Sunday, July 3, 2011

Baggott & Asher Writerly Boot Camp. Day 3.

[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.]

A small note: If you want to share your bits, head on over to the link that I post on Facebook every morning around 9 or 10am. You can decide how much or how little you want to share. You don't have to share ANYthing at all. Not one word. (People have been asking and I had mentioned opening up my comments section but have decided Facebook works just fine.)
I'm there at this link.


ANOTHER small note: Um, will we have boot camp on the 4th of July?
Nope. We sure won't. You all are on leave. For one day only.


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, jot a memory of coal, a kitchen from your past, the moment you realized your parents could no longer protect you in the world.


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.

The books you love are blueprints. Each of them is actually an individual tutorial with its author -- dead or alive.

Open one up. It probably begins with a sentence. Just one. That's the start. What does it do? Set up plot? Character? Does it -- as John Irving has recommended -- tell the entire plot in that first sentence? Does it -- as was noted yesterday by way of Martinez -- give us that experience of sudden reality? If it's a line in a poem -- does it represent the impression of the whole book in some way?

Pick up three more books. Look only at first sentences. Choose one to imitate. And here I'm going to be hugely bossy. This was actually an assignment given to my mother by an elementary school teacher -- a nun in the 1950s. I want you to first copy it punctiliously. If the first word is an article, choose a different article. If the second word is an adjective, use another adjective, very unlike the one on the page. If the next word is a noun, use a very different noun. In other words, MAD LIB this sentence.

After that, relax. Pick up more books and read opening sentences. Sit there. Let all of the sentences rummage and churn. Now write one of your own.

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.

Today, pick something that smells foul, something that fits neatly in the trunk of your car, and a noise that indicates it's early morning.


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

Today, it's this one, since we're talking so specifically about openings. It's a quote from John Cheever, but brought to me by way of novelist Matt Bondurant. (If you want to know the connection, pre-order Bondurant's THE NIGHT SWIMMER. And I hear the film adaptation of his novel THE WETTEST COUNTY IN THE WORLD got rave reviews at Cannes.)

"When the beginnings of self-destruction enter the heart it seems no bigger than a grain of sand." -- Cheever



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.