There are many fantastic reasons to write. But I recently came across one of the best reasons, said by author Zadie Smith: “To speak personally, the very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.”*
It’s easy to sleepwalk through our lives, isn’t it?
Understandably, each day can look like the one before. After all, each day is filled with a lot of the same: getting up at the same time; going to bed at the same time; eating similar foods; going to work or school; running errands; doing chores. You feel like you’re on a train watching your life breeze by, and you don’t see the details. Which makes you think that the details don’t really matter. Or, again, they’re all the same.
But they are not.
Each day also is filled with moments. These may be small moments – tiny moments even – that are different. For instance, nature is different every day. Of course, the weather is different. Here in Florida temperatures vacillate between 40 degrees and 70 degrees—sometimes within hours. Flowers bloom and wither. Leaves change colors, fade, and fall away, and new ones are born. The sky is clear or cloudy. Some days it’s bright blue. Other days it’s silver or snow white.
Our loved ones are different every day. They look different, and feel different. Your partner’s eyes may change hues depending on what they’re wearing. Their hair may sit differently. They might be well-rested and make silly jokes. Or they might be exhausted and overwhelmed with worry.
We are different every day. We feel different emotions during a 24-hour period. Our energy rises and drops. So does our mood. Our homes smell different, depending on what we’ve cooked or the candles we’ve lit. The sunlight will hit our rooms differently in the early morning than in the late afternoon, sometimes painting shadows on the wall, other times making it seem like there’s gold on the kitchen table.
It’s understandable that we don’t see these details or these moments, because we’re busy or we’re stressed or we’re dealing with serious things, urgent things that need our immediate attention.
As I mentioned in this piece, it can be both/and. We can acknowledge our stress and overwhelm, and we can look at our husband’s eyes, really look at them. And we can watch the sunrise. And we can savor the first few bites of our sandwich. And we can notice a stranger’s sadness and smile at them. And we can write about it. We can record these details, and these moments, quickly if we’re pressed for time. And we can return to these writings at night, and describe them further. We don’t need to be developing a story or producing any creative project at all. We can do it because we want to wake up.
Here are 10 prompts to get you started in not sleepwalking through your life:
- Write down one thing that is different today. Or write down one thing that is different in each category: me, sky, my spouse, my surroundings, my child, my home.
- Jot down what you notice on your commute.
- Today, ____________ was beautiful.
- Today, ____________ made me smile.
- Tomorrow, I will be awake for __________.
- Set three alarms for three different times during the day—and jot down anything you notice when each alarm dings.
- When I look up, I see ____________.
- When I look down, I see __________.
- Today, I noticed ______________ in my natural surroundings.
- Right now I’m feeling ____________ because ___________.
Our default tends to be to sleepwalk through our lives, to walk with our heads down, hyper-focused on serious tasks including various responsibilities at work and at home. Writing nudges us to notice. It nudges us to pay attention and reflect on what’s really important. It nudges us to wake up. And you don’t have to think of yourself as a writer to start, any more than you need to think of yourself as a chef to make dinner or as a photographer to take pictures. All you need to do is grab a notebook and a pen, and open your eyes.