The Total Artist #2: Extra Inspiration for Writing

Delving deeper into Prose & Clarity
Transcript

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Hello friends!

I hope this past week has got your creative juices flowing a bit.

But if this isn’t the case for you, don’t worry! Here’s an extra dose of inspiration. :-)

How to go deeper

As we contemplate our current themes of Prose and Clarity, there are two key things to consider: 1) what we are writing about; and 2) how we are writing about it.

When it comes to creativity, so much of finding our way along the tangled path comes down to the quality of the questions we ask.

And of course, the simple questions are often the hardest ones to answer.

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See what questions are arising in your own mind about how you are interacting with prose and clarity. These are your best tools to stretch yourself further.

And in the meantime, here are a few of the questions that I have been sitting with:

  • Thinking about my material/subject (the ‘What’)…

    • Do I know what I am trying to say?

    • Am I being honest with myself about my thoughts and feelings?

    • Is this clear to someone who can’t look inside my mind?

    • Do I have my facts straight?

  • Thinking about how I am using language (the ‘How’)

    • What is the structure that lets me present my ideas as clearly as possible?

    • How do I break my thoughts into pieces? What order should those pieces go in?

    • How do I lay things out on the page to make them clear?

    • Am I using words that communicate not just the facts, but also the tone / viewpoint / approach to the material (and/or life!)?

One key question

If you only choose one thing to think about in this coming week - as you work on your art and move through your life - ask yourself this:

What is more helpful for clarity? To add words? Or to take them away?

Stripping it all back: an underrated skill

One of the most eye-opening writing exercises I ever encountered was during the time I spent as part of Tom Hunsinger’s writers group. I learned SO much in his writing classes, and it’s probably safe to say that he is the biggest influence on my work as a playwright.

(As a heads up, he is about to start a new course, so if you want to study with him you should grab your spot now!)

In this particular writer’s group session, Tom asked me for the script I had written. He said it ‘wasn’t bad’. (Which in Tom-speak this meant ‘good job!’)

But it could be better.

He took out his pen. And he just sat there, going word by word, crossing out every word (every syllable!) that was not completely necessary.

What remained afterwards was completely different - but much more true to what I had been trying to create.

Sometimes the best way to improve our writing is not to change it but simply to tighten and reduce it. (My natural tendency is to overwrite, so this is particularly important for someone like me.)

This class was a turning point for me in terms of being a bit less precious about my rewriting, particularly with making cuts, and this has served me well since.

It’s natural to encounter internal resistance when we begin cutting our text. I find - for myself and for my students - that rid of words seems to trigger a self-protective instinct, making it harder to face than adding text or changing what is already there. After all, we worked hard for those words!

It can feel like we are erasing our work. But that needs a reframe.

Cutting down text much more like stepping into the kitchen to reduce a sauce. The more concentrated it is, the greater the intensity.

Takeaway

Cutting is one of our most powerful tools in writing.

See what is left when you strip your words down to what is most essential.

All that will be left is clarity.

Inspiration from others

Here’s a few ideas for some external inspiration:

  • Some brilliant writing advice from James Baldwin via LitHub. “Write a sentence as clean as a bone.”

  • Three great books about writing - I explain more about why I picked these books in the video below. (I’ve included affiliate links, so if you’d like a small portion of your purchase price to support art-making instead of our corporate overlords, just click on through!)

    • On Writing by Stephen King (Bookshop: UK link here; Amazon: UK link here / USA link here)

    • Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott (Bookshop: UK link here; Amazon: UK link here / USA link here)

    • Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher (Bookshop: N/A; Amazon: UK link here / USA link here)

  • This Is A Play is an online writing experiment I created to explore how different writing tools and materials affect the writing process. Using the work of photographer/filmmaker Julia Forsman for inspiration, I would write a short play using unconventional materials. (For example: pencil on graph paper, or sharpie on an orange peel.) Writing is a physical act - so what happens when we lean into the rewards and complications of that? I really encourage trying this out yourself if you need to break out of rut!

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Lastly, a little update on my work…

I’ve been finding it really eye-opening to think about clarity within my life. I’ve noticed the places I shy away from it, as if I might cut myself on the sharp edge of the truth. And yet, when I lean into that sensation instead, how it much more grounded I feel.

For me, it’s felt a bit like having a compass needle pointing North - an important reminder that clarity and integrity are inextricably linked. We can only be our full selves if we are willing to meet life’s deepest truths: in ourselves, in others, and in the world.

If you were wondering how my artistic project is coming along, or how I’ve managed the inevitable bumps in the road, here is a little update!

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I wish you all the best for the coming week, and will see you on the full moon to think about poetry!

For now,

Alli

Access Support: If you have access needs that I’m not currently meeting, please do drop me a line! (The best email is contact@ac-smith.com.) I’d really like to make this project available to anyone who wants to participate.

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