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An Unwriting Exercise

In his essay ‘Cosmopolibackofbeyondism’, Robert Crawford describes the page as a field, and verse the plough that turns it over, furrow by furrow; he talks about the intrusion of ‘firths’ of white space between couplets. Look over your poems, attending to the white space of the page – the margins, the gulfs between stanzas, what W.S. Graham called the ‘literature of the snow’? Is it really blank? Is it empty? Ask yourself what the white space of the page means to you. Is it breath? Deep space? A span of moorland owned by birds? How does the white space/silence move? How do the words move within the white space/silence? What changes there? What kind of dreaming occurs when we are allowed to suspend our attention, perhaps in an end-stopped line-break, between stanzas; or in the black hole of a repeated word?

Print a poem that you’ve never been quite satisfied with. Cut each line into a strip and then clip out each word. Get yourself a lovely piece of blank paper. Now abandon all attachment to the way the poem was before. Scatter the words on the new sheet. Move them around. Lose some: it doesn’t matter if you huff them onto the floor by mistake. When your new mash-up poem has some degree of coherence, some electricity, some magnetism, scoot the lines around, exploring all four margins, every different line-break permutation. Cluster, scatter. Treat each version as a musical score. Say it. Bigger spaces mean deeper breaths or longer silences. As you do, attend to the signs. Did your hair stand on end? Did something make you begin to cry? Did you want to say a line over and over and over? If so, it may be that in one of the spaces you have made, silent words have begun to grow.

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Improve your writing through cutting back

If you don’t know how to begin to improve your writing through cutting back, you might like to…

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The importance of rewriting

For many writers, the pleasure of writing comes in rewriting. It is not everyone’s favourite aspect of writing,…

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Find the shape of your story

Pick up one of the books you really like – it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction….

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Shaping the flow of writing

This is very odd, but when it comes to non-fiction I like drawing little pictures of the inner…

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Exploring different third person points of view

Write part of a story in the form of a scene from a play, beginning with a description…

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How to radically rewrite

Word processing has been a gift to writers. No more typing out pages and pages of manuscript, no…

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Reconsider, rewrite

Take a piece of writing. It might be a poem or short story. It might be a play…

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Word mapping

1. Choose a word or short phrase which is the subject of the poem you wish to explore….

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Controlling your fear

Thomas Keneally says that, ‘Writing is an exercise in controlling your fear. Above all the fear that you…

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Drafting and editing poetry

Write poetry by hand. Go on, try it, even if you always write directly on the computer. I…

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Cut the fluff

There is, of course, no rule that says you should never write dialogue that looks exactly like real…

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