Often in workshops I have my young writers “make the ordinary, extraordinary.” How do we do this? We take an ordinary event and then ask ourselves the question, What if? It is often used to take an everyday situation and turn it into fantasy. WHAT IF you ate a meatball that allowed you to hear everyone’s thoughts at the table? WHAT IF you found an unusual coin that allowed you to understand what animals were saying? WHAT IF you found an old newspaper and travelled back in time to when the story took place?
It’s a lot of fun and the kids love it.
Recently, however, I have been thinking about the meaning of the word extraordinary. According to the dictionary it means very unusual or remarkable. Unusually great. What about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary? Where are these unusually great experiences? What are these unusually great experiences? Isn’t that what we want for our character—to experience the extraordinary? We want to draw the reader into a new experience, to create a world in which the extraordinary is possible. If we can’t find the extraordinary in our own lives, how will we create the extraordinary in our fictional world?
In her book The True Secret of Writing, Natalie Goldberg challenges her workshop students to find a “practice” that they will do every day for an entire year. It doesn’t have to be a writing practice. It can be anything. Her intention is that doing a “practice” every day changes you. I’m sure she’s right. It’s an interesting concept and one that I find appealing. What could I do, that I would do every day for a whole year? She also encourages them to take notes on the practice. A way of recording how this practice is affecting you, changing you.
Writing every day is the practice I would choose. It wouldn’t have to be writing my work-in-progress or writing my blog. It could be writing in my Journal or my stream-of-consciousness writing. But I would not go to bed at night until I had written something. Would that be extraordinary? Would that turn into something unusually great?
Another practice I would love to commit to would be to read every day. I couldn’t aspire to reading a book every day for a year as, apparently some have done. I wouldn’t enjoy it and it would seem too much like work. I would be swallowing the book in one gulp and not tasting its contents. No. That would not be my goal. But what about reading something every day and making a note about it? Would that be extraordinary?
Today, instead of a writing exercise, I am posing two questions:
- Is it possible to find something extraordinary in every day?
- Is it possible that by doing something every day, you create something extraordinary?
On my quest for creativity, I have set various challenges to expand my experience. I think it’s time I went on a search for the extraordinary. Who knows what I’ll find!