Sam van Zweden




Back to Exercising

I’ve let the ball drop on my one-exercise-per-day goal that I set a few months ago. I’d decided I was going to do a different writing exercise every day, and when I hit on something worth keeping, I’d work that up to something presentable, but keep doing the exercises. The point though, was to keep the brain active and challenged. It’s easy to get stuck on one project, or to find yourself writing the same story over and over again. And I know so many people that produce so much work. I’d love to be one of those people. But it takes a lot of dedication and hard work.

So today I got back into it, and mean to stick with it. It’s about routine, I think. When I get up early and write, I do well. When I push it to the end of the day, what I produce is a half-arsed nothing.

Today’s exercise was one I’d done before, but hadn’t known where it came from. I did the exercise originally in a creative non-fiction unit at school, but it was well worth repeating. The exercise was from Now Write! Non-Fiction. It involved writing down every detail I knew (without looking) about my writing space, and then boiling that down to the salient details. I was amazed by how many tiny details I knew about the space without looking, but when I did look I was surprised by the size of some of the things I’d missed: the heater. The light hanging from the ceiling, and the water damage in one corner. The fact that the mantle is coming away from the wall some. I missed these things, but I remembered some tiny tiny details, like what notes were on my pinboard, and what was in my box of stationery.

The salient, tangible and telling details I kept about my writing space:
– The heater’s missing a caster, and is propped up by a thick book so that the heat doesn’t direct at the floor and set all my words on fire.
– There’s a Chinese charm hanging above the door (which we call Narnia) between our house and the shop we share the building with. This door is part of my study. My partner hung the charm there when we moved in, but won’t tell me what it means.
–  Notebooks spanning about eleven years have their own pigeon-hole in my bookshelf, and another for writing books and dictionaries. The rest is fiction, A-Mo, and on the mantle is Mo-Z. There are still books which don’t have a space. Non-fiction is on a steel shelf, $17 from Ikea, the kind you’d find in a garage. I love my books the way chumps love their cars.
– Unused notebooks, waiting.
– WRITERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN is hanging above my desk.

I worked these details up into a scene, and put some action in there.

I’m sharing this exercise because I found it useful. I realised that I sometimes miss some really, really prominent details, and that some details can say a lot about someone.

What does your writing space say about you?

Flexing the Writing Muscles

It’s been a week since I made my recent writing goals, and that means I’ve done a week’s worth of writing exercises. A lot of people have shown interest in what I’ve been doing… So here’s a list of the last week’s work. I’ve included where the exercises come from, if you notice a heap coming form good sources in future, you might find it worthwhile chasing these books down.

1. Write something you’ve been putting off – imagine you’re telling someone about this article/letter/essay you’ve been meaning to write, but can’t start. Write down what you’d tell them. (from Mark Tredinnick’s “The Little Red Writing Book”)
2. Write a list of 10 things you know to be true. (from Sarah Kay’s TED talk)
3. What are three things that could never be photographed? (From John Marsden’s “Everything I Know About Writing”)
4. Write a letter to yourself to be read in five years. (From John Marsden’s “Everything I Know About Writing”)
5. Write a character sketch of someone you’ve seen on public transport (suggested by Tiggy Johnson)
6. Observe someone’s hands (this can be in memory or imagination. Describe them as fully as possible. Notice shape, skin texture, any jewelry or disfiguration. What clues do these hands give you about the person’s life? (from Meredith Sue Willis’ blog)
7. Today was a mash-up, to create new exercises out of something else. In doing this, I found some really interesting connections. More of this tomorrow. Or Tuesday. One day soon, I promise.

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