Let’s set the record straight right here at the start: This post is inspired by a McSweeney’s essay by Colin Nissan titled, “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do.” In it we learn that “writing is a muscle” and a laptop is “a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals.” We are also told to “[b]eware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes.”
So clearly you’re going to be in good hands with the advice I’ll provide in this post.
They tell me The Artist’s Road is a blog for writers, yet I’ve never provided my readers with any writing exercises. That changes today! My inspiration? This passage from the McSweeney’s essay:
“Mark Twain once said, ‘Show, don’t tell.’ This is an incredibly important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like ‘Show, don’t tell.’ Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.”
Let me say, with the authority of a blogger with awards in his blog’s right column, that Twain was wrong. Sure, plenty of writing blogs tell us to show, not tell. A few are even braver, telling us to tell, not show. And the occasional blogger, who clearly is high on himself, will tell us to show and tell.
I say don’t show, and don’t tell.
Are you ready for your writing exercise? Good. Find a blank sheet of paper. No lines or perforations, please, not even a watermark. Now find a pen. Make sure the ink doesn’t leak. Now, for the next five minutes, hold the pen six inches above the paper, then put it down.
Are you finished? Let’s look at what you’ve written. Well done!
The late composer John Cage would have turned 100 this year. He is perhaps most famous for his composition 4’33”, in which the orchestra sits silently for four-and-a-half minutes, and the performance is the sound of discomfort found in the audience. Take a look at the sheet music for this composition. See the beauty in those blank musical staffs? You too have just produced a masterpiece of absence.
Show your new work to friends, and ask them what they take away from the experience. Every reader will have a unique reaction true to their being. Isn’t that our goal as writers, to speak directly to each individual reader? You’ve done it today!
Be sure to return to The Artist’s Road again next week, when we explore the possibilities of writing only with the keyboard’s home keys.