Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Writing Exercises I Have Loved: Part 1 – by Ruth Hatfield

I’ve just had a 3 month break from blogging (many thanks again to Rachel Mcintyre, Claire Fayers and Jenny Alexander who stepped in with brilliant guest posts). In those three months I did no writing AT ALL. I really missed it, and the break made me stop dwelling on the things I find hard about writing and remember the things I absolutely love. I began to think about some of the writing exercises I’ve done in workshops over the past few years, and how they’ve helped me get to the heart of the things I want to write about. I’ll share a few here over the next few posts, for anyone who’s looking for a bit of creative stimulus.

The first exercise I can remember was one on a Children’s fiction course run by Julia Green and Lucy Christopher at Ty Newydd, the Writers’ Centre for Wales. I can’t remember which one of them did this exercise (they’re both brilliant at running workshops), but it took me back to a place I purposefully don’t try to remember or write about – the age slap bang in the middle of my teens. I can’t replicate the exact original exercise here because I can’t remember all the questions that were asked, but I’ve suggested a few of my own, and you can add more as you think of them.

It starts with a pair of shoes. We were asked to imagine a pair of shoes that we’d had as a child. Then we were asked a series of question about the shoes, to get a fuller description of them. What colour were they? What were they made of? What shape were they? Open or closed? What did they feel like under your fingertips?

Once we had a full description of the shoes, we were asked to widen the view a little. What clothes did you wear with them? Were those clothes for a specific purpose? What colour were they?

After the rest of the body was clothed, the emphasis moved to placing it in space and time. How old were you when you wore the shoes? Where did you wear them? What did you do when you wore them? What did you see around you when you wore them? What did you hear? What did you smell?

And the last stage of description brought the remembered person alive: What did you feel about the shoes? What emotions did you feel when you wore them? Were you warm or cold? What did you say when you wore them?

The exercises ended with a short time to remember an instance when you wore the shoes, and write your thoughts as the person inside those shoes, at that time.

For me, this exercise was very effective at delving into a bit of memory that I’d grown used to describing from the outside but preferred not to explore – I’d be surprised if that many fourteen-year-olds are really sunny people inside, but the angry whining and railing against the unfairness of the world that came back to me as I spoke from the heart of my fourteen-year-old self was a gentle reminder that I can’t always remember as well as I think I can what it was actually like to be a child, sometimes because I’ve purposefully hidden it away. This exercise was a brilliant way to excavating some of those hidden thoughts and feelings! I’ve tried it with various characters of mine, and it seems to work well with invented characters too (and is sometimes just as surprising).

A note about this one, if you want to try it – when you’re answering the questions, in order to get into the heart of whichever person you’re trying to dig up, you need to answer quickly and not give yourself time to think too much. I usually just write them out very clearly in a list, but recording yourself reading them out would probably work better.


Pippa Goodhart said...

I love that idea of growing a bigger picture from a small specific start on one detail of it. Thank you, Ruth!

Sue Purkiss said...

It sounds a great exercise - but I'm not quite clear whether you do it about yourself - your own pair of shoes - or about a character you're trying to bring to life...?

Ruth Hatfield said...

Sue - when I did it at Ty Newydd, we used ourselves - I think it's probably more useful for digging up real memories. But I've tried it with made-up characters as well, and it does seem to work. So either is the answer!