Audacity and assigned writing

Today’s blog is by The Quotable contributor, Nancy Devine. Ms. Devine’s short story, “That Damned Street” appears in The Quotable Issue II, available in print and on the web. 

Audacity and assigned writing

Audacity. If I’m going to write I’ve got to have a pretty good measure of it.  I must believe that the strangeness rattling around in my brain—be it few words or phrases or even fogging imagery that seems as though it’s beyond a window smudged with condensation—is worth not only committing to paper but also working on. The what-ifs, the how-abouts…the then-whats must be given a chance to sit on a page or computer screen, so that they can become something, something I probably don’t yet understand or haven’t thoroughly thought out. Perhaps this is what makes writing so difficult. The writer must confront the niggling of his or her thinking and then, without directions, develop it.

.Because I teach writing as part of my job as a high school English teacher, I see that when someone won’t write down those inklings of writing or when someone writes and then erases over and over, writing becomes so difficult that it’s virtually impossible. No wonder so many of my students rail against it.

So how can you circumvent a lack of audacity at any given moment?  Writing assignments. Yep. Give yourself assignments. I give them to my students and, at times, I give them to myself. Sure, the Internet is rife with writing prompts, which in effect, are assignments that you can certainly use. But I find getting online hugely distracting, because it offers myriad, fascinating ways to procrastinate. (finding pictures of Komodo dragons, clicking all the hyperlinks in a Wikipedia article,  Googling yourself) I suggest, instead, that you make up your own writing assignments.

When I create an assignment for myself I try to include things over which I have control and things that arbitrary. For example, I might direct myself to write a poem about someone I don’t know very well. This should be someone I’ve talked with but only a few times. The poem should be ten lines. This is the stuff over which I have control.

Before I get into the random things, let me digress. If I’m an experienced writer, I’ll probably dig into my usual bag of tricks to get this going. That might include the use of religious imagery, a smattering of dialogue….etc. In other words, I might bore myself with the familiarity of the final piece.

That’s where the arbitrary elements enter. You must do something that forces you to work with things you haven’t consciously picked. How? Open the dictionary to any page and tell yourself you will use four words from that page in your piece. Or grab a book, again open it to a random page, and make yourself use the last line on the page as your first line. You’re only limited by your imagination in devices these activities that force you to do things you normally wouldn’t in your writing. And these arbitrary elements will kick the experienced writer out of his or her comfort zone, and will take some of the burden off the less experienced writer for thinking up things about which to write. There are countless ways to impose these forced elements into writing.

Perhaps the pieces you write using these assignments aren’t that spectacular. Don’t fret. They can be instructive. And something on the page can lead to something else and something else which eventually, for me, rekindles the audacity that I need to write.