A Lesson in the Practice of Sensory Imagery
Wanting to be a writer isn’t enough. Grabbing a pen and some paper is a good start. But what really makes a writer a writer is actually writing. We here at Twisted Writers talk about this a lot. If you want to be a writer, write. But how? What if the words don’t come to you? Well, pard’ner, I’m glad you asked. Because I struggle with this as well.
Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Yeah, thanks Ernest. That’s insightful, but it doesn’t tell me how to write.
So here is what I do that is helpful. I sit my butt in a chair at a table, either with my laptop or a spiral notebook and a pen, and then…I bang my head on the table. Sometimes my brain just empties itself. I feel like the stereotypical blonde from every blonde joke you’ve ever heard. There’s an empty corridor between my ears and if you listen closely you can hear the wind whistling through it. What to do?
At this stage I usually say screw it and I go do something completely mundane. Ten to twenty minutes into cleaning the bathroom an “a-ha” moment occurs. I get an idea. The problem is I don’t stop and go write. That’s what I SHOULD do. Instead, I continue cleaning the bathroom and more ideas occur to me. At some point, I AM going to realize I should be writing instead of cleaning because I end up forgetting half of the ideas I just had.
I definitely need more discipline.
Something else I do to help encourage the words to come is writing exercises. There are a plethora available to you online. Type “writing exercises” into your Google search box and you are a few clicks away from inspiration. Or you can go to a library and check out writing books. Most have exercises included so you can practice writing. Yes, you may have some basic exercises you think you don’t need to do, and maybe you don’t. They tend towards the repetitive. But this is incredibly good practice for the simple reason that we can get lost in other parts of writing and forget the basics. It never hurts to brush up on those skills. Then there are exercises for the more advanced/seasoned writers. Guess what? They need to practice, too.
I like to read books that teach writing because you get varied viewpoints from different authors. The one advice they ALL say is sit down and write. It’s the Rule of Three: if three people say the same thing, you should listen. EVERY published author says the SAME thing…sit down and write. Whether it’s for five minutes a day or thirty, sit down and write. Doesn’t matter if it’s lists or stream of consciousness or story ideas, sit down and write. Practice makes you a better writer and, more often than not, a published one if you continue and FINISH your writing.
I’ve been working on a final story for a Twisted deadline and it’s been giving me a rough time. Mostly because it’s a hard write. The subject matter is a personal one for me and I feel I’m distancing myself from it so it doesn’t hit as close to home as it actually has been. But, I am writing. I decided to take a break, though, because it is taking an emotional toll on me, and I thought I needed some breathing space. So, I picked up a book I recently checked out from my library and decided to tackle one of the exercises. It’s a simple one: Write a paragraph about an object you can remember from your childhood but use five sentences, one for each of your senses. It’s a lesson in practicing sensory imagery. Great, I thought, I suck at this already. I couldn’t think of anything in particular. I sat for ten minutes before I realized what I remembered wasn’t an object but a person. More specifically, it was a memory of my grandmother washing dishes while I ate a popsicle. Here is my paragraph:
When I think of Granny, I picture her at her kitchen sink up to her elbows in warm, green-scented suds. The scrape of plate against plate, the slosh of the water as she pulled dishes from the bubbly abyss, and the swish of her clothes as she rubbed against the counter accompanied her as she sang her favorite go-to hymn, Rock of Ages. I’d suck on a popsicle as she worked; the syrupy sweet taste of artificial cherries dripping down my chin and onto my fingers created a sticky mess. Granny would notice and stop cleaning briefly to wipe my face and hands with the well-used but soft washcloth. I can still smell the fresh, clean scent of Palmolive Dish Soap from the cloth, and to this day, the fragrance, now Original Formula, works better than any time machine, transporting me back to Granny’s kitchen listening to her sing, “rock of ages cleft for me let hide myself in thee.”
What do you think? Can you picture yourself in my Granny’s kitchen? Does any of the sensory imagery evoke similar memories? Can you smell the Palmolive or taste the cherries?
Now it’s your turn.
I challenge you to do the same exercise. It didn’t take long to do, about 20 minutes. I’d love to read your responses in the comments!
Have a great week!