The Unfamiliar Window – a prompt for practice

Since I’m feeling bouncy and full of energy today, despite a spring cold, I decided I’d post another exercise you can use to create your own practice. It’s the sudden sunshine after two weeks of constant rain, I think. The upsurge in vitamin D is obviously making me think anything is possible, including some energetic writing practice.

This one is another observation exercise, to jog us out of our ordinary ways of seeing. I realised how much we automatically filter out when I started taking walks with my son – he sees everything. His brain hasn’t yet started to ignore things he has seen before, things that are commonplace, and therefore he is overloaded with information and excitement just walking down the road. Sometimes it’s not so interesting (how many motorbikes I can find interesting in no way correlates to the number my son finds interesting), but sometimes he points out a flower I wouldn’t have noticed, or a heron stock still on the island in the park, or the dragon nests in the clouds. Invigorating.

Ado? No more:

Exercise: The Unfamiliar Window

  •  Describe the view in detail.

You can do this with a truly unfamiliar window, or one that is familiar, that you think you know inside out. The trick is to look with fresh eyes, and note every significant detail you can: the toys in a back garden, a window left open, people at the bus stop, the leaves (or otherwise) on the trees. Paint a true picture of what you see. Try and keep judgements out of the prose. 300 words.

As for the windows themselves, you can sit in front of them, take a photo, do a quick sketch, or  take some quick notes (this will end up being more of a remembered/imagined version but still useful).

Extension exercise: focus on one detail and expand its story. Now is the time to bring judgements into the prose. 300 words.

Creating your own practice

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

Happy Practicing!