Tuesday, May 01, 2018

On writing: Exercising your writing muscles

In January, 1990, I began keeping a diary on my computer. I'd often kept handwritten diaries before, spasmodically, but this one was much more regular, and more detailed. It was written on my old computer and then printed off regularly, finally amounting to some 700 pages. It was good that I printed it off, because the disks that the diary was saved to are long gone, not being compatible with later models.

Much of the stuff, of course, is private family material, but in 1989 I'd been unemployed for six months, and had started doing a writing course by correspondence. (My father, Frank Crowl, used to play chess by correspondence.)

By 1990 I was well through the writing course and between being father of a family with five children and working as a manager of a bookshop, I found time to write articles and the occasional short story. Most of the articles got published, because I'd been advised to aim not only for the major New Zealand magazines but for the small ones: trade mags and special interest magazines. The latter proved to be the place that was happy to publish my work. More on that in later posts.

Anyway, scattered with varying degrees of frequency throughout the diary are references to my writing joys and woes. I thought these would be of interest on this blog, and have decided to include posts with extracts from the diary as and when I can. I'll keep an index of these on the blog for reference.

Here's a brief opener from the 6th of January, 1990.

In doing the index for my filing system I came across a quote again by a poet who talks about the need for exercises, even in writing poetry. He compares it to the concert pianist who must exercise each day in order to play the pieces well. I think it's something I've avoided because it appears to take away too much time from 'real writing,' but in fact it's out of that exercising that the ideas often flow, and the work of writing is limbered up. I've been reading two books in the last few weeks, one on writing plays, and the other on writing in general. The latter has some excellent ideas for working out as exercises and the other, though it sometimes seems simplistic in its exercise approach, is probably what I need to really write plays well. I don't want 'just' to be a playwright, but an all-rounder. However, I want to be able to write plays as well as I can when I do.

I'm not sure that I took my advice about doing writing exercises as seriously as I should have, subsequently, but I do recommend this all the same. There are other ways to do exercises, of course. Blog posts are a great writing exercise, as are typing notes galore for the children's book I'm currently writing. In fact, anything that gets you putting down words on the page/computer is worth doing, even if those particular words aren't ever used as part of something publishable.

I have an interesting book called The Exercise Book which lays out dozens of ideas for exercises, some of which various people have turned into poems, stories, books. The book is by Bill Manhire and others. Manhire is one of New Zealand's literati, and a creative writing teacher. Don't let that put you off. The exercises are the thing, along with the stimulation of approaching writing in a different way.

See also an earlier blog post from 2014, in which I mention Peter Elbow and Anne Lamott, both of whom saw first drafts and writing even without any aim in mind as of great value.

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