Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Writing Exercise--Pace Yourself via Expansion or Contraction

Pacing—a delicate affair in writing a book—depends on a balance of expanded and contracted moments. Good pacing creates a rhythm between the two. This week’s exercise lets you notice your natural (often unconscious) tendency of either expanding or contracting too much. If you adjust, correct, and balance, your writing will soar.

1. Set a kitchen timer for fifteen minutes. Begin to write about a childhood event that influenced you greatly. Don’t overthink this exercise, just let it rip. No editing along the way!

2. Read the piece out loud. Whenever you get interested, as you read, highlight the paragraph that pulled you in. (It’s essential to read out loud—you’re switching from a writer’s viewpoint to a reader’s.)

3. Contract (condense) the paragraph into one sentence, as short as possible, without losing the essence of the larger paragraph.

4. Now expand this one sentence into five new sentences (a new paragraph).

Which was easier for you, expansion or contraction? Think about whether this short exercise helped you see anything about your natural tendency as a writer.

5. Return to your original freewrite about the childhood experience. Select your favorite section, a paragraph or two.

6. Apply the aspect (expand or contract) that was the most difficult for you in steps 3 and 4. If you had trouble with expansion, expand the section to three or more paragraphs. If you had trouble with contraction, condense the section to half its length.

Read the new writing out loud. Can you notice the difference in flow, in music, in pacing?