Experimentalism for Beginners

Napier University is launching a new MA in Creative Writing and to promote the course they ran two free writing workshops in Edinburgh. I went along to the Experimentalism for Beginners workshop, led by Sam Kelly.

I think everyone present couldn’t help but feel relaxed and happy as Sam Kelly stood before us, radiating positive energy. Then she announced that she was going to hypnotise us. We instantly tensed up. Was she joking? “Oh, I’m sorry. Wasn’t that in the flier?” she asked. Apparently not.

It turned out, however, to be a very pleasant meditative experience and nothing at all to worry about. That was the second time I have been hypnotised in the space of a week, having been in the audience of Derren Brown‘s Enigma tour last Thursday.  I was much less apprehensive about being hypnotised the second time around since I was pretty sure Sam Kelly was not going to make me drink a glass of vinegar or balance me stiff as a plank across two trestles while I was under. Instead she got us all to try some automatic writing.

Before we started we were advised to think of a letter and then if we got stuck, to write any word beginning with that letter. I’ve got quite a lot of “apples” in my piece of automatic writing, which led on to some random stuff about Snow White, followed by my thoughts on the role of stepmothers in fairytales and then right at the end I think my unconscious finally kicked in and I scrawled “He hears it in her voice like the cut of 1000 razorblades.”

We selected a sentence from our automatic writing and made a lipogram. That is, we rewrote the sentence with the letter “e” ommitted. It was very very difficult. My sentence became “But it is in C’s words, sounds as a thousand razors cutting.”  Yeah, I know, it’s not very good. And can you imagine some people have written whole novels that are lipograms? Those crazy Oulipians!

Another exercise we tried was the cut-up technique. We took a page of text (an extract from Schopenhauer’s On Women), chopped it up, rearranged the pieces to make a new text then glued them down onto card. In the beginning I was just randomly cutting up the text and not really thinking about it too much. After I had read a few of the isolated sentences, I adopted a more targeted approach and began to cut out all the negative adjectives applied to women. A flutter of “weaker”s and “inferior”s fell to the ground. It was really exciting to completely turn around the meaning of a text like that.

I’m wondering now if I should cut up a bundle of my rejected short stories and rearrange them to make something shiny and new.  I think that would be a fun way to turn something with negative associations into a positive experience. If I don’t get a story or a poem out of it, at least I will have a quirky collage to pin to my noticeboard.

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One thought on “Experimentalism for Beginners

  1. Pingback: Sam Kelly and David Bishop Q&A « My Writing Life

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