Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Do You See? Hear? Feel?

"Get up and walk around. Fix yourself a beverage — tea, water, a soft drink, something caffeinated, something not, whatever you like. Find something to write with. Then settle somewhere comfortable. Write a sentence about your surroundings. Then describe at least one object in great detail. Move on to your clothing. What are you wearing? Write it down. Is anything uncomfortable, particularly colorful or dark, too big or too small? Write it down. Continue writing about everything you see, smell, taste, or hear until you have written two pages. Cross out and erase nothing. Turn the page when you are done and turn to your own writing project."

[Writing exercise from The I Ching For Writers, Chapter 43: Kuai, Writer's Block Overcome]

I don't know that I was exactly blocked tonight, but I was paging through this book, and this particular exercise stood out for me. I've seen it before, in a number of other incarnations.

Goldberg uses it often in her books. She'll begin a chapter describing the café she's writing in, or the salt and pepper shakers on the table, and eventually it will lead to why her heart is breaking that day.

And my Muse has taken to visiting me in this way a couple times a week, with prompts like, "What sounds do you hear right now?" or "What do you see in front of you?" or "What do you feel in your fingers?"

No matter what I'm doing, or how busy work might be, it makes me stop. And notice. And pay attention. And isn't that what life boils down to...paying attention? (geez, did I just sound like Ferris Bueller there? sorry.)

I like to think that I'm pretty good at paying attention, whether it's to myself, or to a group of friends around a table, or in a concert crowd of a few hundred or a few thousand.

Sometimes I soak it all in...everything. And other times I realize that I can miss something that's right in front of my nose. Which tells me I've still got a long way to go.

And in the exercise above, the "cross out and erase nothing" directive is key. Goldberg's stressed it many times, and I did timed writing exercises with that guideline in the workshop I took last winter.

It's hard! Try keeping your hand moving and your pen moving across the page for five or ten minutes without stopping, and wondering what the point is to writing such total garbage as you find yourself scrawling, "I don't know what the point is to writing such total garbage," across the page just to keep your hand and pen in motion while your mind is...blank.

But it must be useful, because it's preached over and over in many chapters of many books and by writing teachers and coaches everywhere.

It's like stretching. It loosens you up, makes you more receptive to thoughts and ideas, and it makes you look around...

...and pay attention.

(Speaking of paying attention...did you click over to Goldberg's website and pay attention to the announcement at the top of the page, that said her book tour is coming to the Midwest in March? I...live...in the Midwest. Oh. my!)

"To pay attention,
this is our endless
and proper work."
—Mary Oliver

1 comment:

  1. I like all your posts, but this one I think is especially nice.