As with any other profession, as writers, we need to ensure we practice our skills on a regular basis. I believe that a refinement of technique, the development of our own voice and style comes from regular and persistent practice. Just as an artist makes many sketches between paintings — freed from any expectation other than to sketch — so we will benefit from ‘sketching’ on a regular basis.
I write every day. Much of it doesn’t go anywhere. Sometimes I may revive something and rework it. But on the whole these represent nothing more than the artist with his sketchbook or an athlete training in the gym.
One of my preferred methods is to compile a list of random words (I use an online generator) and just write. Remove expectation. Place one word in front of the other without thinking. Without thinking we allow the subconscious to filter through. It’s important to silence the urge to ruminate as we write — save that for rewrites. During these practices the aim is to keep moving, spill words, and tap open the subconscious wells. All of these things will hold you in good stead for when you approach the canvas.
And if we use the analogy that writing can sometimes be like exploring a forest, then these random words act as signs nailed to the trees. They take me in hidden directions. They reveal pathways I would otherwise have missed. In this sense, it can feel less daunting than writing totally unguided.
Have a go for yourself. Get a list of random words. Don’t think about them too much and just write. Ten minutes should be enough time. Relax, keep moving, and allow the words to come through.
Here’s one I’ve just done. Composed one word at a time. Although there is a some semblance of a story, it’s not polished in any real sense. But that’s not the point. It’s not meant to signify anything other than the act of writing for writing’s sake. It’s no more than a pencil sketch, a bench press.
orange, aftermath, guarded, cynical, abounding, confuse, third, obtainable, stain, pie, receptive, reward.
The orange glow of the candle spread quickly across her face as Alfred came closer. The winter had been long, the house dimly lit. And although the fires had been stoked, the house remained cold.
Emily remained huddled in the four-poster bed swathed in layers of quilts and knitted blankets.
‘Maybe they’ll come back, when the weather brightens.’ Alfred placed the candle on the table, the base overflowed with wax so that some spilt onto the table’s surface.
In the aftermath, things were both simpler — there was less technology to distract their time — and yet more complicated. The basic needs were more difficult to fulfil.
Alfred had guarded the gates, hardly sleeping for days after it had happened. The last thing they saw on the news — the mobile networks were the first to go — were the rampages across the cities, the temples, churches, mosques, synagogues and malls, nothing was immune.
Alfred blew out the candle and drew the covers over them. He put his arms around her. But Emily wasn’t in the mood. He groped with cold hands beneath the covers. And she shirked away. He joked that they were the new Adam and Eve now.
But it always ended the same, with Alfred accusing Emily of being cynical. ‘We need to think differently now. What if there is no one else. If there was then–‘
‘Go to sleep Al. They’ll come for us.’
Alfred caught snatches of sleep, waking on occasions to find Emily far away at the edge of the bed. He had always believed he had lived his life through abounding, inviolable principles. That these guided him through a thirty year career working insurance claims, through the prostate cancer. But when everything goes to shit, what use is insurance? They had refused the pay out. They had lost everything. Then everyone lost everything.
‘I don’t want to confuse the issue,’ said Alfred over breakfast the next morning. ‘But I think we should move.’
‘Back to the cities. There’s nothing left here, at least if we make our way there we may have a chance.’ Alfred pushed his plate of dried nuts and berries around.
‘You know there is a third option,’ said Emily. ‘We create a new city, here.’
‘Like Adam and Eve.’ Alfred moved behind her as she looked out beyond the window’s grime at the brown overgrowth that had now taken over and diseased the garden.
‘Come,’ she led him to the outhouse. The dried weeds crackled beneath their boots. ‘I want to show you something.’
Given enough time and with enough hope, anything is obtainable; the stain against humanity is not the we fail to hope, but that we hope for the wrong things.
‘Imagine what we could find in the cities, the food, there must be things still there. Cans, tins, you could make your cherry pies again. Remember how much we loved those?’
Emily unbolted the door to the storehouse, the cold mustiness was the first thing to hit Alfred, the next was the scream of the young woman in chains. Cowering next to her was a young man.
‘This is our future now,’ said Emily. ‘We start it here, with them not us.’
For anything to live, we must cast off expectation and become receptive that we must do what is unpleasant. And that rewards are never promised.
Image by: Lauren Peng via Unsplash