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Exercises for Writing Creative Nonfiction Help (page 3)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 14, 2011

Let the Holons Do the Work

Ken Wilber states in his book, A Brief History of Everything, that our universe is an "emergent Kosmos," which counts on creativity, the movement of chaos into form. The term Kosmos, introduced by the Pythagoreans, means "the patterned nature or process of all domains of existence, from matter to mind to God."

In his discussion, Wilber introduces 20 tenets of the Kosmos, the first being that, "Even the 'Whole' of the Kosmos is simply a part of the next moment's whole, indefinitely. At no point do we have the whole, there are only whole/ parts forever."

Wilber adopts writer Arthur Koestler's term "holons" for these "whole/parts." Each holon strives to maintain its "wholeness" and its "partness." Each has in it the ability to maintain its autonomy and its ability to fit into a whole. Wilber believes that "creativity not chance builds a universe." He prefers "Emptiness" as a term for Spirit because it means unbounded or unqualifiable. The blank page, the blank document template on my computer screen, my mind when I have no idea of what I'll write—the perfect starting places, along with the trust that one part, one holon at a time, my writing will accrue in meaning, in depth, in making something new from what has gone before, for in Wilber's words, each moment is "part of the next moment's whole, indefinitely."

Try This

When you write in parts, emulating the emergent universe, of which you are a part, you can relax a little knowing you work in a larger flow.

Here are 11 prompts for taking ordinary daily images and building lyric essays. Using these prompts, you will learn to trust in your abilities to reflect and to allow details to resonate with one another until seemingly unconnected images and anecdotes unite to evoke larger meaning from your experiences, knitting them together into whole cloth.

  1. Title a piece with your name or the name of your street, partner, or child. Take the letters and write a short meditation on each of the letters.
  2. Take the letters ABC and write a short meditation on any subject by starting each paragraph of three paragraphs with a word that starts with each letter: an A word for the first, a B word for the second, and a C word for the third. Call this meditation the ABCs of whatever subject you are writing about.
  3. Take the letters XYZ and write a short meditation on any subject, starting each paragraph of three paragraphs with a word that starts with each letter: an X word for paragraph one, a Y word for paragraph two, and a Z word for paragraph three. Call this meditation the XYZ of whatever topic you are writing about. It will probably evoke the difficulty of the topic you have chosen.
  4. Put Scrabble™ tiles or children's letter magnets in a pile and pick one or pick a letter from something printed. Pick three letters from the pile or point to three letters randomly in the printed material before you; write three short vignettes, each time associating from the letter you picked to reasons why it's important to you at this moment of this day, how it seems to go with the day. You might benefit from doing this exercise at three different times in one day or over three different days or weeks.
  5. Take a product out of your cupboard. Write down its name. Now use those letters and write a meditation: for example, if I chose oatmeal: O-A-T-ME- A-L, I'd write a seven-paragraph piece, beginning each paragraph with a word that starts, in order, with a letter of the word oatmeal.
  6. If you could have a special parking space earmarked just for you at work, on a street you often visit, and in your childhood town, what would the words reserving each space for you say? Why?
  7. Think of a problem in your life you cannot resolve or about a situation that you are not able to change. With this problem in the back of your mind, describe the view outside your window. First, describe what is stationary in the view; then describe what is moving. Subtitle part one "Stationary" and part two "Movement." Title the whole piece after the problem you have in the back of your mind, "Now that My Children Must Adapt to Joint Custody" or "How Will I Find the Time to be a Caregiver?"
  8. Imagine where you live is a place you have come to visit. Select someone living or dead to whom you might write postcards from this place. Write a series of postcards to this person similar to the kinds you would write if you were traveling as a tourist—include observations, vignettes, quotes, and text from materials you find or see in the town, snippets of history, and anecdotes about your "travels."
  9. Imagine that you change your outgoing message each day on your voicemail. Make up messages for each day of the week.
  10. Think of things you haven't shared with someone who is close to you. Write about them under a title like: "Never Mentioned" or "I Wished I'd Thought to Tell You."
  11. Select five or so objects from your environment, varying them from small to large, inside to outside, from new to old. After you've written in parts about each of these items, use a title like "Panorama" or "An Overview of Sorts."

Putter Inners and Taker Outers, an Exercise from Jack Heffron

In The Writers' Idea Book, Jack Heffron quotes exchanges in letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe as they debated approaches to narrative. "Responding to Fitzgerald's claim that highly selective writers were the real geniuses," Heffron recounts that Wolfe wrote:

You say that the great writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe will come along presently and put in. Well, don't forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers....

"Putter-inners?" Heffron reacts. "Not exactly the type of phrase you'll want to tape to your computer or to drop oh-so-casually into conversations at the next literary fete. Wolfe liked to conceal his erudition behind a big-country-boy persona. He's well aware of what he's talking about. It's interesting to note that Wolfe was very much a putter-inner, while Fitzgerald was a taker-outer, and so their views reflect their own approaches to writing."

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