Poet, playwright, Grand Slam Champ, and teacher extraordinaire reg e gaines is in love with words and his enthusiasm is infectious. Spending an evening with him at a Write Group workshop is always great fun, equal parts inspiring and challenging. Here are some of the insights and techniques he shared that we can all apply fruitfully:
Recognize your rhythms: “Most of us do not recognize the rhythmic aspects of our writing — we run away from the natural, organic rhythms” we create. As an exercise, he had each of us take the first two lines of a popular song we loved, break the words down into beats, and then rewrite the lines using different words, but the same pattern of beats.
Focus on imagery: “If I’m the listener or the reader, what’s the most important technical tool you can use? Imagery. Imagery paints pictures so someone can imagine” what’s being described. If you want me to understand you, your main focus has to be on imagery.” We have to create new metaphors — new ways of describing a particular image — they’re the staple of our writing. When you have a prompt, for example, don’t think in words, think in colors and see where it takes you.
Create new images: “The world we live in wants you to be more literal than figurative — people don’t write in Technicolor anymore.” Challenge yourself by saying, “Every time I sit down to write, I’m going to create a new image. Let loose — free your imagination.” The sun is always described as yellow — but is it? What about eggshell white? We want readers to say, “Wow, I never thought of it like that.”
Storytelling has changed: “One thing we don’t pay attention to: We have a responsibility to advance the form — to move it forward. Your audiences are now so much more sophisticated about having a story told to them. To reach them, the narrative has to be pushed forward. You need strategically placed sound bites.
Rules and regulations can free you: “As soon as you understand the rules and techniques of writing, your creativity can explode.”
Let music spur your writing: Put music on — an instrumental piece without words — and write in the spaces. This will make you think — and write — faster. Classical music selections may not have enough space between notes. Reg finds jazz works well for this; he listens to Miles Davis or John Coltrane.
Respect your readers: “Too many of us write like we want everyone listening or reading our work to have the same image. The writer should respect my eyes and ears.”
Inspiring ideas to help push us to the next level. Bravo, reg — write on!