Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Okay, Here’s the Deal about Writer’s Block

Several years ago I fell into an extended period of writer’s block, when I had trouble even writing in my journal. All the traditional wisdom about writer’s block says to just write, write anything. So I began that practice, both in my personal journal and in my professional writing. I’d start each writing session with something like “Okay, here’s the deal about. . .” or “Okay, here’s what’s on my mind this morning.”

And it didn’t take long before this approach began to work. It worked whether I was pounding the computer keyboard or writing with a pen in my journal. Eventually I got to the point where just putting down the word “Okay” acted as the trigger to writing. I gradually came out of my blocked period, but even now when I occasionally can’t find a way into a piece of writing I’m able to use the “Okay” trigger to get me started.

I’m not the first writer to use this writing approach, of course. In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron tells writers to do what she calls morning pages: three pages, every morning, of just writing whatever comes to mind. Some people call this practice automatic writing, free writing, or free-association writing. The idea is to start writing and keep on writing. If you can’t think of anything to write, then write “I can’t think of anything to write” and keep writing that sentence over and over again. Keep the pen moving on the page (or your fingers moving on the keyboard) until you begin to write something else. Cameron insists on three pages because, she says, somewhere around a page and a half you’ll stop writing junk and start writing gold.

The same kind of thing often happens to beginning composition students. Starting that paper can be a formidable task, but the only way to start is just to begin writing. Often the real introduction to the paper begins somewhere in the second or third paragraph. (This is why it’s so important to edit and revise first drafts.)

Another, related, lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t always have to start at the beginning. Sometimes, when I’m getting ready to start a writing project, chunks of it will come to me that belong somewhere in the middle. Once or twice the conclusion came through first. I used to ignore these gifts, thinking that the only place to start was at the beginning. But over the years I’ve learned to accept these ideas and be grateful for them. Nowadays, if a conclusion comes to me first, I slap the heading “Conclusion” down on the computer screen and write it up. Other parts of the piece will come later, not necessarily in order, and I’m getting more comfortable with that. I can work out the interrelationships between the various parts later. (This is why it’s so important to edit and revise first drafts.)

So, when you have a problem writing, just write. Write anything. Start anywhere. Just write.

Okay, so now you can take it from here.

© 2008 by Mary Daniels Brown

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