Starting – Writing

Writing is a central part of my process. So how do I get started? How can one start writing generally? After I’ve done research, which is almost always primary; here’s my approach to sitting down with pen and paper, or the keyboard:

Start by:

1: Writing without thinking.
2: Writing with someone else writing.
3: Writing a world.
4: Writing an object.
5: Writing an event.
6: Writing a feeling.
7: Writing a memory.
8: Writing a dream.
9: Writing a living thing.
10: Writing a story, about a story, or not writing a story.
11: Writing exactly what I want regardless of constraint.
12: Not writing at all.

Now with explanation.

1: Writing without thinking.

Write something in your head, compose it without planning, then jot it down. Keep it. Or just put pen to paper and write without planning for a few minutes, it doesn’t matter what you write, especially to start with, just get something down. Some bad writing is better than no writing, a full draft of bad material is better than three incomplete lines of genius. Write what’s in your head, write what’s in front of you, write nonsense, write marks on the page/screen. Write until you write.

2: Writing with someone else’s writing.

Its a euphmism for theft, of a kind, but not plagiarism. It’s emulation, writing from inside another text in order to find out how something works. Take a passage and write a new passage to follow it, or rewrite it into your grammar and vocabulary. If not just one piece try multiple, it’s how I started, taking and reordering and recombining different texts to make something new, churning the material so much that it’s origin became unrecognisable, but with an echo of what was there before. Eventually I found my voice as an assemblage of others. You will find yours there too.

3: Writing a world.

Genre fiction of every kind builds elaborate stylised worlds that people are drawn to, for the scope, the detail and the mystery. Sometimes the world can be more interesting that the story or characters populating it, sometimes better than the quality of the writing itself. This is fine, to create a world and present it to others through writing or performance is a wonderful feat of imagination. So, imagine a place, a world, a universe. Imagine weather, geology, flora and fauna, imagine the laws of physics, imagine governments and economies and ecologies, imagine philosophies and religions, histories and futures. JL Borges in ‘The Library of Babel’ constructs a bibliographic universe in ten pages, what can you do?

4: Writing an object.

If building a universe is too much then just describe something. If art is ‘making the invisible visible’, then the simple act of really describing something in detail, the way you see it, the way you encounter it in every way you can think of is the most honest thing you can do. But don’t imagine that description is just about factual observation, start there yes, but then describe an object’s history, its meaning, it’s function, the sensations and memories it prompts, its relation with other objects and living things and the world around it. Describe speculatively, as if the object were something to be feared or loved or loathed. Write an object from it’s own perspective of the world. Use description to make a seemingly simple thing, into a thing of wonder.

5: Writing an event.

Actions, images, a stories aren’t single lines of causal happenings, they are a gigantic events if you pull back your frame of focus far enough, everything connects. An event is made other events. Imagine the subject of your writing as collection of clouds. There are thousands of discrete moments and vectors and incidents in an event. Don’t limit your writing down straight away to a single thread to begin with. Have ‘soft eyes’ and see everything that could be linked to what you think is ‘happening’. Then you can map out everything of interest, and follow unexpected consequences. An event it should be a mess, no-one in it should know its shape, and not every line will wrap up nicely. If you write an event however, you can create far richer and complex and rewarding stories as a result.

6: Writing a feeling.

Don’t forget how his feels. Emotionally, and in the body, they are not really separate things. Embody your writing to start with, give sentences texture of vocabulary and structure. Make your writing feel like a living breathing feeling thing. Then in the subject of the writing address affect. For every moment where there is an idea or a concept or an action or a thought or a image at work: how does that feel? for the subjects of your writing, for you, for your audience? Think about the pulse, blood pressure, nerves, and chemical reactions in any moment of performance, and how writing prompts and delivers visceral response.

7: Writing a memory.

Go deep. What do you remember? Write that down. How do you remember? by reliving something? or by playing an event over and over? by telling it like a story? Pick out details and connections and sensations, see it from where you are now with a new perspective. How well do you remember? Sometimes everything, sometimes only parts. Write the way the memory feels, rich and vivid or vague and incomplete. Re-membering is a physical act, it is is putting something living in your brain back together again. And remember, memories are unreliable. Part of their contradiction, is that the more they teach you, or reveal to you, ’truths’, the more you know that they cannot be relied on as ‘truths’. Your memories are your stories.

8: Writing a dream.

It’s is best is somethings are not explained, as David Lynch has said the point is not to ‘understand’, the point is to ‘Wonder’. I suppose he means that both to be in a state of wonder, and to remain in a state of open questioning, subtly different things.

Often when teaching students it can be difficult to get over the hurdle of writing surreal/dreamlike texts, as writing something without clearly defined or apparent ‘meaning’ can seem like you are failing to deliver. Yet, our dreams and imaginings are some of our richest resource, and the most resonant. They may not make coherent sense, and sometimes they are just nonsense, but hidden within is treasure. Intuition, logic other than the rational, images that no-one else can summon, this is what your dreams can provide, write them down and practice daydreaming.

9: Writing a living thing.

We often talk about character, but I tend to avoid this. rather I prefer to think of ‘living agents’. The plant in performance is alive, the animal in performance is alive, the human in performance, is alive. I come less and less to a consideration of character, to my own fault I never really took to character in the first place, it always seemed to miss the presence of the performer. For many though character it is central and I’ll really admit it is justifiable. However I have come to alternate position, which I’ll offer here, don’t think about writing characters, write living subjects. Write from the position of an observer of a new species, rather than the inventor of a ‘character’. In this position one cannot do what one likes with a living thing, it has rights, it has ownership of itself. You may have bought it into being, or gathered it together from a range of different observations, dreams, and memories. But now that it’s here, it has to have independence.

At the same time someone once said that a writer has to have a shard of ice in their heart… so yes, you can put them in cruel circumstances if you need to. But if you want an audience to accept them as figures that they can invest in (‘Believe in’, is a mistaken approach), they have to have agency, to act according to their own conditions and parameters. This means that those parameters have to have been created, and or have been left to the ‘Character’ to define (There I said it) so that they can surprise us, even ‘the author’.

10 Writing a story, or a story about a story, or a story that refuses to be one.

We are often told that story is central. But it isn’t. Certainly very important and useful, but not essential. So yes, write a story with a beginning a middle and and end, great. But if you don’t have one… Write a story that is actually multiple stories overlapping. Write a story that is a story about a story. Or one that is a story about a story about a story etc. or write a text that isn’t a story, or that breaks the rules of ‘Story’. Write a text where everything has already happened, or where it hasn’t happened yet. Write a text, where nothing links to anything else causally, and has to work to a different structure. Write in any of the other ways listed here and more, with or without story. Make story something that happens in your text, not that you text happens in your story.  Make Story an ingredient of pleasure, not of burdensome requirement.

11: Writing exactly what I want regardless of constraint.

I was taught this by Forced Entertainment, but their show ‘Dirty Work’ by a workshop with them, and the Short Story ‘The Flight of Pigeons from the Palace’ by Donald Barthelme, that their show was inspired by.

Write a list of the things you want to happen in an impossible show. There are no limits on what can happen, none at all. Additionally, the items do not have to connect, in fact its better if they don’t. Just write down a list of the most incredible, brilliant, sad, joyous, weird, wonderful, thrilling, baffling things you wish could happen in a show. But be specific, make detailed items on your list. Then thats your script. Now find a way to make it happen.

12: Not writing at all.

If none of this works, don’t write. Do something else; read, walk, watch the clouds. Make something else; a drawing, a sculpture, a piece of music. Trust that by shifting your activity onto something else, the first thing on the list will happen, you’ll write something without thinking about it.

 

Go get a cup of coffee, sit down with a nice notepad and a pen that feels good when you write with it, and just write something.

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