All of us have always had this problem with writing. We sit down at the desk, knowing that we ought to write something, anything; even if it turns out lousy and unappetizing, we just got to get something written.
“A word after a word after a word is power,” a popular and well-known quote of Atwood. It works like chant, actually. And, I’m guessing that probably was Atwood’s idea as she wrote it. A word after a word… after a word… it might have the effect of coaxing the writer’s mind into writing. Who knows?
Recently, I have rediscovered two much treasured books I used to use, to help get some writing done. The titles themselves lend a tinge of hope and inspiration: The 3A.M. Epiphany and The 4A.M. Breakthrough by Brian Kiteley.
The 3A.M. Epiphany is a book of short writing exercises that are “uncommon” with the result of “transforming your fiction”. The exercises range between 300-600 words each. And don’t be fooled by the number of words required, because the fewer number of words actually mean the tougher the exercise is.
How exactly “uncommon” are these exercises? How do they differ from other books on writing exercises? The exercises in this book are designed to work backwards; by “teaching writers how to read themselves and read for themselves”.
A companion to the first book, The 4A.M. Breakthrough is slightly advanced, where Kiteley jumps right into addressing problems and processes through the writing exercises.
Of course, it isn’t necessary to use the first book before the second. Although both books work in tandem, we can read either book on its own.
I don’t have a systematic approach in using these books. Whenever I recognised the moment of being stuck in a piece of writing, and my mind is crying out for a break, I select an exercise in random from one of these two books. This way, even though I am taking a break from my fiction writing, the work will not “feel” disrupted, especially when the rhythm has already picked up its pace.
Here’s what happened for my writing last week. I wrote an exercise with an ox or a cow as the significant role; a 500 words exercise that was supposed to be based on the letter “A”. I was to make the one word title of the piece with “A”, and write 20 words that began with it. My 20 words included verbs like “assumed”, “assail”, “approved”, nouns like “attitude”, “audience”, “apricot”, and the list goes on, with a variety of verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.
The next step to this exercise was to write a sentence or two or even three, around each word. I was supposed to let these group of sentences stand for a moment before I could see an order to them. However, as I was in the process of making these sentences, I could already see the connection and order in them. Somehow, they all surrounded one of the characters of the story I am currently working on; these 20 words helped to give me an idea of the next scene, or a future scene to develop.
I guess how this book helps in fictional writing is by giving us a portal to the inner mind, an access to the materials we encounter in our day-to-day activities, “Fiction is made of all sorts of other bits of language and image, knowingly borrowed some of the time but most of the time unconsciously stolen”, explains Kiteley. Many of the exercises in the books urge the readers to “explore your own personal consciousness as well as the collective unconscious and the many written and spoken resources that can inspire and create our fiction”.