Writing Prompt: What a Knee Replacement Teaches Us About Writing Prompts

by Matilda Butler on December 8, 2015

Writing Prompt LogoPost #223 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Matilda Butler

The Case For Writing Prompts

Many of us like writing prompts. They can get us thinking about our writing in a new way. They can help us explore dimensions of our lives that might not come up otherwise. They can let us focus on the craft of writing. They can get our creative juices flowing. And the list goes on.

But this matter of writing prompts is not a settled issue. There are some who argue that they are a waste of time. That the same amount of time is better spent actually writing the memoir (or novel). Although I’m on the side of the argument that favors writing prompts (how could I not be since I tend to see the world as a series of writing prompts), I have been able to sympathize with the other side. I feel it is just a matter of personal choice.

However, …

Memoir writing exercisesBut I am now even more of the side of writing prompts. Why? My life partner recently had a total knee replacement. I won’t go into details other than to discuss the knee exercises since they are what suggested the link to writing prompts.

In the weeks leading up to the operation, we were given a booklet with two kinds of exercises for the knee. One was a series of four “basic” exercises and an additional four “advanced” exercises. We were told to begin the exercises immediately and to do them at least twice a day until the operation.

Why? The physical therapist knew that the muscles weren’t well toned and had developed what I like to call lazy habits. This was certainly true for my partner. The pain had grown so bad over the years that he developed coping mechanisms. For example, if standing, he put all the weight on the good leg. If walking, he developed an uneven gait (think Pegleg Pete or even Captain Ahab) that allowed more time on the good leg and little time on the other. To favor the most comfortable position, he turned out the foot of the bad leg. Etc. The muscles simply weren’t doing what they should.

The exercises done pre-surgery got him ready for exercises post-surgery. The mind and the body got used to what needed to be done. And equally as important, a new habit was set.

This helped me see the value of an exercise, even when done in anticipation of a later action. So if you haven’t been using writing prompt exercises, you just might find that they help get your writing muscles ready for the actual work of memoir writing; you just might find that a valuable habit is started that will help you over the difficult times ahead.

Memoir Writing Prompts and You

I don’t know if you use writing prompts. If so:

1. Think about the best writing prompt you have used. What was it? How did it help you? Write it down now and recall the benefits. Use it again and see in what way it evokes different memories or different writing skills today than previously.

2. Link a physical exercise with a mental exercise. Here are three:

—Take a five minute walk in your neighborhood. When you return, write about the sensory experiences from your walk.

—Take a small can (green beans, split pea soup, fire-roasted tomatoes, etc.) in each hand. Extend your arms and lift them up until your hands are over your shoulders (don’t drop the cans!). Repeat this five times. Put the cans down. Do the same exercise but without any weight in your hands. Think about how much lighter your arms feel. Write about a time when your life made you feel heavy, when the weight of your experiences was almost too much for you. What happened to change the weight? Were you able to “put it down” in some way? How?

—Stand in a comfortable position. Take a deep breath, hold, and slowly exhale. Do this three times. Now sit again. Life often presses in on us and we develop a habit of shallow breaths. Deep breaths increase the oxygen level in your body. Breath in slowly and think about a burden that you recently took on. Hold that thought. Then slowly exhale and release the burden. Now write about the burden, what it means in your life, how you might release it.

I hope you return often for our regular writing prompts.

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