Monday, March 3, 2014

Writing Warm-up: Tenderize Your Buttons

 “It shows that dirt is clean when there is a volume.”—Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons

When you sit down to write, sometimes you may find it difficult to get into a writing headspace. Sometimes a warm up is in order to break from the rest of your day and say to your mind, “Alright, now we're going to do the thing.”

Try this to limber up your language and creativity: tenderize your buttons.

Alright-alright, I'll explain. Gertrude Stein wrote this little book called Tender Buttons (read here), which was a kind of urtext for Modernist writing. Her writing emphasized sounds and rhythms rather than meaning. Tender Buttons is her experiment with automatic writing. She would sit down and just let her mind spool out a ribbon of words, one after the other forming, if not sentences, at least kinds of sentences.

The thought at the time was that your subconscious would push forward and take control, spilling out your deeper self in semi-coherent patches. As it turns out, that's mostly stupid, like most Freudian thinking, but it does make for a really fun and freeing writing exercise.

What Gertie discovered was that she could never really achieve automatic writing, in which one word randomly popped up after the next. She could never totally stop thinking, I guess because she was of literary mind and, you know, awake. Certain words she associated with other words, which had definitions and connotations that led her mind down familiar paths. Basically, you end up in this wind tunnel of free association.

So here's what you do. Your writing feels constipated, or you don't want to sit down because the task seems too arduous, the work ahead of you too serious. Relax. Just have a little fun with language for a few minutes to stretch out your brain. Open up a blank doc, and without any hesitation, start typing. Nope, don't question a single word. If thoughts form, write those thoughts. Don't be afraid of any of it. Never mind syntax. Never mind sense. Follow the sounds of words. Chant, rave, just keep typing. Jump from one thought to the next. Drum up an obscure word, then follow it, and fast. Don't wait. It feels good. It feels good to keep typing, to keep moving, to watch the blank space fill up. All out in a burst. Here's mine:

Flipper melon wilting in the sun. Sunbird picked away the rind but never mind the sweet. Can't swim full up anyway. Marching hares, debonair, james dean metal sling fired the ever wary off into the world. So long my shining diamond.

It's just that easy. Now you.

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