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Writer as sculptor: exercises in re-visioning, Part 1 of 2

Writing workshops. Seminars. Weeklong Retreats. Self-help books. MFA programs. Online classes. I’ve done them all. I consider myself a lifetime student of my craft, a connoisseur of writing classes. At first, everything seemed new and fresh—a magical land of writerly ways and secret handshakes. Over time, I learned and grew. I became more selective. I’m still an eager student of the writing craft—I just don’t rush at everything like a new puppy. Still, every once in a while, I find a class that gets my tail wagging again…

One such class, taught by writer and Goddard College faculty member Nicola Morris, was on the theme of re-visioning. We were told to bring a few pages of a completed work to class. Nikki explained that as writers we were either building up our work like a sculptor or breaking down our work like a wood carver.

Our first exercise was to be the sculptor—to take a page of our written work and, after each sentence, insert two new sentences. Excuse me? She wanted me to expand it by two-thirds? How was I supposed to add that much new material to my finished masterpiece?

Nikki said the key was not to think about it, but to just start writing. She set her timer for fifteen minutes. Good thing I’m a competitive person. I didn’t want to be the only one twirling my pen or staring blankly at the computer screen so I placed my kicking-and-screaming mind on an invisible shelf and said (quietly), “we’ll talk later.” The trick, I discovered, was not to read a whole section at once, but to take it one sentence at a time.

Read one sentence, insert two more. No thinking allowed. My fingers sounded like mini-explosions over the keyboard. Before I knew it, the instructor had called time. The real surprise came when I read what I’d written and liked it. The extra sentences had added a new dimension to my work. Not all of it would stay, of course. The wood carver exercise of whittling away unnecessary words was next. But at least now I had something life-size and substantial to whittle.

Exercise: take a piece of writing that you feel is finished or close to being finished (it can be a chapter, short story, or even a poem) and do the sculptor exercise above. After each sentence or line, insert two more. Set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes. Don’t think. Write!

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