Friday, 22 July 2016

Writing as Improvisation

I recently read Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson with my book group and found one of the bravest and most inspiring writer-based lines I have ever read:

Every day I went to work, without a plan, without a plot, to see what I had to say.

She was falling apart by this stage, fighting a battle with the fog, and, as it had throughout her life, writing pulled her through her despair. She was so broken and crushed by the weight of her experiences that she could barely vocalise her thoughts or bring food to her lips, but she had this place of words and stories in which to immerse herself and from it came great healing. The restorative power of artistic endeavour is beyond inspiring, but I was particularly astounded by her courageous faith in the unknown, to simply see what she had to say each day, improvising a world in which to insert herself with no thought for the end result. And this time of improvisation yielded not only the return of sanity but also The Battle of the Sun, a book for children.

For the rest of us, just how easy is it to write to see what we have to say? Personally, I have found the experience incredibly overwhelming, but with surprising and compelling results. It’s also a little frightening. Writing in this way is a direct route to the subconscious – why kick that hornet’s nest? – but it is highly recommended for just that reason, because you never know what you’re going to manifest – on the page and in your world.

As writers, we already know the power of ‘free writing’, because to a lesser extent, writing is always improvisation. We never know what a character is going to say or how we will express their movements, even if we are working to a strict plan. We are often swept off into fantastical new directions that we simply couldn’t have imagined without the act of writing them. I don’t know how it works, but it does, so why not try to harness this with a 100% improvisation practice, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day, just to see what you have to say? You can start by plucking a first line or subject out of the air, or from a newspaper/the internet, use a photograph or work of art to inspire you, or bravely simply commit to keeping your pen moving for ten minutes with absolutely no preconceptions. I promise you won’t regret it.

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