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Banish Writer's Block by Writing from the Senses
Many writers, when they sit down to write, freeze. “What should I write about?” they wonder, while holding the pen in a death grip, or while their fingers hover like hummingbirds over the keyboard.
The answer to their age-old question lies in the newly updated 10th Anniversary Edition of A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life. Beloved author and writing coach Judy Reeves gently meets writers wherever they may be on a given day, not only through her inspiring, get-going writing prompts, but also by providing tips and habits for finding time and creating space, ways to find images and inspiration, advice on working in writing groups, and suggestions, quips and trivia from accomplished practitioners.
“This book originally came about because I saw the difference that an ongoing, regular writing practice could make in a person’s life,” says Reeves. “I am convinced that by integrating regular writing practice sessions into your days, the longing to write can be stilled. Not only will you fill notebook after notebook, your writing will improve, as will the quality of your life ... and your spirit will be gladdened.”
Write from the Senses
The senses provide a physical world for our writing as well as a palette for rich imagery and language. It’s through the five senses that we ground our writing in the concrete — the sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel of it — moving out of our heads and into our bodies. Words and descriptions reach out from the page and into the sensory perceptions of the reader, and the piece comes to life for him.
Within the realm of the senses are born metaphor and simile. One thing is another; something is like something else. Imagery emerges from the chrysalis of sensuous language and takes wing. As you write, pause to take a sensory inventory. Close your eyes and breathe in the smell of the place you’re writing, listen to its sounds, reach out and feel the textures, taste the air, the wind, the rain. You are looking not for words, but, as Jack Kerouac put it, “to see the picture better” — the colors, the shapes and textures of it, the way the light falls upon the bricks, the shadows of doorways, the movement of fog over river.
— Begin writing practice sessions with “I remember the smell of...I remember the taste of...I remember the feel of...I remember the sound of...I remember the sight of...” Focusing on one sense, capture in three or four short sentences the first image that comes to you, collecting specific details as you go. As you put the concluding period on your first paragraph, but before you stop to think of another memory, write “I remember [the same sense]...” again and catch the next image. You may be surprised by the images that appear and the memories that are evoked, especially if you keep your pen moving and don’t stop to try and remember.
Fill a page with four or five short memories, then choose one and do an expanded writing from it, starting with the memory as you first wrote it, or enter the memory from another vantage point. Keep the rest of your list for later practice sessions.
You can do these sensory “I remember...” exercises again and again; you’re almost guaranteed a new set of memories each time. If one image continues to reappear, you can be certain it is one that wants to be written about. Honor it by writing it.
— Create pages in your notebook for litanies of smells, tastes, textures, colors, shapes, sounds. Continue to weed out clichés as they sprout. When you come upon one, rework it to make it fresh.
— Describe a place using only sight, only smell, only sound, only taste, only touch.
— Play with synesthesia — the description of one kind of sense impression that uses words that normally describe another: a sound becomes a color, a smell becomes a sound, an emotion becomes a taste. For example, the saxophone sound of midnight; the taste of yesterday, yellowed and brittle; T.S. Eliot’s “violet hour.” See how many of the senses you can find in “a brassy blonde,” or “a buttery sun.”
— Take a sensory tour of your bed, your desk, your room, your house, your backyard. Sit for a time with your notebook and write your perceptions as an artist who continues to look from subject to page, sketching in details, then going back for more.
— Pause throughout the day to notice sensory details. Even if you don’t write them in your notebook, this will put you in touch with your body and keep sensory details present in your mind, which means they’ll be more present in your writing.
Excerpted from the book A Writer’s Book of Days (2010) by Judy Reeves. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.