Mindful Writing Tool: small stones

stones by nemo starsmall stones will help you connect to the world, in all its richness & complexity & juiciness. Join us for our Mindful Writing Challenge in January and write one every day for a month…

What is a small stone?

A small stone is a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.

towels and shirts and pillowcases show me the shapes of the breeze

Why write small stones?

When we translate something we’ve seen or experienced into words, it is necessary to pay more attention than we usually would. A few minutes of mindful attention (even once a day) helps us to engage with the world in all its beauty.

To find your own small stones:
1. Keep your eyes, nose, mouth, fingers, ears & your mind open.
2. Notice something.
3. Write it down.

What does a small stone look like?
As long as it’s shortish, anything goes. There are no strict rules as there are for forms such as haiku. small stones are often concrete, specific, and written about ordinary things – birdsong, or a dark grey cloud.

Do I have to be a writer to write small stones?
No. The process of finding small stones is more important than the finished product. Searching for them will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.Your short written piece (and learning to enjoy writing & the deliciousness of words) is simply a happy by-product of this process.

Where will I find small stones?
small stones are everywhere, all of the time. All you have to do is pause and let them appear. You’ll know when you see one, because it will set off a small burst of feeling inside you. It might be that you really notice the ugliness of a piece of chewed gum on the pavement, or the beauty of a pigeon, or vice versa. An overheard snippet of conversation might strike you as amusing, or strange. Whatever you notice, you will be noticing it with fresh eyes.

pebble circle by james michael hillHow do I pick up my small stones?

The best way is to catch them as they occur, by carrying a note-book around with you and jotting down what you’ve noticed or experienced straight away.

How do I polish up my small stones?
Polishing small stones isn’t as important as finding them in the first place, but it is fun! These tips will help you to polish your small stone until it is as accurate & beautiful as you can make it:
* Have you used precise words? Was the berry red or was it scarlet?
* Is every single word necessary? In a short piece of writing, every word must earn its keep. If it doesn’t add anything, take it out!
* Have you shown us something or told us something? Let the reader draw their own conclusions. Rather than writing ‘the sky was beautiful’, show us the sky.
* How does it look on the page? Do you want to use a title? How do you want to use capital letters and punctuation? Do you want to break up your sentence into shorter lines? Fiddle about until it looks right.
* What does it sound like when you read it out loud? Does the rhythm please you? Do you stumble at the same point every time? Fiddle about until it sounds right.

There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions – part of being a writer is discovering your own unique way with words.

seven storey by pascalWhat do I do with my small stones?
You might just want to keep them in a notebook. You might want to start your own blog. You can post your small stones on Twitter using #smallstone. Or you might want to submit them to our blogzine, ‘a handful of stones’, which publishes a small stone every day. These small stones also appear on our Facebook page here.

What next?
You can get into the small stone habit by signing up for our Mindful Writing Booster or our new package 31 Days of Waking Up. You can buy our anthologies of small stones – ‘pay attention: a river of stones‘ and ‘A Blackbird Sings‘. You can join our next January Mindful Writing Challenge in Jan ’14. Keep noticing! Keep writing!

More examples of small stones

tulips: upturned spanish skirts in poster-paint yellow, raspberry ripple, virgin white, purple-brown

He asks for the order seven times. Two small sausages, two fish and three chips. He’s stopped from putting the plastic bag where it will melt. He smiles at his mistakes. He wants to get it right. People get impatient, despite themselves. ‘He’s a good kid really’, the owner says to the customers, and we all feel better.

lime-green periscopes of fern rise through the dead

bluebells hover above ground, a mist of spring. dark greens, the snap of twigs. at the exit of the woods the fields drop away. in the bowl of the vista, neat rows of poplars blaze orange.

we sit outside in the first warm-enough sun of the year. we drink our tea. there is a small slug in the grass. kaspa pulls two white hairs from my head.

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Photos by nemo.star & pascal via Creative Commons with thanks.