by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
"Like your abs and pecs, you have to work on your writing everyday…"
Don’t wait for inspiration. Like your abs and pecs, you have to work on your writing everyday to keep it firm and flexible. Even if you don’t have anything in mind to write about, especially if you don’t have anything in mind, you’ve got to make yourself write.
“I’m too tired,” you say.
Being tired or hungry or even feeling ill is the perfect time to write. Your mind is off kilter. The writing will be surprising to yourself and to your readers.
Here’s a few writing exercises to help. They work best with fiction and poetry, but it would also be possible for nonfiction that was written like a prose poem rather than prose-y.
Set a timer for 7 minutes and write as fast as you can, not paying attention to grammar or even meaning, just keep going. If you stop, read the sentence before it. Quickly pick a word and begin your new sentence with it. Just keep going. When the timer rings, put the writing away and don’t reread it. Do the same procedure on day 2. On day three, set your timer for 15 minutes, and repeat what you did before. For the next four days, the timer is set for 20 minutes. On the eighth day, reread all your writing beginning with the first and go straight through the end. If you see a motif, a symbol, or a theme that is repeated in any of the writing, keep those writing samples together. Go through each page with a red pen, eliminating what you don’t like, and underlining what you do. Weave together parts that work, that could become part of a whole. Begin to work in details, scenes, pieces of dialogue that make the piece more unified. Put it away and go back to it from time to time.
"Answer a question that strikes you and keep answering it with statements."
The Eternal Question Set a timer again for 10 minutes. For this exercise you write down a question and go more deeply into it with another question and another. For example:
Use one or more colors to unify your work as Norman Dubie did in “February: The Boy Breughel.” February: The Boy Breughel
And a fox crosses through snow
Looks like the red fox,
Two colors: Red and white; A barber’s bowl!
Where the smoky red fox still
A sunrise. The snow.
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award and is currently selling in Holland, Belgium, and the U.K. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, and in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007,) For Keeps, (Seal Press, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at http://www.miriamthemedium.com/ or at her blog: http://rochellejewelshapiro.blogspot.com/