What is Pulling on You? Writing Action
This Tuesday at The Cabin, we combined a search for our own personal urgencies with tools to excavate active language, in order to build our personal manifestos. You can take part in what we did on your own time, and add in your own flourishes.
Write Your Urgencies: Consider everything that’s on your mind. Everything in your personal life. In your community. Everything going on in the world right now. The biggest things pressing on you right now. What has been pulling on you? What is that pull asking you to write?
Now, write what you’re afraid to write, what you can’t write, what you’ve been longing to write, needing to write. Write for ten minutes.
An American Lyric: We then read a series of short pieces from Claudia Rankine's An American Citizen, and discussed them. Here is one we used:
At the end of a brief phone conversation, you tell the manager you are speaking with that you will come by his office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself, he blurts out, I didn't know you were black!
I didn't mean to say that, he then says.
Aloud, you say.
What? he asks.
You didn't mean to say that aloud.
Your transaction goes swiftly after that.
I encourage you to find Rankine's full book of hurricane strength pieces like this one. We talked through some of these questions after reading:
What is urgent here?
What is speaking to you?
What is the hidden world underneath?
What questions are these pieces asking you?
What questions do you have for these stories?
What is active here?
What calls you to action?
And we discussed how writing can help us deal with the world.
How writing can bring a call to action.
How we can be active in our writing.
Active as in Verbs...
We used this delightful exercise from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones:
Divide your paper up into two columns.
List one to ten on both sides
On one side, list a bunch of juicy nouns.
Objects, occupations, places, types of people, animals…anything.
No need to connect them or make sense of them. Make them specific.
Hairbrush, professor, Bermuda, singer, leopard...
On the other side, in the second list’s heading, write an occupation. Any job.
Below that, list all the verbs that job does. Active verbs.
A cook cuts, slices, boils, steams, washes...
Once you have your lists, make pairs between items in each list.
Draw lines between them like a kid's matching game.
Mix and pair. Nouns and verbs. Don’t aim for logical groupings.
Write sentences based on these pairings.
You can change present tense to past. Keep it playful.
The hairbrush sliced through brunette strands...
After writing your ten sentences, choose your favorite.
Write a story starting with that sentence.
Can all your verbs burst with that same active energy?
Write for at least ten minutes. Keep going if time and space allows!
Active as in Making a Stand
Having a better sense of strong verb potential isn't the only kind of action...
We can also use active verbs to create a different kind of writing.
A personal manifesto.
These writings can take many different forms.
Perhaps yours is made up of observations that call your readers to take action.
Like Rankine’s meditations on race in Citizen.
Perhaps it is a specific call to action.
Perhaps it is a list of everything fundamentally important to you.
Here is a manifesto from my dear friend and amazing performer Sarah Gardner:
Now write yours, perhaps bringing in an attention toward strong active verbs.
Can be manifesto about your writing
About how to live
To yourself, how you’d like to be
To yourself and others, how you’d like everyone to be
To the world.
Remember what is urgent for you write now.
What do you have to say? What are you afraid to write? What do you need to write?
Try for a ten, fifteen or twenty minute writing session here...
After you've written this piece, share it with someone!
Then, reflect. What was useful or interesting to you about these exercise?
What was difficult or challenging?
Thank you for taking time to write with me today.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: