Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Exercises for Writers

This past weekend I went to a bootcamp for writers. It was hosted by an author named Erica Olsen and it was held as a benefit for the towns Cultural Center. The premise of the bootcamp was to exercise your brain like people at a gym exercise their bodies.

I don’t think anyone expected the turn out that they got, we even heard someone say that they should have charged more than the $10 fee so that not as many people would have shown up. At best guess there had to be 50+ people crammed into the room. Once enough chairs were rounded up and everyone had a spot to write in we began the bootcamp.

First Round: Stretching 

Two Truths and a Lie

In this exercise we were supposed to write two true things about ourselves and one lie, in any order that we wanted. Then we went around our tables to share what we wrote and the table then tried to figure out which was the truths and which was the lie.

It served two purposes

1    1)      To break the ice

2    2)      To teach us that most often our lie is more detailed than our truths.

It was fun and definitely broke the ice. Although as a writing exercise to do by yourself it’s not all that effective. Bottom line, if you are part of a writing collective/group this would be a great exercise to start off with.

Second Round: Strength Training

Exquisite Corpse

This is a game that started with Surrealist artists. It goes like this. They would take a piece of paper and one person would draw a head, then the next person would draw the neck and then they would fold the paper over so that the only thing that the next person would see was the neck, then that person would draw the shoulders, fold over the neck and pass it along; each artist could only see the one piece that was drawn before they were given the paper. At the end they would unfold the paper and see what kind of a master piece they had come up with.

In writing form it worked like this. Every group was given a paper with the same starting sentence. The first person wrote a second sentence folded over the starting sentence and then pasted it to the next person.

This was a blast, but so hard. I thought it would be easy and the first time through was, but our group was fast enough that we got to go through twice, the second time around I stared at the page thinking “What the hell am I going to write?”

When it was finished our story cracked every one up. Lots of fun to be had, but again it is one of those things that you need a lot of people around to do.

Now that being said, we do something similar to this on FB on my page from time to time and on The Indie Writer’s Collective. We don’t have a way to hide other people’s posts but what we do is write a story using only five words per post. Each person contributes five words. It’s a fun little exercise to get the brain working and a little bit easier for those of us who can’t physically go to a group but still want to participate with others.

Third Round: Endurance

False Translation

This exercise made me want to pull my hair out. I fully acknowledge that it is a fantastic tool to make your brain work harder, I also acknowledge that this could drive a sane person mad. Seriously!

You take a poem, or literary piece written in a language you don’t know (mine was Basque) then without using any translation tools (like Google Translate) you try to translate it into English. You can either try to find English words that sound like they might be the proper translation, or you can just let your imagination run wild.

I however found it completely overwhelming and frustrating. Which I suppose isn’t all that bad, maybe it means that my brain needs to loosen up and not be so hung up on being perfect.

But to give you an example of my frustration, here is the Basque poem my son was given to translate:

Poesia- Gabriel Aresti 1963

Esanen dute
baina nik
esanen diet
mailu bat

Now… Here is the Basque poem I was given:

Hire potak, baziakiat, bertze gauza nahi dik.
Anderea, azti zira nihaurk erran gaberik.
Bada utzi ahal bainentzak ni  holakoz ixilik.
Horrein gaitz ziraden gero, eginen dut bertzerik.
Bizi nizan egunetan, bada, ez zitut utziren;
Nik zer orai nahi baitut, heben duzu eginen.
Uste diat eskuiarki ez hizala burlatzen;
Gizon hunek orai nuia heben laidoz beteren?
Eiagora, nik zer daidit? Zaude ixilik hanbaten.
Etai lelori bai lelo, pota franko, bertzea bego.
Andrea, mintza ahal baitzinde bertze aldain emeago.

See? Frustrating. Mine completely overwhelmed me. And just retyping it gave me a head ache. I’m sure it is a useful exercise, but for me it seems like it would be better as a drinking game.  Honestly I would have to get pretty drunk to be able to translate that mess, and then at least I would get a really good laugh in afterwards.

Last Round: Cardio

Word Sprints

This is an exercise that +Alexandra Webb and I are very familiar with.

We did a sprint for 10 minutes at the end of the bootcamp. Of all the writing exercises this is the one that I love, it is so helpful when you are struggling to get your words on the screen or on the paper, grab a friend and do some sprints.

Set your time for 10 minutes, 20, 30, hell even an hour if you are up for it. Set the timer and write. At the end it is always encouraging to share with each other who many words you wrote during your sprint.

Some people call them Word Wars and then the goal is to get more words written than the other person. If you are competitive this is the way to go.

All in all, the bootcamp was a fun way to spend 90 minutes of my Saturday, which meant 90 minutes that I didn’t have to watch Football (the playoffs totally ruin my perfectly good Saturday, bad enough that the regular season has to ruin my Sundays). The price was $10/ $5 for my son. Doing it together was great, but if we do anything like this again I hope that we can take a little bit more away from it.

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