Sensual Writing


Why a course in sensual writing? I find that we often rely too heavily on abstractions when we think, speak, and write. And abstractions, while useful, are slippery; they have lots of room for differing perceptions, interpretations, understandings, and misunderstandings. Making your writing concrete--bringing your words down to earth--imbues your ideas with immediacy and power. Think of the difference between hearing the words “I love you” and hearing a description of what it is, exactly, that makes you lovable. Going from the abstract to the concrete will take your writing from the conventional to the original.

When I was in graduate school, I completely lost my love of writing. It became a chore and an obstacle rather than a pleasure, and I would do just about anything I could to avoid it: play Solitaire compulsively, take the dog for a walk, even clear out those usually invisible cobwebs in the ceiling corners. Eventually, I came to realize that my shift in attitude toward writing was directly related to the level of abstraction at which I was working. I felt like I was taking these marvelous works of literature and just puffing them full of air, bloating them, distorting their original shape and meaning. It was hard, but worth the effort, to get back to just seeing a poem without recasting it in abstract or theoretical terms.

And that’s what you’ll be doing here, with your own writing: letting out the air. You’ll be working with analogy, metaphor, imagery, description. Obviously, this will help you if you’re working on fiction or poetry. It will also be helpful, however, to writers of non-fiction. I edit a lot of computer books, and I find that the best and clearest technical writers are those who know when to use an illustrative analogy to anchor an abstruse topic to the real world. Good, clear description is an asset to anyone’s writing.

This workshop has two different areas, the e-mail list, which is for general discussion of writing issues and talking to other writers interested in the same issues you are, and the bulletin board, which is where you’ll post your exercises and comment on each others' work.

What follows is a rough outline of the course. This is subject to change--let me know if you’d like more or different exercises!

Exercise One: Anchoring Abstractions

Exercise Two: Vivid Nouns, Vivid Verbs

Exercise Three: Bringing the Details into Focus

Exercise Four: Shades of Feeling

Exercise Five: Writing about Love and Sex (Note: We’re not talking pornography here!)

Exercise Six: Concrete Cosmology

Exercise Seven: Using Analogy

Exercise Eight: Deflating Inflated Rhetoric

Here's how to get the most out of this workshop:

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