Writing Exercise: Word by Word

by ajanefountas

Amy Hempel once said: “Writing conducted at the sentence level has always made perfect sense to me….There’s no method. There’s no formula. If you really proceed a sentence at a time, if you pay attention to the sentence you just wrote and look to it for the clue for what to do to the next sentence, you can inch your way along to what may be the story….You can call up emotions with the sound of words, no matter what the words mean. You can really get under someone’s skin that way….’Wear your heart on the page, and people will read to find out how you solved being alive.’ That was Gordon [Lish] twenty years ago, and that’s what I’m still trying to do.”

Gordon Lish once said: “Every word has to be married to the word before it and after it.”

Gary Lutz once sort-of said (meaning this is a paraphrase): “Look at writing as an unnatural act rather than an organic process. Determine what words to put next to each other. Don’t go for a thesaurus. You can often find the word you want in the other words in the sentence. Look into the surrounding words.”

All that said, here’s the writing exercise, made up by me: 

Choose a noun and a verb. Construct a sentence around these two words. Let the next sentence be informed by the one that comes before it. Take risks. Don’t self-censor. Continue, word by word, sentence by sentence. Write slowly, carefully. This exercise is the opposite of freewriting.

Feel free to post your results in the comments section.