Suspend Your Disbelief

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Get Writing: or rather, Getting (Back to) Writing

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Even the most dedicated writers go through “not-writing” phases, deliberate or accidental ones. And when we return to our writing desks after that week or month or year away, our fingers and voices may feel…rusty. How do we get back that indescribable “it,” the voice that drives our prose and compels us to write it?

The following exercise has helped me get my groove back on more than one occasion. It’s adapted from an assignment used by my former teacher Blanche Boyd (Terminal Velocity, The Revolution of Little Girls), who designed it for beginning writers–yet its usefulness extends to writers at any level who want to experiment with or rediscover their voice.

Under the Influence of Awesome

(1) Think of a story you love, one you’ve read and returned to at least a few times, one you’ve thought of and said, Oh, to have written that! Get out that story, prop it up next to your laptop, and type it. Yes, the whole thing. See what it feels like to “write” each word by delectable word. As you put those already-published sentences back on a screen, remember that another writer sat at a similar desk and shaped this story with two hands, a mind, and a powerful voice. Channel that writer now. Get that feeling of building something back into your fingers. Don’t stop until you’ve typed the last word.

(2) Return to or begin work on your own project immediately.

Guaranteed: When you turn to your own work, you’ll be marinating in first-rate prose. If the writer you were just retyping is what Truman Capote calls a “stylist,” you might get a bit of his or her voice in your mouth. But by the time I finish typing another writer’s story, I find I’m impatient to get back to my own: my voice is back in my mouth, and I want like hell to use it.

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