Sunday, July 17, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 14.

[If you find yourself here, baffled, lost, disoriented,
here's the link to the post that might clarify
what you've just stumbled upon --
complete with pic of Louis Gossett Jr.
and Richard Gere.]

Exercises 1-4 will be used in exercise 6.

1. Memory Exercise. This is designed to guide you (goad you) into mucking around where the important, psychologically resonant stuff is stored.

Today, write about your odd aunties, uncles, grandparents, and/or cousins. (For some of you, this is endless.)

2. Eavesdropping Exercise. This exercise is ALWAYS the same, every day. Give me 3 things you've overheard. Start a good writerly habit.

This is designed to help get you in the mode of listening and NOTING what you hear. Because some of you do these exercises in the morning (I'm all for freshest brain cells and PAYING YOURSELF FIRST), you might have to do this part of the exercise the day before. Pay attention to things you overhear or bits of conversation or snippets from radio or TV with no other context (an easy way to play catch-up) or the stories people tell or facts they spout off ... Remember cell phones are walking confessionals -- writerly GOLD. Listen to everything. Suffer (some) fools gladly. Trust me on this.

3. Reading as a writer. I'll be mixing this up from day to day, with some repeats.

Epiphany. I have much to say about epiphany in the short story -- my woe and bitterness and frustration with its existence. But the more I've written, the more I've come to enjoy writing insights. I prefer thinking -- especially in the novel -- of mini-epiphanies as moments of insight. That's the only way I can approach them while maintaining an organic relationship with my characters. Not that I don't build to big moments -- I do. But the epiphany itself -- let's face it -- is daunting. (I was raised Catholic, after all.)

Today, read for epiphany. Be aware of it. Look back to the novels you've loved and find those moments of epiphany. What does it mean to you? What do you think of those moments? Do you have them in your own life?
4. Image Exercise. This one is also the same every day -- more or less -- and hopefully habit-forming. Jot 3 images. Look at something closely. Notice something. Pay attention.

On a recent NYC trip, we saw the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met -- transfixed -- and The Museum of Art and Design -- their miniatures were intricate and disturbing and beautiful. Look back on the best exhibits you've ever seen or look up what's going on now in distant lands. Spend a little time looking at another art form -- choose some elements, images -- and use them to build twisted images of your own or to push yourself into memories ...

[To the right -- this is the cover of McQueen's book Savage Beauty. Here's the link.]

5. The Quote. Everyday I will provide a quote and either a little rant on it or an exercise paired with it.

“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” W.H. Auden
There's a huge difference between these two -- authenticity and originality. Originality can be a beautiful byproduct of authenticity, but aiming for it -- over authenticity -- can lead you away from the truly startling center of your own experience, your own work. To be authentic in this world is a very hard thing for us to do. My goal as a teacher of the craft is to push students toward a vision that is most essentially their own. Yes, each of us stands on the shoulders of the great writers who've come before us. Of course. The craft is passed down, rejected, turned inside out, accepted, fed crackers like a little song bird, allowed out of the cage, built a new brass cage, etc etc etc ... But reflect on authenticity and originality. Spend a little time with both words and your own work and vision for your work.

6. Quilting Exercise. This will always be the same but the parts will change daily.

Pick and choose from the things you've jotted so far -- those disparate elements -- and use them to create something. But don't force it too hard. Have some faith in the resonance of these things in and of themselves. These elements have all been dredged to the surface. They're bobbing in your brain. Start writing something even if you don't know what it is. Let these things bounce in and out. Work. Row.

Remember: If this works for you in some way -- this daily jump start --
and the writing that comes of it startles you in a good way --
then you might want to sign up for THE WRITING REGIMENS at THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW. It's super cheap and very smart and jammed with great resources and pep talks and exercises. Brilliant stuff and a great way to support a literary magazine at the same time.
(They also have contests and post winning works by regimen participants
so a good way to get published.)
If you want to know when the next one is, email