Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clear Your Mind to Focus on Writing by Ben Johnston


Courtesy of author, Bret Anthony Johnston
Poets & Writers Magazine (November/December 2008 Issue,)

1. Spend five minutes listing every word you can think of that starts with the letter a. Tomorrow, use b. The next day, use c.

2. Think of a character with a smudge of black ink on her cheek. Spend twenty minutes writing about how the smudge got there.

3. Spend fifteen minutes writing a scene that begins with this sentence: “He couldn’t stop staring at his feet now that the casts were off.”

4. Try to imagine who lived in your current home before you did. Spend fifteen minutes writing a scene that occurs on the day they’re moving out.

5. Spend ten minutes listing everything you can think of that’s blue. The sky. Your father’s old pickup. The neighbor’s house. The cat’s collar. The color of sleep. The taste of ice. Tomorrow use red. The next day green.

6. Think of the strangest thing you’ve ever seen two zebras grazing in a suburban front yard? The impeccably dressed old man-crisp navy blazer, pressed and creased white trousers, shined wing tips-hitchhiking on a back country road? The woman twirling a pistol around her finger in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen? Spend twenty minutes writing the scene as either the opening or closing of a short story.

7. Spend twenty minutes writing a stock scene-a wedding or funeral, say-in which something unexpected happens. For the wedding, make the unexpected happening somber or serious. For the funeral, make it funny or romantic.

8. Spend fifteen minutes writing a dialogue scene between a man and a woman who are lost in a crowded city. Tomorrow, write about them being lost in the woods.

9. Open your dictionary and blindly point to an entry. Once you land a noun, spend ten minutes writing a scene in which the noun figures significantly.

10. Think of a familiar character that both fits the stereotype and diverges from it. A cruel police officer who spends his days off at an aquarium, watching the fish wheel around in their tanks. A submissive housewife who loves to play violent video games. Spend fifteen minutes writing a scene in which the character is caught doing what no one expects her to be doing.

You only need to do one of these or similar exercises to prepare yourself to write. Sometimes we procrastinate because we are afraid to write either out of perfectionism or fear that our work doesn’t measure up. Besides focus, these exercises allow us to write guilt free. We have permission to produce bad output to help us produce good output. Try one or more of them and most of all have fun! But first turn off the TV and disconnect the internet and the phone.

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