For today's Writing Craft strand, novelist Satya Robyn explains the meaning, process and value of writing “small stones” – tiny observational pieces of poetry or prose detailing something close at hand.
This morning, I woke up grumpy.
I was too tired to clear up last night, and so was met with chaos in the living room and the kitchen. I burnt my wrist on the kettle. The cats meowed impatiently for their breakfast and I considered going back to bed.
And then, I noticed a red geranium petal on the dirty kitchen worktop.
I picked it up, and wrote a small stone about it:
Amongst the scattered crumbs, this fig-shaped geranium leaf. White-tipped and veined, it glistens in the light as if rubbed with powdered glitter. It is red, red.
This writing didn’t take long, but it took me away from the grumpiness and the crumb–scattered kitchen into a different mood. One of awe. One of gratitude.
What is a small stone?
A small stone is a short piece of observational writing – from one to a few sentences. It doesn’t have a strict form like haiku, and it can be in poetry or prose. The main purpose of writing small stones is that it encourages us to slow down and really notice what is around us – what we can smell, see, touch, hear, taste. I’ve been writing one every day (with a recent hiatus as I finished my fifth novel) since 2005.
People who write small stones have told me about all kinds of benefits from having a regular small stone practice. Writing small stones helps us to step outside our whirling head, which preoccupies most of us for most of the time. It is a discipline to notice at least one thing outside of ourselves every day. If we can be open to what is ‘other’, it can offer us new wisdom and remind us of how many options there are.
Paying attention helps us to notice what we already have – how much beauty there is around us. It encourages us to pause before the sunset or the bright splash of orange on our favourite mug. It is a pathway to gratitude.
Opening ourselves up to the difficult things (the slimy compost heap, the desiccated frog on the road) can point us towards work that needs to be done, and makes us less likely to shut down to those parts of our selves that contain suffering or ugliness. It encourages us to learn more about these parts of ourselves and others – to make space for them.
Writing daily small stones can also get us into good habits, and it is always helpful to practise good habits. We can begin to rely on the appearance of small stones, when we open ourselves up to them. They are all around us.
Small stones hone the writer's skills
For us writers, small stones keep our observational skills as sharp as a razor. It reminds us to look at the world with fresh eyes, which we need to do whether we are writing about facts or fiction. It also gives us practice at playing with words – at the craftsmanship that goes into each sentence.
I don’t need to convince you. Buy yourself a gorgeous notebook. Try writing one every day for a week, and see what you think.
On the 1st of November, people from all over the world will be writing a small stone as a part of our Mindful Writing Day. Join them?
four thrush eggs
in yesterday’s empty nest
~ Margaret Beverland
A misty morning over the moors, sheep drifting as day lifts ever so softly.
~ Máire Morrissey-Cummins
a murmaration of starlings
shape the wet dusk
~ Matt Morden
walking the river upstream knee-deep in sun a moonscape in deep woods among deer prints in bank sand such neatly broken hearts
~ Peter Newton