There’s a book I return to every few years. It’s Danish book, written by coach Pernille Melsted, and I found it in a bookshop eight years ago when I was stuck in the job from hell. Example: there had to be total silence in the office. If we talked for more than two minutes, the “senior” woman would tap her watch and clear her throat three times. I was only a maternity cover and I was the second person to quit that job in four months. When I reach for that book, I know something is wrong.
Pernille has also created an online course based on the book, and I was listening to that this morning. She mentioned an exercise that I first thought sounded utterly ridiculous, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try it.
It’s an exercise about being in the moment, focusing on the now and shutting out the extraneous noise that’s all around us.
You have to eat a raisin – in five minutes.
As in how many raisins can I eat in five minutes?
No, just one raisin. But you have to take five minutes to do it.
Could I really take five minutes to eat a raisin? Could I spend a whole minute just looking at it, feeling it, taking in every little wrinkle on that dehydrated grape? Another minute breathing in its scent, trying to catch a glimpse of that hot California sun?
It really would require intense focus. No phones, no thoughts about what my characters were getting up to without me, no stray thoughts about where my life is going.
They would be five incredibly long minutes.
My writer’s twist would be to spend the five minutes with the raisin – and then spend another five minutes writing about it. Just jotting down all those thoughts that staring at that little Kindergarten snack has left me with.
My father told me a story of how he got into a fight at school once and, as a punishment, he had to write an essay on the inside of a ping pong ball. It’s air – what else can you say?
We’re so busy and we so rarely get the chance to switch off. There’s always a notification coming in from somewhere, another chore to do, another errand to run or email to answer. It’s no wonder we’re all going crazy from stress. When you’re a writer with a day job, there’s even less time to relax and just be in the moment. But I think we need it. I think we need to get away from those little devices that have snapped up so much of our attention, and just focus on the real world.
For us writers, during those times when we’re stuck, when the words just won’t flow, forcing ourselves to focus on one little thing might just be the path back to inspiration.
Tomorrow I will pick up some raisins on my way home from work.
If I can write for five minutes about a raisin, I can write about anything.