For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part!
It was mid-morning but there were no shadows on my wall; the sun was being shy, so I knew it was grey and drizzly outside without even pulling the curtains aside. Perfection. I grabbed a pile of blank notecards I meant to write and send during the holidays but never did (just like every other year…), tore out a handful of sheets from a composition book I had laying around, tossed a few pencils in my bag, and biked on down to a cozy cafe to write my letters from our previous exercise.
I started with the loose leaf, to compose the letter that was staying with me. Though it took a minute or two of staring out the window at the people passing by, lead hovering over and occasionally tapping the blank page, eventually I just just took a deep breath and went for it. There’s a strange thrill associated with articulating things—secret, unspoken things—you want to express to a flesh-and-blood individual but for whatever reason, under normal circumstances, can’t or won’t. It’s equal parts exhilarating and emotional and embarrassing. The glory with this exercise is you can get as earnest as you want and no one will be any the wiser. In fact, allowing yourself to be honest in this kind of “direct” communication can often help to sort your own thoughts and feelings. After the length of a cup of coffee I was done. I folded it up, and put it in my bag, and haven’t decided yet whether to tear it up and toss it out or slip it in a nook somewhere so I can revisit it later.
The notecards were a more lighthearted affair—itty bits of good times and fun memories shared with old friends that had me smiling to myself as I scribbled them out. They were intentionally brief—essentially a single memory and quick “miss you!”—but when it comes to hand-penned missives, it doesn’t take much to make a nice impact. I stamped them and dropped them off at the P.O. on the way back home again. As ever, I vow to do this more often.
Y’all ready for the next round?
#4: Go Big
We’ve tackled the stream-of-consciousness freestylings of journals and prompts; we’ve sent notes, and not sent notes. Now we’re steering away from the screen again, but breaking free from the confines of plain old, standard-sized notebooks. That’s right, friends; we’re going big.
I first tried this practice when I was feeling slightly bummed out and overwhelmed one day years ago; I wanted to write but recoiled at the thought of sitting at a laptop, and was similarly dissatisfied with a pencil between my fingers. So I pulled out a gigantic 18”x24” stack of recycled newsprint leftover from a figure drawing class I took years ago and unearthed a few oil pastels I had stashed away amongst my crafty supplies. I sat down and started making massive strokes, letting my hand drag along the coarse grain of the way-off-white paper. I wrote my name a bunch of times; I wrote nouns and verbs and bullet-pointed lists of grand plans and ambitious goals; I wrote nonsense and I wrote sentences that I transfered to a word doc so I could add them into something, sometime.
This has since become a solid go-to tactic when I’m feeling frustrated. And it works to shake things up, every dang time.
—one (1) pad of unlined art paper (I’d recommend at least 18”x24”).
—Some kind of writing utensil(s) more substantial than your standard pen or pencil. Something thick. Something bright. Dust off a box of crayons, try a colored Sharpie, or buy a neon highlighter. Wield something unfamiliar, something a bit strange to the touch that will force you to alter your traditional script.
Fill up four sheets of big paper with whatever the hell feels good. Try out different fonts. Make a goofy sketch of a character you’ve been working on for a while, or the blueprint of the home where your next story will take place. Try a prompt in cursive or all caps. If you’re not sure where to start, just draw a line from the top of the page to the bottom; use your whole arm. You’ve got tons of space! Have fun, and don’t worry about creating anything that feels “finished,” or even cohesive at all. This exercise is all about using your brain and body together in a new way, to see what that rewired connection might uncover. It might take a minute to get the hang of things—stick with it!
Just like the letters, take as much time as you need on these. If you’re not used to writing in this way it might feel weird at first, so make yourself comfortable: throw a record on, grab a beer, push aside the coffee table and go cross-legged on the floor; tape a sheet to the wall; get in your PJs and bring the whole operation to bed; set up an easel if you’ve got one. Whatever works is the right way to do it.
Get inspired by some of the fantastic folks doing amazing lettering out there! Lisa Congdon tried out a new style every day for a year; Jessica Hische did a similar project which focused on single letters; and I had the pleasure of writing a post about Leandro Senna a while back, who reinterpreted Bobby D’s Subterranean Homesick Blues with incredible style (and skill!).