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Archive for the ‘writing exercise’ Category

If you like to write (or like the idea of writing but hate the difficulty of it), I have an exercise for you to try. I used it to create this article.

Many of us have had those glorious days where the words are flowing to your fingertips faster than you can type. It’s effortless. It’s a wondrous feeling that re-establishes your faith in your abilities and confirms that The Great American Novel is just a few sessions like this from being completed.

bang headUpon returning  to the computer, the black reality sets in. There’s nothing. No inspiration at all. In fact, there are days where I’ve been certain that banging my head against the keyboard would produce better prose than the barely-coordinated tapping of my fingers.

 

 

This is where my exercise comes in. Trust me, it works.

  1. Sit down at your keyboard with no topic in mind. Be sure you are uninspired. Be prepared to accept whatever lands upon the page with the understanding that another person never need see it.
  2. Type. And I’m talking stream-of-consciousness stuff here. I have literally typed “I am typing away because I have nothing to write about and I’m praying it will continue long enough that I will feel I have accomplished something.”
  3. Don’t think. Seriously. Take the words as they come. To start, your brain will be a few words ahead of your fingers. When you get into the rhythm, your thoughts will be a few sentences ahead (or further, if you really get into it!).
  4. Don’t edit for content. And don’t edit for typos (except for the ones that will keep you awake at night. See Word Murder for examples).

This might be the hardest writing you’ve ever done. It might also be the easiest. You’ve been released from your creative bonds. Your thoughts can be disorganized and follow any path you come upon.

road-not-taken-800x402As I mentioned above, what you’re reading is the result of that exercise. I sat down with no concept of what I would write. And now, I’ve delivered more than 400 words in less than 30 minutes.

I’ve been in this place before. Hundreds of times. You probably have, too. The desire to write is there, but it’s a chore because the inspiration isn’t. I know from experience that this method works. At best, I’ve delivered something salvageable I can edit (this article being a case in point). At worst, I’ve spent time exercising the writing muscles in my brain, which will make the next session easier.

Sit down at your keyboard today and have no plan other than to simply start typing. You might just surprise yourself.

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Some people have a musical soundtrack that plays through their minds as they walk or run. I have this, too, but more often than not, I have narration. My head is filled with the story of what could happen to someone in my situation. This morning, it was a rainy walk to work.

The first sentence is the exact first thing that came into my head as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The rest followed me as I went.

*     *     *     *     *

He walked unconcernedly through the rain. The quiet drizzle was a nice respite from the thunderous show of the night before. His umbrella echoed with rhythmic pit-pats as his shoes splashed through puddled evidence of the storm. All-in-all, he told himself, it was a nice change from his usual morning walk to work. A little change to an otherwise monotonous journey he had made hundreds of times in the last five years. People ran past with jackets over their heads or briefcases held high, but their efforts to stay dry were in vain. He allowed himself a smile, though it still took an effort to bring it to his lips.

It took a few moments for him to realize – at least, that’s what he would tell himself later when he tried to recall the exact series of events – that the sound of the rain against his umbrella had gone. His feet still splashed in puddles, but it seemed the rain had stopped. He lowered his umbrella, looking around, but still saw others trying to protect themselves against the wet. He stopped, thinking that he must be in some pocket of quiet, the eye of the storm where all was peaceful.

A sudden gale nearly blasted him off his feet, buffeting him and drenching his clothes. He had a momentary glimpse of his tattered umbrella before it disappeared into the gray of the sudden deluge. Then as suddenly as it had hit, it ceased. Again he was in the quiet in the midst of the storm. But it was different this time.

The rain still fell, but it no longer touched him.

*     *     *     *     *

I have no idea where this goes. And it doesn’t matter. It’s more fun than way.

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This is just me, writing as far as I can after starting with nothing. No ideas, save for what popped into my head right before I sat down. No plan. The only goal is to write until the baloney runs out.

*     *     *     *     *

Rosalyn Flaherty’s paternal grandparents were both Irish. As in, straight from Ireland. They’d immigrated to America after World War II to start a better life for their children. Rosalyn’s father Peter was the their fourth child and first American-born. He always joked about being raised in a world of green. Rosalyn suspected this wasn’t an exaggeration.

Her grandparents never let her forget her heritage, and their tutelage ranged from the history of some obscure traditional dish at supper to celebrating some forgotten holiday, the names of which usually sounded like they were clearing their throats as they taught her the proper pronunciation.

Rosalyn hated it. She hated the history. She hated the culture. She hated her ancestry. If she’d put her teenage brain to it, she’d have realized it all stemmed from her own self image. At the heart of it, she hated her milky skin and the explosion of red curls atop her head, to which she credited her fiery temper, not her contrary nature. She took it all out on everything Irish.

In the predominantly German and Scandinavian area where they lived, the red-headed Flahertys stood out amongst their brunette and tow-headed neighbors. Amongst her peers, Rosalyn felt like a glowing image of color in a black-and-white photograph. Many girls her age expressed their love of her hair, which she took as sarcasm, rather than jealousy. They, and many of their mothers, raved about her flawless porcelain skin. Rosalyn was never gracious about any of the compliments directed her way and her temper often flared up in response. She tried to forestall their praise by keeping her hair short and by concealing herself with long-sleeved shirts and pants, which turned her mother into a clucking chicken who was always picking at one thing or another about her appearance.

Rosalyn drew inwards as she grew older, and lived as solitary a life as a teenager could. Aside from the crowds of her high school and the seeming zoo of her parents’ house, she tried to be alone as much as possible. It relaxed her rigid posture. It cooled her temper. It allowed her to roll up her sleeves and let out the sometimes unbearable heat. Rosalyn’s  higher-than-average body temperature was unfortunate for a person who preferred clothing with full coverage. Her mother had often commented that it was Rosalyn’s anger boiling to the surface, which was a better explanation than the doctor’s diagnosis that some people just had warmer blood. At one hundred degrees, Rosalyn had much warmer blood.

Summer was approaching, bringing an end to the school year, and temperatures had been steadily rising for a month. If she had allowed it, Rosalyn would have been regretting her turtleneck today. But she suffered through it with a dignity borne of will. Without conscious thought, she found herself on a secluded path that led from her school to a nearby woods. The path was rarely used, so Rosalyn often had a quiet walk of no interruption. In addition to the seclusion, the shade afforded some relief on hotter days.

But it didn’t seem to provide any comfort this afternoon. In fact, Rosalyn’s distracted thoughts were soon consumed by her discomfort. The turtleneck seemed to be constricting her and generating a heat of its own. She stopped walking, assuming she had been moving too quickly and was overheating. She looked around, seeking deeper shade in which she could rest. The asphalt path ahead of her shimmered in the afternoon heat, but so did the trees around her. As did the grass and the sky. Rosalyn stumbled, feeling light-headed. Bringing her hands up to wipe away the sweat on her face, she saw a blush upon her white flesh. The blush darkened, assuming the rich color of too many hours in the sun.

Then Rosalyn burst into flames.

*     *     *     *     *

This came to me to me as I walked in to work this morning from my car. My path leads along the edge of wooded park, the border of which is a berm that is topped with tree. Its slope is covered in a short thick growth that radiates heat in the summer.

The thought of someone bursting into flame and adopting the identity of “Flare” led to Rosalyn’s last name “Flaherty”. The red hair and first name developed to follow the fire theme of the story.

The Irish angst seemed to come from nowhere, except as a device on which she could focus her misplaced teenage anger.

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Wisps of cloud diluted the perfect blue of the morning sky, reducing its rich color to a softer hue. Young leaves, bright with life, glowed in the light of the rising sun. Dancing green lights they seemed, as a warm breeze awoke them from slumber. Beyond the sentinel mountain that overshadowed this valley, the sun brought the promise of a perfect day, its yellow rays coaxing vivid summer colors out of all things that fell beneath its gaze.

A tentative hand reached into the branches of a tree and plucked free a large red fruit, its rind as rich and dark as blood. Not an apple was this, he knew. It was too early in the season. The fruit’s sudden appearance had surprised him, considering this was a tree long thought barren. Compulsion, not conscious thought, brought the fruit to his lips, where the sharp white peaks of his teeth pierced the rind. The fruit nearly burst from the wound, and dark juices ran down the man’s chin as he chewed.

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This is just me, writing as far as I can after starting with nothing. No ideas, save for what popped into my head right before I sat down. No plan. The only goal is to write until the baloney runs out.

Usually, writers will recommend that you can’t write effectively unless you sequester yourself in a quiet room with no distractions, whether visual, auditory, or Internet-y. You need to be focused, wholly devoted to the art that is splashing upon the page as dripped by typing fingers than can usually concoct a better analogy than this.

But for this exercise, I’m sitting in the living room, which is our primary communal area in the house. Scout our dog is continually dropping a slobbery ball on my lap. Benji keeps running over, updating me on his play using non-verbal sounds. Sam is sharing Internet memes. Kirsten and I are talking about her work day. Hopefully, she’ll confirm that I’m actively participating.

If you care to read beyond this introduction, I can’t promise you’ll read anything particularly compelling. I might not even review it before I post this. I’m hoping at the very least, it’s grammatically correct (as far as my character goes). Perhaps most importantly, this entire post will be at least 500 words, which is more than I wrote yesterday. It all adds up. It all counts toward the improvement of my writing. Read on, if you dare; send feedback, if you care.

BTW, I wrote this introduction during the writing that you are about to read. I’m sooooo not a linear writer.

BTW2, the computer died in the middle of this, but it didn’t kill my momentum.

*     *     *     *     *

The world is full of good people. You know the ones. The neighbor who cuts that shared bit of lawn between your houses. The mom of your son’s teammate who offers who drive him home after baseball practice. Even that person who opens the door when your arms are full of groceries.

I used to be one of those people. I lived in a nice house with my second wife Marlene and adopted son Josh. I drove kids around. Grilled with the neighbors. Helped people move in. Helped ’em move out. I was a pretty good guy. People used to tell me so, so it’s not just me talking out of my ass.

My job was going well. Recently been promoted, so the bump in pay was great. Sure allowed the paycheck to be stretched further than usual. That seemed to smooth over some of the rough patches Marlene and me had. They were always saying that money was one of the biggest stresses on a marriage. And it might have been for us, except for Marlene’s ex: Bertrand.

His first name’s Murray, but everyone called him Bertrand because that’s how you address cops, whether you’re cop or you know a cop. Always introduced by last name. You probably couldn’t even get his attention by saying “Murray”. Not that you’d want to get his attention. Suspicious sonuvabitch, but then again, most cops figure, they stare at someone long enough, a person’ll confess some dirty secret. And they’re usually right. Bertrand was especially right.

So with this set up, you’re probably already thinking, It’s another good cop gone bad story. The cop in it, he’s the bad guy. Since I’m also a cop, and since I used to be a good guy, yeah, I guess I’d say you’re not far off. My story is about the good cop who went wrong. Way wrong.

But I’d goddamned if that piece of shit Bertrand was going to kill them and not suffer for it.

*     *     *     *     *

And there you go.

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