Writing Practice

The story is told of one of Bach’s pupils asking the great composer how he managed to think of so many tunes.  Bach replied, ‘My dear boy, my greatest difficulty is to avoid stepping on them when I get up in the morning.’

Just like Bach and the inspiration for his music, we are all surrounded each and every day of our lives by the potential raw material for our writing.  The secret is to notice it and then to note it.  Keep a pen and notebook handy at all times or make notes on your phone.  Squirrel away all those interesting details.

Some suggestions to get you started:

  • You are in a queue in the Post Office, bank or social welfare office.  Note the shoes that people wear. That girl now standing at the counter wearing lipstick pink boots with silver heels – note the details, how she stands, moves, her hair, any other details that are particular to her.
  • Go into your garden when it’s dark – what do you see, hear, smell, touch?  Go back indoors and write a page.
  • You are in a public waiting area, perhaps a dentist’s surgery, and you are probably anxious and / or bored. Then a couple walk in and sit down.  He taps her shoe with his boot – she says (with feeling) ‘If you do that once more …’ Just then you get called for your appointment and, of course, now you don’t want to leave.  Here you have characters plus conflict and that great story question ‘What happens next?’ – start writing and the plot will emerge.
  • See the blackbird on the grass in your back garden.  Write a paragraph describing its movements.
  • Listen in on conversations in queues, cafés, workplaces.  Pay attention to particular turns of phrase, colourful language, unusual expressions that are particular to your locality.
  • List the personal qualities of someone you know.  Start with the phrase ‘How to be [name] …’
  • Pick a colour to focus on for a period during the day – note what you see, where you see it, the variations in shade.
  • If your mobile phone has a camera facility use it to photograph something striking or interesting that you come across.  Use it later as a writing prompt.

Get into the habit of gathering bits and scraps from daily life and write them into your notebook or onto your computer.  You don’t need to know immediately how you will use them, the important thing is to be constantly on the lookout and discover the extraordinary in the ordinary. Remember, it’s always writing practice.

Life is so interesting!  Live it with attention and then write …

© Margaret O’Brien

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