Writing Tips & Exercises

Allow History to Repeat Itself

In recent months, my memory has been really short. While my friends and family maintain my age is the contributing factor, I stand firm that my illness is the main culprit for my short-term memory loss.

Regardless of the impetus, I have noticed on more than one occasion–we needn’t attach an actual number–I have had a great idea for a blog post or essay, and immediately begin writing about it. But about 250 words in, I realized I have actually written about this topic before, or something very similar.

At first this was frustrating, feeling as though I have wasted precious writing time, but the day I decided to finesse a first draft of a later rewritten piece, I also pulled out the accidental rewrite to compare what I had written.

What I found was a resource full of new perspective. While the content was the same, only a few words actually were. In the first piece, I described the incident with certain details, the other piece held other details. Having these two drafts in front of me, allowed me to pick and choose the best words, fragments, and sentences, offering me greater flexibility in creating a finished piece.

Writing Exercise
Choose one piece of literature you are currently working on and place it to the side. Start from scratch on this piece. Some of the content and phrases you will be able to recall, while others you will have to recreate. When you are done with the second written piece, compare the two drafts. Does the rewritten version capture details the first doesn’t? Can you add a fresh perspective to the first piece due to the second piece?

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Writing an Uncharted Course

Writing Reflections - Writing an Uncharted Course

The first few pages can make or break a book. These pages set the tone. These pages harbor the hook. These pages are what will entice a reader. And these pages determine if an editor will read the rest of your work.

Perhaps this performance pressure is the reason so many writers never make it pass the first few pages. So they contemplate, draft, reconsider, delete, draft again, edit, reedit only to start all over again. This obsessive finessing of words actually becomes an excuse not to forge ahead.

If you can’t move beyond these first pages, how are you ever going to get to the last pages?

I have long suffered from Obsessive Rewriting Disorder, especially in the beginning of my longer projects. While I am still seeking therapy for this writing condition, I did receive some form of counsel on how to move beyond the beginning pages from an article entitled “Into The Unforeseen” by Rivka Galchen in the June 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

In her article, Galchen interviewed the notable Argentinian author Cesar Aira. Now I must admit, this was the first time I even heard of Cesar Aira, but I was intrigued to learn he has written countless novels, as well as translated even more works of English-language bestsellers for the Spanish speaking world, often unattributed. Basically, his corpus is so extensive, it puts the most severely afflicted hypergraphic to shame.

Even though his literature is foreign to me, I was able to easily translate his writing methods. Aira only writes for one hour a day, by hand. That’s it. Also, he doesn’t hard edit his work. Sound impossible, or at least improbable? My thoughts exactly, but according to Galchen, Aira approaches his work organically and creatively.

“Aira writes slowly, carefully, and every day. Once he has done his day’s work, he will not abandon or change it. Come Tuesday, whatever was written on Monday is irrevocable, and he must figure out a way forward. The way forward tends to involve following the logic of what’s already on the page while also incorporating whatever, by chance, intrudes upon reality that day—a chatty waitress, the writings of Leibniz, a dwarf, a passing wondering about the phases of the moon. Aira writes without a plan, into the unforeseen.

“… To write in this way is to cede some control to the medium, and also to chance, which shifts one along the spectrum, from writer as creator toward, say, writer as explorer. One hope underlying this method is that a book has a chance to be more interesting than the person who produced it. At the end one can always go back and shorten x and enhance y and pretend that some other thought never occurred.”

While in the end, editing is needed, but it’s not needed in the beginning and the middle. This method forces you to preserve what was written yesterday and forge ahead based on those words. This allows you to focus on what you will write, rather than what you did write.

Going back is easy, but going forward is the hard part.

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Quote of the Day

“The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first.” – Blaise Pascal

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