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Writing Groups and Writing Exercises

December 30, 2011

Anything that has the word “exercise” attached to it must, by definition, be a chore.


Well, yes and no. It depends on who is doing the exercise. In our group of eight, individual feelings towards writing exercise are as varied as our writing styles. Most of our group can produce a couple of coherent, publication-worthy pages in the space of twenty minutes. Long hand at that. Shot through with luminous humour. (Curiously, the best humour surfaces when writing under duress – but let’s leave that for another post). Invariably, the promise of a yet-to-emerge, fully-wrought narrative tantalises.

Unfortunately, I cannot produce anything tantalising in twenty minutes. I fall in the category reserved for people for whom any form of exercise is traumatic. For the first seven minutes, I obsess over the most creative slant to the exercise at hand. We are to flesh out a loaded one-line starter. Or to take a prescribed setting and pepper it with characters, dialogue, nuance, mood. Foregone trajectories are anathema. So are clichéd comfortable “unexpected” happenings. When the time comes to share the fruits of our labour, banal similes will be met with a sliding away of eyes, as will trite conclusions. That is, if I manage to get to a conclusion. As the minutes tick away, I chew on my virtual pencil.  Finally, I write the first sentence. Twelve minutes have elapsed. I spend the remainder time writing feverishly and then, equally feverishly, rewriting. Just as I get warmed up, the group time-keeper clears her throat. “How’s everyone doing? Show and tell time?”

We put our pencils down or cease clicking, and sit back. In the early life of our group, each member would read aloud the fruits of her twenty minutes of disciplined writing. I am amazed at the creativity that pours forth, especially considering the self-imposed lack of access to the fridge. Each offering is an exciting springboard to a new writing direction. I find myself wondering why I cannot find such a springboard in twenty minutes. I am convinced it has something to do with writing discipline. I have never been disciplined with my writing; never been able to write daily or edit before going to bed. My writing simply…materialises after days of rumination. No doubt the writing group members who spin off twenty minute masterpieces follow the advice of writing instructors to write, write, write – daily. When writing exercise time rolls around, they flex their well-honed creative muscle and dazzle.

Lately, we have decided there is little to be gained by sharing the content of our exercise. Instead, we discuss the exercise and its challenges. I confess I am both relieved and dismayed. Relieved because I do not have to share my abortive attempt, and dismayed because the clever, funny, thought-provoking twenty-minute masterpieces that the rest produce are filed unseen in a password-protected writing exercise folder. I can only hope these marvels get resurrected to fulfil their early promise.

– Shila Desai

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