Falling in Love with the Beginning, Middle and End

Eager to start your writing journey or suffering writer's block? Award-winning novelist Pip Adam gets it - she has four exercises to keep your writing skills sharp.

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“I realized that I didn't want it to be like a big pressure. Everybody's perfecting they're sourdough game and trying to watch everything and read everything. And I didn't want the podcast to be like that like, I didn't want it to be any pressure; I just wanted them to be fun.”

Award-winning author Pip Adam’s podcast, Better Off Read has been running for a few years now. Every so often a new one will pop up in my podcast feed, featuring Adam talking to another author about their craft. The tone is relaxed and funny while often sharing really amazing insights. At the start of lockdown, I noticed the podcast was coming up in my feed every other day. It turns out Adam had started posting short podcasts with writing exercises, as a way for people to distract themselves during what she describes as a terrible time. Adam said she was pleasantly surprised at the response.   

“I have had some really nice emails and messages from people kind of just saying things, and a couple of people have sent me photos of some of the stuff that we've been doing” 

I caught up with Adam to talk about her new novel Nothing to See and asked if she could share some of her writing exercises with us. 

Pip Adam.

Exercise 1 - Huh?

Write for 3 minutes about an object you can see BUT leave off the first letter of each word and don’t use spaces to separate the words or any punctuation. Don’t stop.

Now translate your writing into a love poem.

* However you interpret ‘write’ – you might record yourself speaking, write long-hand, use a keyboard.

 

Despite normally working from home, Adam admits she found Lockdown to be a struggle. 

“I thought I would be fine. It appears I am not so fine. So yeah, I've learned heaps about myself, which I had no desire to do,” she laughs. 

Adam says she didn’t realise how much of her day was punctuated with going to meet people face to face. This led to her hitting what she calls a massive wall. Of that time, she says “I am writing but I'm not convinced by much of what I'm writing. So the real answer to that is yes I am writing, but I have never felt so - what's the word - unsure.”

Exercise 2 - Dance

Find a thing of about 3-4 minutes to dance to.

Dance to it – however you interpret ‘dance’ – maybe move a part of your body, maybe use your whole body, maybe imagine dancing.

Now write* for 3 minutes without stopping. Begin with ‘I dance and …’ any time you get stuck write ‘I dance and …’ and write it as many times in a row as you need before more words come.

* However you interpret ‘write’ – you might record yourself speaking, write long-hand, use a keyboard.

Cover of Nothing To See.

Adam’s latest novel Nothing To See is a follow up to her 2017 Ockham winning novel, The New Animals and was originally slated for release in June. But with the world turned upside down, it looked like her publisher Victoria University Press, would have to delay release.  But level 3 saw the book go into production. Something Adam is relieved about. 

She describes the book as a big story about drugs, drinking and sex work. “I think it's a lot about work. And I think it's a lot about trying to make things work. When society isn't really for you.” 

Exercise 3 - No ‘A’

A Void is a novel by Georges Perec written entirely without the letter ‘e’. A lipogram is a kind of constrained writing or word game where the player avoids a particular letter or set of letters.

Write* for 3 minutes about the last thing you ate without using the letter ‘A’

* However you interpret ‘write’ – you might record yourself speaking, write long-hand, use a keyboard.

 

I ask Adam what advice she’d give to writers starting to learn their craft. 

“I think what it's all about is writing, just start writing. That's why I think those exercises are good because it means ‘just start’. Once I've got something on the page, I can decide whether I liked it or not.”

She said she spent a lot of her teens and early twenties trying to adopt the look and attitude of the writers around her, but at some point Adam realised it was all about putting words onto page and becoming passionate about the process. 

“Reading and writing and watching movies and listening to music, and just falling in love with that rhythm of beginning, middle and end.”

Pip Adam. 

Exercise 4 - My Name Your Name

This is an exercise I have done a lot with William Brandt – my memory is we made this up together.

An acrostic is a poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word, message or the alphabet. 

Write the letters of your name vertically down a page – give yourself some space, maybe one letter every couple of lines.

Now describe another person in sentences starting with each letter of your name. This other person might be a character you are writing, a person you know (but not too well), a real person you don’t know (maybe someone famous). Maybe take 4 minutes doing this.

Start a new page. The person you just wrote about has a name (you may not know it – you may need to make it up).

Write the letters of that person’s name vertically down a page – give yourself some space, maybe one letter every couple of lines.

Now describe yourself in sentences starting with each letter of their name.

You now have two characters.

Put them in a place.

Put one object in the place that they both want. 

Write for 3 minutes in dialogue only about the conversation that happens.

* However you interpret ‘write’ – you might record yourself speaking, write long-hand, use a keyboard.

 

Written by

Dominic Hoey

1 Jul 2020

Dominic Hoey is an author, playwright and poet based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His debut novel, Iceland was a New Zealand bestseller and was long-listed for the 2018 Ockham Book Award.

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