03.20.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today’s soundtrack is P.O.D.: Murdered Love.

I’m starting Pat Pattison’s Writing Better Lyrics as I sit in my car waiting for my wife to finish choosing her books in the bookstore. I couldn’t bear to sit in there any longer; the atmosphere was stiflingly hot, likely the environmental preference of the lone cashier, an elderly woman with watery eyes and thick glasses.

Pattison begins by comparing the art of writing to a man diving deep, deep into the ocean to find a priceless pearl. He says that our best work is somewhere deep inside of us, and is unique to us because each of us is unique. Pattison says that there are two important components to good writing: the technical side - “rhyme, rhythm, contrast, balance, and repetition” (p. 3), and the most important side: a “unique voice and vision” (p. 3).

Pattison’s first suggestion for writers is to practice object writing: pick an object and describe it with each of the seven senses, “sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, organic, and kinesthetic” (p. 5). What are organic and kinesthetic senses? “Organic sense is your awareness of inner bodily functions, for example, hearbeat, pulse, muscle tension, stomachaches, cramps, and breathing” (p. 4). “Kinesthetic sense is, roughly, your sense of relation to the world around you” (p. 4). He says that writers should spend the first ten minutes of their morning after awakening practicing object writing; this will awaken your sleeping, lazy writer from its slumber so that you can spend the day with it. Pattison believes it is important to stop at exactly ten minutes in to avoid the trap of “banked time,” because banked time and a day off equals a loss of habit-forming. Once practiced repeatedly, writers will find themselves able to more and more quickly reach the bottom of the pool and pull up the priceless pearl. He says that it is essential to practice this exercise daily for at least six weeks.

While object writing, Pattison believes it is important to not stay married to just one object: if your senses while describing one object inspire you to talk about another, go with it!

Another helpful exercise that Pattison suggests is group object writing. Gather a bunch of people together, give them ten minutes, pick an object, and go! When done, compare works; this lets writers gain inspiration from each other.

Once writers have had more practice, they can start working on “telling” instead of just “showing” what the senses are doing. This is called destination writing. We expand from describing a “what” to answering the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. We can even use any of those five Ws as a starting place instead of a destination.

Finally, Pattison says that we should find a place where we can save our “gems” - the best pieces of work that we develop from the methods of practicing object writing and destination writing.