November 3rd, 2010

cap, captain miss america

LJ Idol Home Game Week 1: Winding Up

Starting to write is a ritual unto itself. When do you start? Can you just bring up a document and start typing, or do you stare at the blank screen for a while, intimidated by all that whiteness, unsure of how to fill it up?

In elementary school, I had an art teacher who taught me an important lesson: Never leave any white space.

"I don't want to see any white on your paper," he always said.

In those days, we were using fingerpaints and crayons, glitter and markers. It was as easy as picking another color to add to our abstract and fantastic masterpieces.

In writing, in English classes, longer was always better. More words per sentence! More descriptive! Jam in those adjectives, those adverbs, till your paragraphs overflow and fill the page! No white space!

You get older, and you learn that white space can be your friend as much as it can be your enemy. As an artist, you start to learn that negative spaces can be as important to your composition as positive spaces. As a writer, you learn to snip away at your words, you learn that a near-empty page with a few sparse words of dialogue can be as beautiful to a reader as a verbose and lengthy passage.

Maybe even more beautiful.

I find that writing is a lot like sports. You need to stretch before running a mile; you need to warm up before swimming laps. Getting ready to write can be just as important as the act of writing. Writing exercises can, in fact, make you a better writer.

A lot of the time, when I'm staring at that daunting blank page, when I don't know what to do next-- or what to do first, let alone after, and after, and after-- it helps to do a few exercises. Maybe a character study-- who am I writing about? Why not throw them into a scene, to get to know them better? Even automatic writing can make you start thinking about the composition of your vocabulary:

The lurid spider say perching on the monument. Brilliantly, there were no words for thrifty exercise such as the one taken in by the poached pear. Was there any violence in the taqueria? Never on Thursdays!

What does engaging in automatic writing say about your word choice, the formation of your sentences, the ideas at the front of your mind? That in and of itself can get the juices flowing, can help foment an idea when you don't have one-- or think you don't have one, because really, you do, always there, always bubbling below the surface.

What are some of the things you do to warm up your writing muscles?