honing the writing: figuring out what to write

Let’s not regard this as a real post; let’s regard it as homework, since that’s what it is. That way, anyone who reads it is helping with my homework.

Our new season of classes began yesterday, and my first one–chosen specifically to unlock my mental writing block–is called “honing your writing,” or something like that. Just to be clear, Osher classes usually don’t require homework, but some Greek smartass a long time ago said If you wish to be a writer, then write!” and that’s more or less what the writing prof said too. So all of us promised to try to write a few words EVERY DAY for the six-week duration of the class. So here I go, with the idea of combining the two blocked areas of my life–writing/blogging–to see if I can overcome both.

Yesterday’s class included an in-class exercise of finding our stories by Bubbling. I remembered doing it long ago, but with the prof  standing over us with a bullwhip (I jest a little) I began with the note page you see below. (That’s my handwriting–lousy, huh?) For years I’ve wanted to do a long piece on the place where I grew up. Some of the people there, my family too, were real characters to say the least. And my life growing up on a farm in the 40’s and 50’s was so different from the lives of my children and grandchildren, I want to leave it as a legacy. That way, should they lean too heavily to self-importance, it will remind them my humble beginnings. Maybe someday they’ll be happy to have it. So here’s my first bubble. From there I bubbled whatever came to mind. I found I didn’t run out of ideas, but I did run out of time. Does this bubble look like a best seller to you?

bubbleWhat makes a book a best seller anyway? I suspect it happens when a book begins to sell well enough that suddenly everybody wants to be in on whatever the latest cool read is and goes out to buy the same book, especially if it has lots of explicit sex (Think: Fifty Shades Of Grey and Lady Chatterley’s Lover of my day).  I’m sure I’ve acquired books in that guise myself. If you can’t produce the cool stuff yourself, then be one of the first to read it. I think that’s how it works. Then there are the others that don’t need explanation (Think: The Book Thief and To Kill A Mockingbird). Anyhow, I’ve come to a good place in my writerly life. I still want to learn to write the very best that I can even if I’m too old, too lazy, or not smart or talented enough, because the older I get the harder it gets to organize my ideas.

So where do I begin? Nothing in class was new, I admit, though it’s good to be reminded. I know the best place to begin is not necessarily at the beginning, but in the middle of something. I think of it as putting the reader right there in the scene as an unseen observer. But I did learn a new Latin phrase In medias res! In the middle! Our next in-class exercise was to write without editing–for five minutes–a scene that begins in the middle, and see where it would take us. Here’s mine.

Look at her! Eighteen years old and she had never been to the circus, never done much of anything to tell the truth. Now she had a boyfriend who called her “Princess,” so when Barnum & Bailey came to town she asked him if he would take her. Now here they were, sitting in the bleachers up high enough to see all three rings at one time. The ring in the middle was empty, but in the first one she watched a man dressed in fancy britches coaxing a tiger through a series of hoops. But it was the high-flying trapeze artists that were lining up to enter the mid ring that intrigued her the most.

In my mind as I wrote I was seeing the net stockings the tired-looking performer was wearing, especially the hole in the back, on the thigh, that I was pretty sure she didn’t know was there. Suddenly the circus I’d always thought of as so glamorous looked a whole lot different than it did in my dreams. Did this circus portend her future, her life as an adult?  But five minutes didn’t allow me time to include those images.

There! That’s enough for one day!  I’ve done slightly less than 700 words already. Tomorrow, or should I say “next time,” I’m not sure where the muse will take me. Perhaps I’ll write about a few of the other questions a writer faces, such as a beginning hook (to snare the reader from the get-go). Or maybe I’ll write about things that bug me in general, like grey-haired 0ld men with flat-top haircuts.

Meanwhile, if anyone reading this aspires to be a writer themselves, then I refer them back to the opening paragraph and that Greek guy’s words: If you wish to be a writer, then write! Feel free to use the prompts that I’ve shared from my class.  And then let me read it.


12 thoughts on “honing the writing: figuring out what to write

  1. I like an exercise that someone told me in a writer’s group once where you walk out your door and see an ordinary every day object and write about the first thing that comes to your mind. You’d be surprised what that digs up. I think the act of writing is for some an act of healing, an act of recording, an act of catharsis – but mostly its about writing so enjoy whatever path it leads you on Alice.

    • Ordinary everyday object and writing the first thing that comes to mind. That’s a good idea. 💡 I may try it myself sometime. We did a similar thing in the writing classes I facilitated in Las Vegas in choosing a color to focus on during a single outing. I still remember some of the writing resulting from that assignment. As for healing, catharsis, recording, I know of no-one better than your own writing in that regard. Your life is a work (of art) in progress! Thanks for the good wishes!

      On Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 8:03 PM, My Wintersong

  2. Alice, I hear the same thing in regards to painting. To be a painter, paint. I gave up aspirations in writing when you and I wrote together in Tennessee. I’ve continued to keep a journal and an occasional blog, but no more attempts at fiction. But I’ve read a few thousand books since then. 🙂 Silver

    • Painting, yes! Most definitely. I know from our Tennessee days together when you were distracted with the fabric art–which I always thought of as phenomenal by the way–you seemed to be stymied in your painting. And I knew, from those you shared with me, that you were already good, but in the last few years you’ve just exploded with respect to your painting. ❗ You’ve really come into your own unique style and it shows even to art impaired people like me. I compare it to the voice writers work so hard to develop in their writing. You’re there! And whether you ever make significant money from your art, it’s got to be very satisfying on a personal level.

      On Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 8:25 PM, My Wintersong

  3. I just read the following before I opened your post:

    ‘Dorothea Brande suggests that we should write for an hour absolutely first thing when you get up in the morning. No reading or writing anything else – just go straight to it’.

    I have never tried that idea, but when writing blog posts (my limit) I write with one person in mind, just as if I was writing a letter to them. It helps me.

    Good luck with the writing and may your ‘bubbles always hold ideas!

    • Dorothea Brande…I’ve read some of her writing tips…she’s been around for a long time, hasn’t she? Yes, I think it would be a big advantage to write first thing every morning. Unfortunately it takes a bit of time for me to fully engage with the world, and also if I get started that early I lose all sense of time as well. When Hubby was working still, and I was writing my family memory cookbook, I would suddenly realize it was 3:00 in the afternoon and I hadn’t even had lunch yet. It seems to work better for me to do the essential other stuff first. Yes, I like your idea of writing with one person in mind–I do that myself sometimes. It does seem to flow better when I do that. Thanks for the good wishes. It helps to have my online friends in my corner helping me with my homework. 🙂

      On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 1:34 AM, My Wintersong

  4. Your disappointment with the circus reminds me of the time I ushered to see a play with Mae West. After the play we went backstage to get an autograph and their she stood, mink coat, slacks (unusual at the time) and makeup so thick you could write in it. Ruined my teenage illusions of the glamour girl.

    I enjoyed your comments about the man of my dreams. We should do a joint post about men we’d like to dream about.

    • You’ve seen Mae West, that bawdy broad?! I’ve always wondered if she was actually as notorious as her reputation. I think I assumed she’d discovered her “gimmick” early on in life. Thick makeup on mature ladies (of any age) is as bad as flat-top haircuts on old (and also any other age male in my opinion) man! As for the joint post about our dream men, I’m on board. Just let me know when and where. 😀

      On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 5:10 AM, My Wintersong

  5. A good book is one that makes you want to turn the page and pulls you into the story. Your blog does that to me. I want to read what’s next. Good luck with your class and can’t wait to read more.

    • I really really appreciate your nice comments, Mary. I’m so glad you took the time to comment, since much of the time I worry that people get so tired of my efforts. But writing really is for the writer first and foremost, since we all know you can’t please everybody no matter how hard you try. It’s really easy to forget that! 😦 You, and all my commenters, inspire me to keep trying. That means a lot to me.

  6. Yes, it is good to be reminded, but we all still have to write. Here, in the midst of total chaos, I still scribbled a blog entry. It is writing, you know. 🙂

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