I’ve written before about the need to warm up the writing “muscles” before getting down to the day’s writing work. At Sarah Selecky‘s “Writing with the Horses” workshop this summer, our first exercise was a warmup: we were to spend a few minutes listing every word we could think of that starts with “H.”

Easy, right? Nope. I ran out of words after about ninety seconds and spent the rest of the seemingly interminable exercise glancing around at the other writers scribbling away and running through my entire standard repertoire of critical self-talk. During the debrief there was lots of laughter as the other writers shared what were, of course, thoughts very similar to my own: “My words aren’t very poetic.” “I’m cheating [e.g., adding suffixes to words I’ve already noted].” “This is only the warmup and I’m already blocked!”

I loved the way this warmup exercise flowed naturally into both an icebreaker discussion for the group and an analysis of the brain’s sneaky methods for censoring creative work before it starts. So now, when I make warmup lists (this morning, all the names of trees that are changing colour in my neighbourhood), I try to note my stream-of-consciousness reactions to the warmup from one moment to the next, too. It’s like taking an internal inventory, much the way I imagine an athlete must take stock of her muscle groups during stretches. Ooh, stiff quads this morning. Lower-back twinge; better watch that.

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