if we can’t make it to the page that often, we let the words gather and use them all at once. And, as do so many writers, we have Natalie Goldberg to thank for introducing us to this concept of daily practice with simple prompts in her various writing books.
Sometimes we write things that make it into the world beyond our inboxes. My poem “Advice” started with the word “oracle.” Ditto my poem “Honda CB-750” with the word “trumpet.” I’ve incorporated the daily words into short stories as they come in, and I’m currently using them to rewrite sections of a novel-in-progress.
Last month, on Valentine’s Day, I began offering a Daily Word Prompt on my website and Instagram. (The term writamin is being used in a few places out there on the internet, so I’m not using this name on my sites.) I’m doing this for fun, and to offer support to other creators out there who might find the practice helpful, and to contribute to the writing community that has given me so much.
Sometimes it only takes one word to push an idea forth, or to stimulate a poem; sometimes the piece you’re working on will benefit from that new word and take the work in a new direction. Sometimes (to revisit my previous analogy) a word can act as soil, water, plant food, and give your writing practice a little help when it’s most needed, to really get things growing (end analogy).
The daily word prompts work well on their own, for your individual writing practice. But if you find another writer (or a few) to share in the daily practice, I find that it’s even more useful. When just this little bit of accountability is added—especially if you choose carefully and create a generous, noncritical audience for these first-draft beauties—then the practice gains momentum, and voila, you’ve created a little writing group. The writers I share my daily word prompt practice with live far from me, but we gather once a year for a weekend writing retreat, which is another very helpful practice. It can be a lonely vocation, this writing biz, so being around kindred spirits can be a real boost for the spirit, as well as the writing itself.
It’s been nearly a month since I began offering my daily words, and so far, I’ve had some lovely responses from writers who are using the words in their work. And people who don’t identify as writers are trying them, too! Each word seems to be acting as a nudge to pause and think about the word, its multiple meanings or its personal meaning, and as a catalyst for reflection.
I’m so glad others are finding the power and beauty within the daily offering of one simple word. We writers work with some pretty wonderful raw material, don’t we?
If you’d like to check out the Daily Word Prompts, you can do so via my website, www.juliepaul.ca, where you can subscribe for daily emails, or on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/juliepaulthewriter
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
Julie Paul’s debut poetry collection, The Rules of the Kingdom (MQUP, 2017) was a finalist for both the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She is also the author of three short fiction collections, The Jealousy Bone (Emdash, 2008), The Pull of the Moon (Brindle & Glass, 2014), and Meteorites (TouchWood / B & G, 2019). The Pull of the Moon was awarded the Victoria Book Prize and was named a Top 100 Book in The Globe and Mail. She lives in Victoria BC, Canada.