Getting Started Ideas for Good Practice

Start a writer's workbook. Start looking and listening more closely to what is around you. Begin to write brief sketches of scenes witnessed, for example, in a street, among people, at a public event. Try to find the best words to capture things glimpsed fleetingly. Include as many sense impressions as you can.

Write in your workbook regularly every day. If you don't have anything you want to write, try free-writing, letting your pen take you where it wants to go. Don't worry about being coherent or writing on a particular subject. Don't worry either if you find you are writing about something in particular. Just write.

Become a word-hoarder. Make good use of thesauruses and etymological dictionaries. Think about the shifting usages of words.

Collect 'found' texts: the names of shops, words on placards, graffiti, signs in the streets, epigraphs on tombstones, names of moored boats, snippets of overheard conversations, bits of texts from newspapers, anything that strikes you as an interesting, typical/untypical use of language.

A line from something you're reading, whether it's factual, philosophical, political or literary, can be the starting point to trigger some writing of your own. Words themselves are triggers.

The novelist Paul Auster has commented: 'The one thing I try to do in all my books is to leave room in the prose for the reader to inhabit it.. There's a way in which a writer can do too much, overwhelming the reader with so many details that he no longer has any air to breathe.' Find some examples from poems, novels, and stories you have read where you think the reader is given room to breathe and can inhabit the writing. How is this done? Start to read as a writer, make a note of effects you like in texts. Start thinking about the way opening lines work, about the structures and shapes writing has. Think about the changing pace and patterning of the language, the significance of images and how they're used. Whatever its mode, think about those moments in a text that surprise you and how they are achieved. Think about the way texts conclude, how much is suggested rather than stated, where the spaces are for you as a reader to enter the text, how you can achieve that as a writer.

Start to examine your own life as a source of insight and information about the world. Think about the sorts of worlds you inhabit now and have inhabited in the past, your own particular family, home, workplace. Go back to other places you have lived in. Focus closely on a particular interior, its detail and mood, the reality-effects that make it memorable. How important are seasons, time of day? Think of jobs you have done: Just what was it like in the kitchen of that pizza place? Serving awkward customers in the shoe shop? Working on the early morning post? What about the world of the leisure centre, or disco, or martial arts group? All these places will have their own routines, their own jargons and rituals. Try to describe a typical scene. How are people dressed, how do they speak, relate to each other? Think about the dynamic between members of the group. Who's in charge? What are the unspoken rules? Where are the tensions? You are an authority on your own world(s) that are wider than you think. Try to find a fresh way of describing the ordinary. What's everyday to you will be unusual to someone else. When you have got your 'reality effects' you have basic material you can work on, not only for writing memoir but to develop into fiction, poetry or drama.

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