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July 26, 2010

I Don't Remember

Photo by majorbrighton
Today's writing exercise is one of my favorites from Bonni Goldberg's Room to Write. More than once it's helped me break through writer's block.

Begin with the phrase "I don't remember" and don't stop writing until you've filled two pages. Whenever you feel your momentum lagging, repeat "I don't remember" and take off again. Don't direct your writing, but simply see what emerges. You may focus on a single topic or several.  Don't worry about punctuation or the quality of the writing. This is just mining work.  Whatever looks interesting can be refined later.

Here's an example:
I don't remember the hog barn. I remember the horse sales, the dust and corrals filled with possibilities that wouldn't be mine. Most of them skinny. Young and unbroke or old and used up. Not a good horse for a girl who doesn't know how to ride. I only sat in the sale once. The room was smaller than I expected. I remember it like a den. Dim-lit. A small dusty pen surrounded by board benches on a floor that rose in regular steps like theater in the round. Of course, I didn't know what theater in the round was back then. It was only like an enclosed grandstand, a circular one, scrunched small. Dirtiness. Flies and the scent of too many bodies in a small, shut-in space during heavy August heat. I remember a bony man, old and dressed in a gray button-down shirt with a pocket hanging, torn, and stains smeared down its front. He'd open a gate, and horses would enter through a loading chute from the pens out behind. Some would rush in, scared, and circle the pen, looking for escape. Ponies and mules. Nags and foals. I loved the smell of them. That horsey scent that isn't leather or manure or saddle-soap or straw. I don't remember one horse in particular. I remember grays and blacks. It seems there was one, a flea-bitten gray or a roan. One horse I really wanted, and when it entered the pen, my heart beat faster, waiting, hoping. My father's bid card didn't budge.

When you examine what you've written, you may find a topic you'd like to write about or an experience for one of your characters.  Does the writing reflect a theme you frequently write about or one you'd like to explore?

Usually I do this exercise from a main character's point of view, and in the process gain insight about the character's background and motivations.  Even when the exercise doesn't relate directly to the scene I'm working on, it often helps me understand where the action will go.

1 comment:

Lila Alger said...

That's a great writing exercise or maybe it's just your vivid example. I'll have to try it sometime.