Composing Guidelines for Writing

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Dec 13, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)

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Composing Guidelines for Writing


By Sondra Perl


1.

Find a way to get comfortable. Shake out your hands. Take some slow, deep breaths and settle into your chair. Close your
eyes if you’d like to. Relax. Find a way to be quietly and comfortably aware of
your inner state. Try to let go of any tension
by slow breathing.

2.

Ask yourself, “What’s going on with me right now? Is there anything in the way of my writing today?” When you hear
yourself answering, take a minute to jot down a list of any distraction
or impediments that come to mind. If there are noises
or other distractions, notice them, and then bring your attention back to yourself.

3.

Now ask yourself, “What’s on my mind? Of all the things I know about, what might I like to write about now?” When yo
u
hear yourself answering, jot what comes. Maybe you’ll get only one or two things; maybe a list. If you feel totally blocked
,
you may write down “Nothing,” Even this can be taken further by asking yourself, “What is this “Nothing” all about?”

4.

Ask yourse
lf, “Now that I have one idea

or many

is there anything I’ve left out, any other piece I’m overlooking, maybe
even a word I like, something else I might
want
to write about sometime that I can add to this list?” Add anything that comes
to mind.

5.

Whether yo
u have one definite idea or a whole list of things, look over what you have and ask, “What here draws my
attention right now? What could I begin to write about, even if I’m not certain where it will lead?” Take the idea, word, o
r
item and put it at the t
op of a new page. (Save the first page for another time.)

6.

Now

taking a deep breath and settling comfortably into your chair

ask yourself, “ What are all the things I know about
this topic and all the associations I have with it? What can I say about it n
ow?” Write down everything you can in response
to the questions. Write as much as you can using the “freewriting muscle” you’ve been developing. Perhaps it will be one
connected sequence of thoughts; perhaps it will be separate, disconnected bits.

7.

Now h
aving written for a good while, interrupt yourself, set aside all the writing you’ve done, and take a fresh look at this
topic or issue. Grab hold of the whole topic

not bits and pieces

and ask yourself, “What makes this topic interesting to
me? What’s
important about this that I haven’t said yet? What’s the heart of the issue for me? Wait quietly for a word,
image, or phrase to arise from your inner and nonverbal feeling of the topic

your “felt sense” of the topic. Write whatever
comes.

8.

Take this wo
rd, image or phrase, and use it to explore further. Ask yourself, “What’s this all about?” As you write, let the
felt sense deepen. Where do you feel that felt sense? Where in your body does it seem centered? Ask yourself, “Is this
right? Am I gettin
g closer? Am I saying it?” If not, ask yourself, “What is wrong or missing?” and keep writing. See if you
can feel when you’re on the right track. See if you can feel the shift or click inside when you get close: “Oh yes, this say
s it.”

9.

If you’re at a
dead end, you can ask yourself, “What makes this topic hard for me?” Again pause and see if a word, image, or
phrase comes to you that captures this difficulty in a fresh way

and if it will lead you to some more writing.

10.

When you find yourself stopping, a
sk yourself, “What’s missing? What hasn’t yet gotten down on paper?” and again look to
your felt sense for a word or an image. Write what comes to mind.

11.

When again you find yourself stopping, ask yourself, “Does this feel complete?’ Look to your felt sen
se, your gut reaction,
even to your body, for the answer. Again write down whatever answer comes to you. If the answer is “No,” pause and ask
yourself, “What’s missing?” and continue writing.


How and Why the Guidelines Work.

When the guidelines help us
write, it

s because they help us focus our attention better and
keep checking back and forth between the words we are writing and the felt meanings inside

the “felt sense”

that are so often
the source for our words


There’s nothing sacred about the exact f
ormat or wording of the guidelines. They aren’t meant to be a straitjacket. To help
you adapt them to your own style and temperament, here is a short list of the four most productive moments in the process. A
fter
you try out the complete set, you can use

these as an abbreviated version of the guidelines:



Relax, stretch, clear your mind, try to attend quietly to what’s inside

and note any distractions or feelings that may
be preventing you from writing. Allow yourself to be aware of your body and your phy
sical surroundings.



Start with a list of things you could write about. Often we can’t find what we really want t
o write about until the
third or

fourth item

or not until that subtle after
-
question, “Is there something I have forgotten?”



As you are writing
, periodically pause and look to that felt sense somewhere inside you

that feeling, image, or
word that somehow represents what you are trying to get at

and ask whether your writing is really getting at it.
This comparing or checking back (“Is this it”) w
ill often lead to a productive “shift” in your mind (“Oh, now I see
what it is I want to say”).



Finally, toward the end, ask, “What’s this all about? Where does this writing seem to be trying to go?” And
especially ask, “What’s missing? What haven’t I wr
itten about?”


Adapted from
Sondra Perl’s
Felt Sense: Writing with the Body

(Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 2004).


Center for Learning, Teaching, Communication, and Research

Draper 106 CPO 2149

Ext. 3404

www/berea.edu/cltcr/cltcr.html