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We looked yesterday at returning to the senses as a way of accessing memory. Good writing – whether it’s memoir, script, poetry or fiction – requires presence. The presence of the body, the presence of the heart. More than that, the pleasure of inhabiting is a large element of the pleasure of writing. And if you take anything from this program, I do want you to take that: writing is a pleasure. It’s a pleasure that helps us become more present in our immediate worlds, our immediate environments, even as we are imagining other worlds.

Where are you now? Right now?

Look at your surroundings. Take a moment to notice – without wishing to be somewhere else, without wishing for an environment with less clutter or more sunshine or more staff. Simply notice. Begin close first – what is in your immediate space? The elements to evoking place in writing are the same as for character – notice, observe, record.

Pick up your pen and begin to record a description of your surroundings. Notice the detail – the colour of the cushions, the way your body has formed a dent in them, the condensation mark on the coffee table. Notice, too, the other senses – the smell of coffee, the cool air on your skin, the hum of air conditioning, the drone of traffic. Keep writing, simply recording faithfully where you are now. What is just beyond the immediate? What is just beyond the room you are in, or across the park from the tree you are lying beneath? Begin to scan your surroundings, taking it all in, observing, and recording.

Beyond the physical, what are the other qualities of this place?
Is it a warm, nourishing space? Or is it cool and chic?
If this place were a person, what might it say?
If it were an item of clothing, what would it be?
Can you imagine it as an animal?

See if you can find a metaphor that fits, and when you do – write a paragraph or two as though the place is that thing. For instance, in Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America one character describes a printer’s room as though it is a small boat, an ark which is both cosy and dangerous. Carey delivers the description not merely in one line, but over a paragraph, working and reworking the metaphor.

When you’re ready – stretch further. Where is this place? Where is the place in context of the city, or the nation? Of space? Try to zoom out as widely as you dare, go as wide as you can, until you are dizzy with the wild perspective of it. This is a writerly version of that camping game when you look up at the stars and see how small you are – I am here, on this hill, by this campfire, this campfire by this river, this river in this national park, this national park in this region, this region in this state, this state in this country … and so on and so on, until you are counting yourself in the stars: I am here on this hill in this universe. Rather than making me feel small, it always makes me feel enormous – part of something truly grand.

In writing, we can open ourselves to the pleasure of place, the pleasure of the present.

This is the fun we get to have in writing – to play, to try on ideas and metaphors, to mess with them and exhaust them, to go large, to go small. To put ourselves at the centre of the universe if we want to.

Today’s prompt is…


The sky is grey