Weekend Writing Workout: Ways of Looking

At some point in my A.N. posts I may have introduced this exercise before. But I wanted to bring it up today in honour of Tina Schumann being nominated for a Pushcart prize for one of her Ways of Looking poems.

But first, let me take a moment to toot Tina’s horn because she probably won’t do it herself. She was a student of mine years ago and has been quietly, diligently making her way across the poetry landscape, leaving her verbal Inukshuks. Her manuscript “As If” won the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize and it’s now available from Parlor City Press.

“Ways of Looking” is one of my favourite exercises (but then again, I always say that, don’t I?). It’s based on Wallace Stevens’ poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I approach this exercise various ways, but the basic idea is to write a series of fragments, each looking at an object from a different point of view (which could mean a different mood, season, time of day, attitude, etc).

And For those PROSE WRITERS out there, don’t you fret. I’ve got a version of this exercise for you, just scroll down the page. (although I encourage you to do the poetic exercise as well. Poetry encourages economy of words)

These two delights are from High School students I worked with in the past. I’ve used this exercise with students as young as 1st grade. They all understand that you can look at objects in different ways. Sometimes I have 1st graders write different ways of looking at their best friends and its a hoot.

Six Ways of Looking at the Clouds

1
Clouds block me from the sun
So that my fingers reach the moon.

2
I see the clouds in the white sea,
The sea with black tears.

3
That you feel like you, the real you, yourself,
is because you are always on the clouds,
Traveling around with no money but a piece of paper.

4
You rewrite and rebalance the chemical formula
With the clouds on your stomach.

5
The apple, his heart, and even the watch shrink
But me on the clouds.

6
I put all my pants and hang my skirts in the clouds
so that everyone can see them but me.

~Vicki Han (15)

4 ways of Looking at the Snow

1
A ball of Johnson’s baby lotion
is falling romantically

2
The snowman gave me
a boastful smile

3
The road is white,
The sky is grey,
and I’m on my way

4
After car tire’s visit,
The road became
Yucky-black asphalt demon.

(Esther Lee, 14)

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

For all you prose writers out there, there’s a few ways you could use this exercise. One would be to take an object from your story and write about it from different character’s perspectives. Time each piece of writing, perhaps 5-7 minutes per character.

Another way of doing it is picking one character, but looking at the object from different points in the story or the character’s life.

For example, my character Brigitta looks at the Hourglass of Protection differently at the end of the first book than at the beginning. So I might write for 5-7 minutes about the hourglass from her perspective at the beginning, middle, and end of the first book, to help me understand her perspective at the beginning of the second book (which I am currently editing).

EVERYONE – always feel free to share your work if you try any of these exercises. Put a link in the comment section!

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6 Comments

Filed under poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises

6 responses to “Weekend Writing Workout: Ways of Looking

  1. Ok, have marked some time out this week and I am going to have a crack at this one. Will let you know when I have.

  2. Oh my gosh – I have GOT to try this soon! I’ll definitely be back to this post when I’m working on my script this weekend. Thank you 🙂

  3. Meesh – I didn’t know you were working on a script! That’s terrific. Yes, using objects as jumping off points is a super way to get you into the writing.

    If you are ever stuck I’ve got a ton of exercises for you:

    1) In the right side-bar, under “Chapter Posts” click on: * Screenplay: The Exercise. Every time I post a screenwriting exercise I give it this label.

    2) Also, on my original Accidental Novelist blog, in the right hand side bar you will find my Start to Finish posts which help you through a 1st draft in 12 weeks. Just go to:

    http://theaccidentalnovelist.blogspot.com/

    3) When stuck, the Super Scene Writing Formula always works:
    http://theaccidentalnovelist.blogspot.com/2007/06/assignments-week-two-super-scene.html

  4. Interesting exercise. Thanks for sharing Danika. Have you considered consolidating all these creative exercises in a book and getting them published. These are great!

    Best,
    Suma.

  5. @Suma – lol. yes! I’ve got an entire file drawer full of exercises. Send me a publisher and I’ll do it. 🙂

    I wrote a curriculum guide 10 years ago and published it through SPLAB (we got a grant to create it through King County). I’ve been working on the 2nd edition for 8 years.

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