Wednesday, 8 October 2008

'Champagne Method' of writing

I'm hooked on reading the lives and letters of artists and writers, finding inspiration and comfort in their struggles and strategies. Also, sometimes, quotes and exercise ideas for my students.

Letters of Ted Hughes, selected and edited by Christopher Reid (Faber and Faber, 2007), is a fascinating read and includes some useful support for aspiring writers. See the book for yourself; by way of review, and to tempt you, here's a bit of his 'Champagne Method' (pp 314-5).

It seems that back in 1971 he and a friend devised for mutual friend Irish poet Richard Murphy a list of exercises as a stimulus to his writing. Penalties and rewards were to be paid in champagne. Murphy recounts this in his memoir, The Kick (Granta, 1993). There are 15 items on the list; here are 5, and the instructions from Hughes:

All considered only as starting points--Also, each exercise to cover 3 pages in order to make a habit of flow & release. Also, under Beethoven's dictum to pupils: "Never mind the wrong notes--go through to the end." Very good dictum as dicta go.
  • A congregation of gulls, storm petrels, seals -- the text, the service
  • The voice in the well
  • The Saint's curse on desecrators
  • Fifty metaphors of High Island [choose some other place you & your students all know]
  • High Island considered as a woman

So give it a go! Up to you to devise the rewards and penalties -- and to lay in the champagne (or maybe cava, these days).

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