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Writing the Now March 8, 2008

Posted by kayren in Writing.
Tags: , ,

I often feel that learning to write is like learning to fly. You need a number of flying hours logged before you qualify as a licensed pilot.

You don’t need a qualification to write, but you do need practice. This is where you learn to tackle the very real problems of getting words onto the page. A typical practice session can take the form of a free writing exercise where you observe your immediate surroundings, record the details and then use those details as triggers to material for your memoirs.

You might want to put yourself in interesting surroundings for this exercise – a café, a park, a crowded piazza – wherever there are details, people and things that present concrete references for your writing. Notice the bright orange colour of the café signage, the trees on the foreshore leaning away from the wind, the odd couple at the next table.

ParachutingThe point of this exercise is not to produce a publishable piece of work, but to allow the writing process free fall. To go back to our flying analogy, you’ve jumped out of the plane with a parachute and the wind is pulling you out over a new landscape. Let the narrative flow in the same way, recording your thoughts as they come tumbling through your mind. You might find memories triggered by details around you, the tall girl in the blue dress or the dark taste of coffee, the aroma of fried onions coming from  an apartment nearby.

If memory takes you out of the present and leads you to good writing material don’t stop to edit or look for clever analogies, keep the sentences flowing even though the words you produce might seem to be written by the proverbial monkey at the typewriter. If you come to a roadblock go back immediately to recording details of your surroundings.

Confronting the blank page

Freeform writing is also a useful tool for getting started. There are days when confrontation with a blank page, either paper or electronic, can produce a type of mental torpor that leads nowhere. Joseph Conrad once described this problem.  He sat at his writing table looking out of the window and when a man walked past in the morning he added a full stop to a sentence.  When the same man walked back again in the afternoon he removed it.

Learn to take control

While this exercise is useful and will help remove roadblocks and stimulate ideas, it’s important to remember that you must ultimately learn how to establish control over your material. Unless you are writing a journal for your eyes only you need to develop the skills that help you write your story in a way that is both coherent and satisfying to your reader.




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