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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Remembering Free-for-all

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Remembering Free-for-all Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau and Patricia Johnson
Posted on: February 22, 2003
Reposted on: December 26, 2005

This week's exercise is a Free-for-all centered on the remembering exercises available at the practice archive. If you prefer you can come up with your own remembering theme to use for your story. The archived remembering exercises covered the topics of remembering beauty, fear, peace, fun, anger, embarrassment, anticipation, sadness, awe, and faith. You can find them at this link: http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/pwarchive/topics.shtml#remember

When writing your story keep the following in mind.

One of the most insidious traps in writing is falling into abstract concepts. Too often, for example, when a character has an experience such as being afraid, we just say, "John was afraid". Or we try to dress that up, "John felt fear seeping through his veins", which isn't a big improvement. Neither of those sentences will make the reader share the experience (in this example, fear).

How can we share the reality of that experience, in that particular piece of writing? We have to draw, first of all, on our own experiences. We have all experienced fear, or beauty, or hope. Can we remember that experience, and use it to fuel the scene? Now, we haven't all faced a tornado, or stared at a loaded gun pointed as us - but we've all had scary experiences, and happy ones; moments of despair, moments of joy.

This exercise is about remembering. If we can't remember being hungry, or scared, or optimistic, how can we hope to describe those experiences in our writing? So let's forget about characters, plot, fancy phrases, for a moment. Let's remember, and describe that memory. No embellishments, no interpretation, just what *we* felt at the moment.

So, the exercise. From your own life, in 300 words or less, describe an experience that embodies the concept of one of the archived remembering topics, or another topic you find that interests you. Be truthful. Don't make things up, or dress them up to be scarier, prettier, etc. Our memories are one of our most valuable resources, if we treat them with respect. (That includes the negative aspects of the experience - when I described this exercise to a friend she said: "you mean, like the first time I gave a piano recital and almost wet my pants?") The exercise is to get back to the reality we were living at the time - if we can't draw from that, how can we make others believe us when we try to write something like it? It's not necessary to write about the most frightening experience in your life.

Make it something you can now look back on comfortably and write about honestly. Make sure that you pick an experience that will not be too painful or embarrassing and that you are comfortable sharing. When you pick the topic, have some distance and detachment from the experience. The event should be distant enough to be comfortable, but not so distant you can't remember it clearly. This will allow you to achieve the goal of good writing and still be true to your memories. Tap into the great resources available in your life experiences.

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: March 3, 2003

Hello Practice-w members,

New types of experiences were added to the remembering list with the free-for-all. They included love, inadequacy, panic, captivation, anguish, shock, pain, anxiety, loss, terror and even an Icy Hell.

Most submissions stayed within the 300 word limit. There were some that went over that limit. One critique commented on how much there is to be gained in the practice exercises by trimming a story down to a tight word length. Fitting a story to exercise criteria is another way of improving writing through practice.

The critiques were careful to bring out points for improving writing while they kept a sympathetic understanding for the courage it took to write submissions that covered life experiences. Some critiques empathized, but did not give much in the way of writing advice. The deep empathy seen in the readers' reactions affirms out how successful the writing was.

In a discussion it was asked if there could be more than one emotion present in the experience conveyed. The answer is yes, there can be. Often an experience will encompass more than one emotion, or lead to a different emotion in the end. Most experiences bring out more than just one emotion, but the story should develop the most central emotion while still giving some consideration to the other emotions that result.

Thanks to each and everyone of you who participated with submissions and critiques. Some of the submissions were light-hearted and humorous, but most covered issues that brought out the hero in us as individuals. It took a lot of determination to write so honestly about such difficult life experiences. I appreciate the strength and sharing found in all the submissions.

Patricia L. Johnson

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.