Monday, April 14, 2008

Notes from "Turning Fact Into Fiction" with Gail Anderson-Dargatz

In Inside Memory Timothy Findley talked about how, as he was writing Not Wanted on the Voyage and trying to gain the perspective of one of the characters, who happened to be a cat, he was caught at the beach on his hands and knees sniffing the rocks. A family came by and assumed he was a drug addict on a binge and told their kids to stay away, then debated amongst themselves whether or not they should phone the police. "As soon as they were gone," he wrote, "I got to my feet and ran up into the trees. What if these people really do call the authorities? What will I say? I was just pretending to be a blind cat?"

Like Timothy Findley, I believe a writer must be willing to embarrass himself in the pursuit of the world and everything it has to offer. If I, as a writer, can engage my senses and emotions, then I can engage my readers as well.

The Blind Cat Exercise*

I try to get the writers in my workshops to engage their senses as much as possible. So, the exercise? Pretend, like Timothy Findley, to be a blind cat. Sniff everything in the spice rack. Run your hand over every piece of material you can find in your house. Take your socks off and walk over the bristly rug at your front door. Go squish your toes in the mud as you did as a child. Sit and really listen to the city sounds outside. Take in the news and allow your emotions to be truly engaged by the terrible, happy, boring, heart sobbing stories. The
n turn the radio off and sit with those emotions awhile. Go to the fridge and taste an olive. But really taste it. Let it fill your mind. Then take notes about each of these experiences. What is this experience? What does it bring to mind? What memory does it elicit? What else is it like? Where does this smell take you? Sit with the experience a while and allow it to inspire you. Allow the world to fully engage you, so you can fully engage your reader. Write down what you discover. You’ll be amazed at how authentic the writing that comes out of this simple exercise is. And if you find it useful, as I do, I suggest you make it a regular exercise. I do this every day.

For more on writing and the writing life, visit Gail's website.

*the Blind Cat Exercise originally appeared in The Writer's Gym edited by Eliza Clark.

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