Exercise On Discovering A Subject
Write, as Annie Dillard says, about what frightens you and what fascinates you.
- List what you're afraid of and then list what you're drawn to.
- Free-write for five or ten minutes on a subject from each list.
- Where do these topics lead you?
- What did you learn? Do they connect?
- What surprising ideas and feelings emerge?
- What do you want to know next? Try this with other items on your list and see what develops.
| Sherry Simpson
Journalism Exercise In Observation and Storytelling
Go to a public event where things are happening in an uncontrolled way. For example, hang around a billiards parlor, watch the crowd at a sporting event, follow a bouncer around a bar, go backstage to observe a play. Pay attention to everything: what people look like, how they react, what they say, what they do. Try to detect story lines: naturally occurring dramas unfolding before you. Capture dialogue. Describe people not just by physical features but by their mannerisms and actions.
- Write up a scene from your observations that encapsulates the feeling or atmosphere of the entire event.
- Try to use dialogue and description to show how events revealed themselves. Craft the scene; don't just record it blow-by-blow.
Nature-Writing Field Exercise
Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen: Listening to the Land's Heart, writes about learning to love "loathed lands." For example, in his book he examines the natural history and character of timber clearcuts in the Northwest.
- Describe a "loathed land" you know: an empty lot, a suburban development, a dump, a landscape ravaged by fire, etc.
- Spend time observing and investigating this place.
- Then write about this place so that it's possible to see it in a new and surprising way.