The Tea House: Fighting the Squirrels, Part III
Here at The Tea House we’ve been talking about what to do when our ideas don’t behave or when we can’t focus on our work. Today I’m sharing my favorite exercise for when I have trouble focusing. This exercise comes from The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long, and it’s called “Hands On: Jump-Starting an Essay or Story.”
This exercise will plunge you into the work of writing a piece. No more chewing on the pencil. No more staring at the page or the computer screen. In the space of an hour, the exercise generates a rough draft, gives you something first to type and then to work on. In this exercise you set the time and write through your hesitations. Do this by yourself or do it with a writing buddy or in a writing-practice group. Write continuously without stopping. If you become stuck, write, “I am stuck” or write our your hesitations: “Let’s see, what else do I want to say, perhaps…” Don’t stop writing and don’t worry about being correct or neat or about whether or not it’s going to be any good. Just write without pausing, without lifting your pen from the page.
- 1. Five minutes — I want to write an essay (story) on… (In this write, spin out a number of ideas.)
- 2. Five minutes — The essay [or story] that attracts me most right now is…
- 3. Ten minutes — List ten items, in no particular order, that I would certainly want to cover in this essay [or story] (make a list of ten items). Note that this one is not exactly a writing practice because you are making a list, and you can pause.
- 4. Five minutes — Take the most interesting thing on the list and write for five minutes on it. Do this three or four times.
- 5. Five minutes — Does this piece have a central dramatic conflict? If so, who is the antagonist? What is at stake?
- 6. Five minutes — If the piece has a central dramatic conflict, write a trial opening paragraph that includes the central dramatic conflict.
- 7. Five minutes — How is the conflict resolved?
- 8. Five minutes — What does the main person in question (protagonist if it’s a story, the “I” if a memoir) do to resolve the conflict?
- 9. Ten minutes — What important questions emerge from this subject matter? (If this is fiction, what are the character’s questions? What are your questions about the character?
10. Now go home and type up these “writes.” Leave a good amount of space between each paragraph — put them in chronological order if you want — but at this point you have not necessarily discovered an order.
Now back to Spike.
I’ve used this exercise over and over to great success. I’m curious if other artists, especially visual artists and musicians, have used a similar technique, or have any ideas for adjusting this exercise for their purposes? If so, please share your ideas in the comments. And writers? Please share your “writes” or your experience using this exercise.
Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including working in a wild west show, as a detective, as a Bigfoot researchers, as a writer for an internet content farm, and as a busker. These days she’s a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press, with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book, Placenta of Love, is now available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at her website or on Twitter at @spikemarlowe.