A few weeks ago, I published a journal entry called “STOP HIDING AND DO THE EXERCISE.” Today’s entry is a follow up.
So, quite often in Method Writing, a teacher will say: Always be dong an exercise. In the beginning, our first exercise is simply ” go to Ralph’s to get a chicken” and “write like you talk.” Later, we might add “massage a transformation line,” “construct an image moment,” or use various voices like “straight talk,” “lost world,” and “To Be Read and Sung.”
A given journal entry might be just one exercise, or we might switch to different exercises as we move through whatever it is we have to say. But THE FOCUS IS ALWAYS ON THE EXERCISE, NOT THE STORY. That is how we keep our writing supple, emotionally grounded, effective, and real. That is how we keep the PERSON in the writing instead of putting on an act.
Here is one of my journal entries in which I “focus on the exercise.” You may notice: “writing like you talk,” “massaging a transformation line,” “straight talk,” “dreaded association,” “to be read and sung,” and an “image moment.”
TEN FINGER EXERCISE
So I sit at my desk on a Tuesday morning and I noodle along. It’s dull and meaningless but perhaps something will happen. I sit. I am willing to wait for the miracle, as they say in AA. I am dogged. I am not a quitter. Also, I might be lazy. But I know that if I keep at it something will happen. Lightning might strike. Or maybe not. You place your bet and let the wheel spin. That’s just a cliché. Oh well.
Tickle the nerve endings and see what tricks out. Topsy turvy time. There are no guarantees, except this one: if you do the exercise, you won’t have writers’ block. If you stick to the process, write like you talk, let it flow, and stop trying to exercise control, you’ll get something. Sure, it might be crap.
It might be crap, but then it might not.
I am not trying to tell a story, that’s for sure. I am not trying to make a point. I am not trying to get somewhere. I am not trying to be successful. I’m practicing. That’s the whole shebang. I sit at my desk and I practice the lawn bowling. I sit at my desk and the lights sway in the earth quake. I sit at my desk and keep the process moving.
Sometimes, I pause. I stop typing and take a deep breath in and let it out. I can hear the wind blowing outside and notice how cold it is this morning. The white cotton, long sleeved tee shirt I’m wearing is nice and warm though. My mouth tastes like the grapes I had for breakfast a few minutes ago. There’s a red candle (always red on Tuesdays) next to my computer, waiting to be lit. To my left is a Tiffany knock-off lamp, with its glowing imitation glass shade. I enjoy the fact that some of my own paintings are on the wall. I think that having a room in which to work is everything. Virginia Woolfe was right. There’s a dirty napkin on my desk, next to my left elbow. I stop reflecting, let loose a sigh, and get back to writing.
I practice. I avoid perfectionism and just keep at it. I am willing. When I feel irritation and frustration blowing through my gut like a sour burp of despair, I just keep doing exercises. I just keep on keeping on. I just keep myself on the beam. I just push forward.
Hey, there’s always something. There’s always barbells and bicycles. The muscles will grow if you work them.
Writing calisthenics: the only way to fly.