Do not mention the husband or death. Do not mention murder or the bird.
November 13, 2015 11:18 AM   Subscribe

The art of the strange writing exercise.

Some of the pieces referenced:

-John Gardner's famous creative writing prompts.

-Louis Menand's essay "Show or Tell," which is a little mine of anecdote:
Gardner was a flamboyant and intensely personal teacher. His preferred pedagogical venue was the cocktail party, where he would station himself in the kitchen, near the ice trays, and consume vodka by the bottle while holding forth to the gathered disciples. Stegner, on the other hand, hated informality and disruption. [...] Angela Carter, who taught at Brown, was asked by a student what her own writing was like. She carefully answered as follows: “My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.” The course turned out not to be oversubscribed. One of Rick Moody’s teachers at Columbia asked the class to indicate, by a show of hands, how many found Moody’s work boring. Donald Barthelme, at Houston, assigned students to buy a bottle of wine and stay up all night drinking it while producing an imitation of John Ashbery’s “Three Poems.” Lish taught private writing classes that lasted from six to ten hours, a little like est training. He had students read their stories aloud to the group, and would order them to stop as soon as he disliked what he was hearing. Many students never got past the first sentence.
-Louise Erdrich's interview in the Paris Review.
posted by Iridic (10 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not a NaNoWriMo kinda guy, but the proposed exercise at the end of the first link hits a bunch of my buttons. Is anyone else interested in completing the exercise and maybe doing a group critique?
posted by infinitewindow at 11:30 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


My mom showed me some of Gardner's prompts when I was in high school, and they blew my little writer-mind.

The Kiteley books are well worth checking out, even if you don't usually do "how to write" books.

Also: Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:31 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Angela Carter, who taught at Brown, was asked by a student what her own writing was like. She carefully answered as follows: “My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

Life. Goals.
posted by Ashen at 1:58 PM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


That is seriously a fun exercise.
posted by thecaddy at 2:37 PM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I am totally going to do that writing exercise.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:50 PM on November 13, 2015


I think I want to try and do one a day- they seem pretty intense!
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 3:19 PM on November 13, 2015


Read "Grendel" and "The Sunlight Dialogues." You can do the first in one sitting, but the other may take a few days.

Write a short essay about the faint odor coming from the far end of your closet, where you've put the suit you wore to her birthday party, the cleaner's plastic covering so soft and clinging, rustling against your hand. She adjusted your tie.

Try not to be too specific, but make your reader's eyes bleed a little. Let a quiet sigh escape your lips when you discover how young Gardner was when he died.
posted by mule98J at 10:50 PM on November 13, 2015


The house had that feeling- the one where you walk through the door and it's aggressively empty of being. The silence is loud, and you could hear it echo back at you. She hadn't been there in a few years- the phone calls and emails seemed to suffice for her mother. Or at least, that is what she told herself. She brushed away the niggling guilt. She expected Mum was out back in her beloved garden.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 10:29 AM on November 14, 2015


> Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.

Someone named Aliya Whiteley took prompt number thirteen:
A man has a terrifying dream in which he is being sawn in half. He wakes to find himself in the Indian Ocean, naked and clinging to a door; a hotel keycard is clenched in his teeth. Write what happens next.
and made it pretty darn entertaining.
posted by postcommunism at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


This looks like a lot of fun!
posted by TheGarden at 4:28 AM on November 16, 2015


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