The hand-driven activity I come back to, week in and week out, is sorting. I take a mess of this and sort it into groups of that. I find it instantly rejuvenating, whether I’m sorting laundry to be put away, sorting recycling into cloth bags, or sorting snacks for bike rides. It doesn’t matter whether I sort in silence, sort to music, or sort while listening to an audiobook — part of my brain is active: the hang-up clothes go here, the cardboard boxes go in the striped bag. As my hands fill baggies with groupings of nuts and dried fruit, I ponder existential questions, like, What is the ideal balance between sweet and salty?
I wouldn’t say sorting is meditative, but it does clear my head. If I’ve been writing for an hour or so and feel stuck, the quickest way to unstick myself is to start sorting. Multiple steps with a minimum of brainpower give ideas time to stand up, stretch, and play. And sometimes light bulb moments happen simply walking to and from the laundry room.
Prompt Guidelines and Options
1. Surely you have something that needs to be sorted. Empty and restock your junk drawer or separate your colors from your whites. Keep a pencil handy or use your phone to jot down any ideas that stand up and wave hello.
2. The next time you can’t find the right word for a poem, or your chapter is bogged down with unnecessary detail, get up, set a timer for 20 minutes, and sort something. When the 20 minutes is up, stop sorting and go back to writing. You can reorganize the entire garage some other day.
3. When we took a cycling trip with a tour group last fall, each morning our guides set out an array of healthy, nonperishable snacks for us to sort into bags, according to our preferences. Since then, I have not made the same snack bags twice. Buy yourself a small plethora of snacks and sort them. Try writing about the taste combinations you create.
4. Try a sensory poem, leaning into the sense of touch.
That’s it! We look forward to what you create when you do it By Hand.
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro