March 25th, 2009

Writing exercises: how to get over yourself

I spent today running three workshops with 30 kids each–I can barely hold my head up, but the experience was amazing, and in a few cases I was genuinely excited about the promise of more work by these kids. The interesting thing about most of my students, and I’d have to gender-stereotype here and say especially the boys, is that they are in no danger of taking themselves too seriously. They don’t draft and they don’t fret; if it’s not good the first time, well, then it’s not going to be good. An amazing proportion of the work *is* good, that’s the startling thing, which speaks to a) natural talent and b) the power of egoless writing.

It’s harder for an adult to write without hoping to impress someone, even ourselves. We aim for perfection, truth and posterity, and are crestfallen when we just obtain accurate interesting prose. Not that a little truth and perfection isn’t a lovely thing, but writing fast and furious, without wondering, “But is it *beautiful*?” can often show a writer just what he or she is capable of.

Here’s a couple exercises given to me a few years back by my wonderous mentor, Leon Rooke. I had a bit more free time back then, but I’d still recommend doing these if you have a free weekend. They’re fun and low-pressure, if a lot of work. I’ll bet you’ll be as surprised as I was at how much good material you produce. Lots of nonsense, too, but you can’t make a cake without breaking some eggs.

1) Write 20 opening paragraphs. Go from one to the next if you can, and don’t follow up on any of them until you’ve got all 20 down. Use as many different voices, tenses, tones and styles as you can.

2) Write 3 stories in 3 days. I guess this one would take a long weekend, or you could space 3 days apart. But only 24 hours allotted to each story, which means you probably can’t revise at all on this draft. Which is ok. Really. I promise. Unlike the whippersnappers, I won’t check your work.

And now I have to go, because the funny thing is, *I’m* being workshopped tonight. It’s a theme day. And so, I must make pizza.

Sweet summer all around

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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