Originality in Your Writing

"Writing", 22 November 2008

“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

Voice and originality are similar in the sense that both are an elusive quality in your writing. You might even say that an author’s voice is what makes a piece original and fresh.

Disrupt your logical brain and see things in jump cuts and inexplicable juxtapositions and angularities.

Disrupt your logical brain and see things in jump cuts and inexplicable juxtapositions and angularities.

So, how do you stay fresh? David Corbett suggests changing something in your routine, such as:

  • Writing in a different place;
  • Writing longhand;
  • Dictating into a recorder;
  • Switching point of view;
  • Removing every modifier in your text and starting over.

Corbett’s most dramatic suggestion, however, was stolen from William Seward Burroughs, the American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. It goes like this:

  • Print out a page of your writing;
  • Cut the page into quarters;
  • Rearrange the parts;
  • Retype the page in this quasi-jumbled state.

The effect is to disrupt your logical brain and see things in jump cuts and inexplicable juxtapositions and angularities. Now return to your work and keep the best of these angularities intact. Following is an example:

Original Piece of Writing

At Dufferin he turns left again and then right at Notre Dame. At each turn he glances at Bobolink and tries to read her mood, her state of mind. He notices that her hair is clean, curly, and sporting some fiddledeedees, that her nail polish is unchipped, and that the nylon jogging pants and Harley T-shirt are clean and pressed. Nevertheless, he notices that her eyes seem sad.

As they travel east on Notre Dame, she asks, “Can you bring me back to my sister’s?” as, at the same time, Connie’s voice drones over the Mike.

He hesitates and doesn’t answer. Instead he turns to Bobolink and says, “What did you ask me?” He knows what she said but wonders if she’ll pursue it.

“Can you take me back to my sister’s?” she repeats.

“Sure… Landlord troubles…?”

“What else is new?”

Bobolink is silent for several blocks until she spots a young woman pushing a baby in a shopping cart. Then she stares, and blurts out, “Welfare buggy!

“What?”

Welfare buggy…I’d hate to be that baby.” Bobolink has a soft spot for children and a disdain for her condition. But, for whatever reasons, she’s still in the cycle of being on and off welfare. She fiddles with her fiddledeedees.

Quartered Piece of Writing Retyped

  1. At Dufferin he turns left. Dame…At each turn he glances…Her mood, her state of mind…Clean, curly, and sporting some…Polish is unchipped, and that. Harley T-shirt…are clean and…notices that her eyes seem sad. As they travel east on Notre…Bring me back to my sister’s? He hesitates and doesn’t…Bobolink and says, “What…what she said but wonders if.
  2. “Can you take me back to my…Sure…Landlord troubles? What else is new? Bobolink is si;ent for several…young woman pushing a baby…stares, and blurts out, “Welfare…What? Welfare buggy…I’d hate to…a soft spot for children and a…for whatever reasons, she’s still…off welfare. She fiddles with…
  3. again and then right at Notre…at Bobolink and tries to read…He notices that her hair is…fiddledeedees, that her nail…the nylon jogging pants and…pressed. Nevertheless, he..Dame, she asks, “Can you..as, at the same time,…Mike…answer. Instead he turns to…did you ask me? He knows…she’ll pursue it.
  4. sister’s? she repeats…blocks until she spots a…in a shopping cart. Thern she…buggy…be that baby…Bobolink has…disdain for her condition. But…in ther cycle of being on and…her fiddledeedees.

Partial Revision of Piece of Writing

At Dufferin he turns left. At each turn he glances at Bobolink, checking her mood, her state of mind: her hair is clean, curly, and sporting some fiddledeedees; nail polish is unchipped; Harley T-shirt is clean and pressed. He notices that her eyes seem sad.

As they travel east on Notre Dame, she asks, “Can you bring me back to my sister’s?”

He hesitates, doesn’t answer. Then he turns to Bobolink and says, “What? He knows what she said but wonders if she’ll pursue it.

Well…what do you think?

Resources

  • Corbett, David. 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing. Writers Digest. Feb. 2011.
  • Gardner, Rachelle. Craft, Story and Voice. Rachelle Gardner.com
  • Mullany, Janet. Originality in Genre Fiction- An Oxymoron? Dear AuthorOct. 19, 2010.
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