I have never been fond of writing exercises. I don’t know why. I agree that they make sense in theory but in practice they seem too much like homework to me. So I never volunteer to do them. Except this once. The other night I was reading a book called “Your First Novel” by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb and they suggested writing out longhand an excerpt or a poem by an author you really admire. Something short under 300 words.
I’ve been reading about the brain and how we have something called muscle memory. Some scientists theorize that the fact that we don’t write things down by hand may be one of the reasons that so many modern children have learning difficulty’s. The connection of thinking, producing on paper, and re-reading the words that you write down has a feedback loop that helps the brain to learn in a way that other methods of memorizing just can’t accomplish.
With this in my mind I wondered if writing out something by hand might really help me. I chose the first paragraph of one of my favorite books. The Changeling Sea By Patricia Mckillip. The prose in that book creates a mood and a world so rich and full I dream about it at night.
Writing out the first paragraph by hand made me really think about the words and the structure of each sentence. I realized that the first paragraph has only six sentences but many ideas. I also realized she used lots of commas and semi-colons. I’ve never understood semi-colons but for just a moment I did; looking at how she put together that paragraph they started to make sense to me.
It was a valuable exercise. I may even do it again sometime.