MONDAY CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISE because it’s a good way to start the week: using a writer’s notebook to create thumbnail sketches
First read this poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymorska
THE ONE TWENTY PUB
The bomb is primed to go off at one twenty.
A time-check: one sixteen.
There’s still a chance for some to join
the pub’s ranks, for others to drop out.
The terrorist watches from across the street.
Distance will shield him
From the impact of what he sees:
A woman, turquoise jacket on her shoulder,
enters; a man with sunglasses departs.
Youths in tee-shirts loiter without intent.
One seventeen and four seconds.
The scrawny motorcyclist, revving up
to leave, won’t believe his luck;
But the tall man steps straight in.
One seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, over there with the walkman
– now the bus has cut her off.
One eighteen exactly.
Was she stupid enough to head inside?
Or wasn’t she? We’ll know before long,
when the dead are carried out.
It’s one nineteen.
Nothing much to report
until a muddled barfly hesitates,
fumbles with his pockets, and, like
A blasted fool, stumbles back
at one nineteen and fifty seconds
to retrieve his goddamn cap.
How time drags…
Any moment now.
translated by Dennis O’ Driscoll
To do this creative writing exercise you need a writer’s notebook. This should be as cheap as possible – remember the thin little red ones you used to get in Woolworth’s? Well, something like that, something you can fit into a back pocket, something that can be crushed into a tiny space.
A writer’s notebook is only for the writer. You don’t need one that has been carefully crafted with a tooled leather cover and fine cream notepaper…in fact that kind of notebook is a barrier to writing because you’ll feel that you will only be able to jot down well-constructed phrases and elegant figures of speech in your best handwriting. You need to cross out, scribble and doodle.
This notebook is for random thoughts, the smell of fresh pretzels, the taste of strong tea, the sensation of a silk scarf being rubbed between your fingers and the way the limescale on your kettle looks first thing in the morning.
It is for rapid, three word descriptions, overheard conversation, your eyes only.
Back to the exercise, make notes about a place where lots of people congregate – a cafe, a bus, a shopping mall…Jot down more information than you will need… the colour of a headscarf, the way the rain bounces off a plastic table, the sound of laughter (what kind? Boisterous? Sniggering? Forced?)
THINK ABOUT the way Szymorska created short thumbnail sketches.
Describe the scene and then focus in on three people.
*A SNATCH OF DIALOGUE
*PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION – be selective. Choose the one thing that sums the person up.
*CHOOSE THE RIGHT VERB TO DEFINE A SPECIFIC MOVEMENT
REVISE. If you can cut a word then cut it. And remember adjectives don’t get lonely – they don’t need to travel in pairs!