Tips and Exercises for the Professional Writer
Top actors and athletes have a common routine – they stay in training throughout their careers to find that extra edge to keep them ahead of the competition. Pro means you never stop learning. Yet writers tend to work in isolation with only an editor to offer advice and suggestions. The exercises presented here will get you to the top, or keep you at the top.
Exercise No. 1:
How You See the World
When a writer or reviewer tells you that a piece of work – a novel, non-fiction article, or a piece of visual media such as film or theatre – is real, that the writer has precisely taken life and moved it to the page, that's a lie told for convenience. Despite the title of Christopher Isherwood's famous book about Berlin in the 1930's, writers are not a camera. We filter, we edit, we choose, we translate. If we actually did note down everything our senses took in during a moment we lived, novels would run well over ten thousand pages in length and that would only describe the soup course at a formal dinner in a Jeeves and Wooster entertainment.
The overriding theme of this series of exercises is the same as the Six Months to Better Writing Course that I teach (see below); to sharpen the skills of a writer requires a constant focus on seeing the world as art. Plots are important, rhythm is vital, word arrangement is the craft, yet training the mind is everything. It is the mind after all that tells the hands what to type. Therefore, let us gently train the deep unconscious in a different way of seeing than that used by the non-artist. We will start then by using the first exercise I give to all writers, whether they work in fiction, poetry or journalism. Let us look at the world through the filter of another artist who has already turned a view of reality into art.
On the internet, find a photo of a painting that interests you and draws your attention. The only restriction is that it must contain at least one person in it. Download the photo, then write 500 words of any story you feel emerging from it. Do not concern yourself with a beginning or end. Just write what you feel. This is not for publication, so allow your instincts room to play.
Next week, we'll look at what you can do with that first exercise. Get to work, and have a beautiful week!
(Hubert O'Hearn is the author of two books, an independent editor, and a professional book and music reviewer. He also is the designer of the Six Months to Better Writing Course, working one-on-one with writers drawn from the entire range of experience. For comments or queries he can be reached at email@example.com)