A common worry with practice is that it involves too many prompts and nudges from outside, and is therefore not legitimate Writing (see that capital W? Makes all the difference).
Firstly, it’s all legitimate. No one else is doing the writing, the idea generating, the sentence construction. It’s all you.
Secondly, you can learn a lot from being pushed by something external to your own mind.
But, thirdly, if you generate your own ideas for practice you’ll quickly understand what interests you and where your preoccupations lie as a writer. It’s a shortcut to your unconscious.
So how do you go about it?
Well, the tutor who gave me the title for this blogsimply noted down things that interested her in a little notebook she carried around. Her practice was so advanced that she only needed a sentence or two to recreate a whole story about the trials of trying on clothes in a Marks & Spencer (a clothing store, for you non UK folk).
Image credit: Gary Hayes
But it could be anything – a building you like the look of. A person with luggage of unusual size. A row between serving staff in a restaurant. Anything that sets your writerly brain off with a train of questions – where is she going with that enormous case? To dispose of a body? Perhaps she’s stolen a grandmother clock that had been willed away from her by a vicious relative and she doesn’t have a car so she has to drag it across town, dismantled and crammed into a huge case which will obviously damage the clock beyond repair? But why does the clock mean so much to her?
Image Credit: cwgoodroe
You see, the best writing is simply paying really close attention and putting down into words what we all see, hear and feel, but let wash past us most of the time. This applies no matter what kind of writing you’re doing.
(Did you notice the bird? I didn’t at first.)
If you are always looking for things to note down for your practice, then you are always open to ideas, and you are always paying attention.
After you’ve started writing you might find that the mundane questions get replaced with something far more interesting. Or they might not. It doesn’t matter either way – you’ve paid attention. You’ve tried out the idea. Sometimes they have legs and sometimes they don’t.
Buy yourself a tiny notebook, or make notes on your electronic device of choice, and try this exercise next time you’re out:
Come Back with a Face
This is one of my own, and one I do most frequently. My preoccupation is people, obviously.
While you are out, make brief notes about the appearance of someone you find interesting.
For your practice, invent the life behind the face. This can be quite surprising, and lead you a long way from where you started. Just remember not to tie the face to the place you see it, or you’ll be in too tight a corner.
(Indoor variation: search Flickr for ‘interesting face’.)
Image Credit: JakeBrewer