Monday, February 19, 2007

A Physical Exercise

This idea has been growing on me for some time.

[Hunter S.] Thompson had an interesting way of studying the writers he loved. He would take and transcribe their works on his typewriter in an effort to discover each writer's particular rhythm and flow. He typed 'The Great Gatsby' and 'A Farewell To Arms' in their entirety.(Kevin Kizer)
I have a feeling that academic writers working with English as a second language might benefit enormously from typing just a few pages every morning on this model. The trick is of course to pick writers you "love", i.e., the work of peers that you consider exemplary. One of the things that Thompson pointed out in regard to this exercise, however, is how physical it really is ... and, occasionally, painful.
You're writing, and so were they. It won't fit often--that is, your hands don't want to do their words--but you're learning.*
The point, as I see it, is that you're learning to do something with your hands. Typing a good sentence (thinking while writing) is as much a physical skill as typing a word quickly and correctly. You need to get your writing to happen on the page (or screen), not in your head, and this exercise is an effective way of shifting your focus into your fingers.

*Quoted in William McKeen's Hunter S. Thompson (Twayne, 1991), p. 106. Cf. also p. 6.

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