Creative Writing Exercise Number 6 from the Archive
We need to make the most of the summer so today’s exercise is very simple: go outside to write whenever you have the chance.
But do it in a way that’s different to previous times. Avoid your favourite coffee shop or if you must go there, don’t sit in your usual seat.
We are such creatures of habit. I know as a creative writing tutor that students tend to sit in the same seat week after week. (And I do too whenever I attend a class.) Of course, as a tutor that makes my life easier as it is a great aid to learning names but one of my jobs is to contrive ways of moving people around, mixing it up a bit and giving the left hand side of the class a chance to talk to those on the right, because who knows a new best friend might be sitting over there or someone who says something that connects with an idea that has floated around in your mind for awhile and wham! a s story is born.
And doing things differently also applies to how you write. I’ve read a lot of claptrap over the years about how you’re supposed to do it, usually in favour of writing everything out longhand. There was even an argument that the direct connection from the heart to the hand allows for greater creativity while the cold sterility of word processing produces more mechanical results. Double claptrap! We all find a way of writing that first draft that somehow feels right for us, maybe in ways that’s hard to define: if that means purple ink on yellow notepaper sobeit. What works works and there is no ‘should’ about it.
I am the only one in my family who has never learned how to touch type, despite the fact that I am the only one in my family who has always earned my living through words in some way or other. Yet ‘real’ writing for me has always been typing or word processing. Handwriting seems too ephemeral; too easy to scribble over, ok for notes but not for a proper well-crafted sentence. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense but that’s the habit I’ve got into so when I write in a cafe or on a train it is because I have my laptop with me.
What I’m suggesting is break the habits that you’ve acquired and see what happens. If you do usually write by hand, discard your notebook (just for this exercise, not completely) and write on sheets of A4 paper stapled together. Or go to a pound shop and buy an old school “exercise book” with lined pages and cheap paper that has the feel of old fashioned blotters. Alternatively, treat yourself to an expensive notebook with thick creamy paper and justify it by committing to covering every page by the end of the week or by the end of the good weather which ever comes first.
Disrupt your writing routine in some way
Write sitting on a park bench near a playground with squeals of ‘look at me, Mum! Look at me’ in the background; write sitting on a bench near a bus stop or on the side of a busy road where you can smell hot tyres and the remains of a late night takeaway in the gutter. Catch a bus and sit upstairs at the back. And write.
Sit under a sunshade in a pub garden. Pretend you’re waiting for someone and you’re making notes while you wait. Frown frequently at the screen or your notebook as if you were adding up a column of figures, but really you’re writing extraordinary sentences.
Go into your own garden or sit on your own balcony, carving out half an hour of uninterrupted time for yourself. Focus on something ugly that you can see and write as if it were beautiful.
And if you do all that and can’t think what to write start off with this line: I don’t know what to write…and keep on writing until something comes.
A version of this exercise appeared on August 11 2015