This exercise is an experiment. We’re going to alter the way you write. These aren’t designed to be long-term solutions, just a way of producing new material by rearranging, slightly, the way you think about writing.
Often changing the way in which you do things can yield positive results very quickly. However, there really is no substitute for just writing. No amount of gimmicks should ever get in the way of the one job you have, which is to write. There’s a very wise saying that we used to advertise the early sessions of Life Writing – Don’t be a writer. Be writing.
Whilst it might be fun to see how other people worked (The Paris Review Art of Fiction interview series is very good for this; Hemingway is said to have stood up to write), or manufacture the perfect literary office from which to work, sometimes these can divert us from the task. Often these are in fact carefully manufactured to delay the task. And the task is to write.
That said, by way of experiment play around with the exercises on the next few pages.
Take a short piece you have been working on but haven’t finished. You might like to continue working on one of the stories started on a previous exercise.
Now think of yourself as like an actor trained by Lee Strasbourg or Uta Hagen. You abide by the Method – the rigorous drama training that sees personal experience as the crucial driver behind great acting. Remember Marlon Brando mumbling or Dustin Hoffman in the dentist chair? There was a whole theory behind that!
While it should be obvious that a working knowledge of your subject is essential for uncovering the truth of it, this exercise will have you pursuing real experience.
The trick is to allow the content to be matched by the position in which you write it. So, for example, a piece exploring the by-play of politics could be attempted in the public gallery of a senate building. Loneliness, in a bar alone on Saturday night, or on the moors in the rain.
Experiment. Place yourself in positions that are uncomfortable. You may find that this in fact makes them conducive to producing a certain kind of material. Get metaphorical. If you are writing about someone’s life spiralling down the drain, lock yourself in a public toilet for 30 minutes.
The time constraint on this depends on the situation. But remember, live it – write it. You are a transmitter.