October 4, 2011

Connect to this vivid world – a mindful writing practice

Kaspa writes: Fiona Robyn started writing small stones years ago, she says they are, “a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.” I started writing around a year ago. There are three reasons I write a small stone every day:

1) Writing small stones makes me pay better attention to the world. I thought I was pretty good at paying attention – but since I’ve started writing again I’ve really been looking and listening to what’s going on. Really paying attention brings a whole host of things: moments of delight, as well as of longing and sadness. It deepens my connection with the whole of life.

2) Writing small stones makes me a better writer. In the act of writing I search for accurate descriptions, and for interesting metaphors and similes. I try and avoid clichés – I want my small stone to be as fresh as the moment that I noticed. Through writing small stones I have learned new names for things, I have consulted colour charts and plant guides (it’s a cherry laurel at the bottom of next door’s garden) and I have turned the sounds of words over again and again…

3) I love doing it. I enjoy seeing things in the world, and I enjoy the craft of forming something beautiful with words.

Fiona writes: There are no strict rules for what makes a piece of writing a small stone, as there are for forms such as haiku. The process of finding small stones is as important as the finished product – searching for them will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.

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.

How 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 some notes straight away.  If you don’t have any paper, the back of your hand will do.  If you don’t have a pen, play around with some words in your head and hold onto them until you can catch them on paper.  You might want to write a lot down to start with – let your imagination off the leash.  When you’ve written down everything you can think of, you can go through what you’ve got and choose the words that seem to get you close to what you originally noticed.  There – a small stone!

How do I polish up my stones?

The following check-list will help you to polish your stone up until it is as perfect 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?

It is usually more effective to describe something and let the reader draw their own conclusions, than to ‘spell it out’.  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 pieces and put them underneath each other?  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?  How do the words sound next to each other?  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’. The important thing is that you take time to consider them, and do some tinkering. This tinkering should be fun – be playful.

What do I do with my small stones?

You might just want to keep them in a notebook. You might want to send them to your friends or post them at the Writing Our Way Home community. You might want to submit them to my blogzine, ‘a handful of stones’, which publishes a small stone every day. Read the submission guidelines here.

Need a kick start? 

Kaspa has created a free Mightybell experience with seven steps to help you write a small stone every day. You get a writing prompt each day, some encouraging words, and some of our favorite small stones to read. Join here.

Examples of small stones

The following are recent examples of small stones from my blog, a small stone.


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


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


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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