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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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Taking a character for a walk

Begin by inventing ten or twelve separate characters, all different from each other. For each one, choose five…

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Radical Reinvention

One way to think about writing is as a tool of curiosity. A way of finding out about…

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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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Write towards the discomfort

A very simple act of reversal: conventionally we might begin a writing exercise with a prompt given to…

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Let the place do the talking

It is tremendously difficult to write about a place you know as if you are a travel writer….

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The Gap Between

I’d like you to do something very simple. Sit back, close your eyes, and try to remember an…

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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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Veiling the Narrative

Stories are one of the ways we have to make sense of the world.  I’m interested not just…

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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 plan a chapter

There’s a joke that goes something like this: Q: ‘How do you eat a whale?’ A: ‘One bite…

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Magic in the Mundane

A comic is a string of sequential panels that are both literary and visual in their storytelling. Striking the balance between what is said with words and shown with pictures is essential to creating an immersive reading experience. Write a short script for a one-page comic. A practical starting point is to think about a small event that happened to you, for example…

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