Saturday, 15 September 2012

Creative Writing Under Pressure‏

Pic courtesy Bodgan Migulski, Flickr

I went onto photography website Flickr for the accompanying portrait here. I put the title of this blog post into the search field, and this is what the site threw up: Hillary Clinton with an even larger mouth than she has in real life.

Putting pen to paper is hard. In particular, when writing creatively and when being timed to do so, pushing yourself into creating an instant vignette in a ten minute time-frame is testing even when you’ve done it hundreds of times before. So what’s the best way of doing an exercise like this, whether in your own or in a group?

I’ve been a member of Writers Connect in Manchester for some years. We meet fortnightly, and we start each meeting with a timed writing exercise. It will involve a prompt of some kind, followed by a ten minute burst of individual writing. After the ten minutes, we read out what we’ve written one member at a time.

If you’re going to give this technique a shot, try these tips to get the most out of the exercise.

1)   Roll with your first thought. If your prompt involves a horse, and all you can think of is a talking horse on a farm in Dorset, go with that idea. Nothing is too clichéd or boring or stupid. It’s only an exercise. It doesn’t have to win the booker prize. You never know- you might turn out a vignette that reads better than you thought.

2)    Write double spaced. Ideas ebb and flow, and the story you find yourself writing might not come to you in linear form. A few free lines on the page gives you space to fill in later if further thoughts come to you. Let’s say, towards the end, you reveal that a character is a circus clown. The spaces give you a chance to go back over your piece and insert plot hints involving custard pies or flowers that squirt water. It also gives you a chance to rewrite existing sentences, and to cross out ones that don’t fit. 
3)    Don’t worry about other people in the group writing more than you. You’re not racing against them- just the clock. You’ll find the more you do these exercises, the quicker these ideas will come to you and the more words you’ll get down. Besides, it’s quality over quantity that we’re aiming for.

4)    Be versatile. Not every exercise has to turn out as a short story / vignette. Why not try an exercise in rhyme? Or free verse poetry? Or even a series of haiku? Or a monologue given by an unusual character?

5)    Whoever is watching the clock should be the person to give people a reminder at the start of the last minute. That gives the writers an opportunity for each writer to start to bring their piece to a close. 
6)    Any member of the group can bring in an exercise for the group to try. But if it’s your exercise idea, you are the first to read out!

7)    Allow a moment between each readout for the group’s thoughts on each vignette. You’re not giving full critiques- but perhaps people might want to point out parts they thought were particularly good.

And that’s all there is to it. The purpose of a warm-up exercise is just to get the creative cogs turning in the brain, and to get us into the right frame of mind for critiquing the stories we’ll later be hearing.

Are you in a writer’s group? Feel free to comment with any other creative hints.

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