Mind maps, cluster diagrams or even roughly drawn lists will corral a wayward skein of thought and help to trace its tangles and iterations. And when the scribbles pile up, deep within the heap, I have found thoughts I didn’t even know I had. Combined with free writing, these techniques can send that winged worm packing. Even though there are shelves of books devoted to these concepts in bookstores and libraries, writing workshops are particularly useful as a pathway into this piece of secret writer’s lore.
For me, the nastiest, meanest, worst of the worst is also the most absurd. While some might know it as the Non-sequitur Dragon, I call it the Dragon of Lost Endings. This beast lurks behind every bush, hides behind the couch and nestles under the cushion. It is the tyranny of trying to rephrase and shape my thoughts into full sentences and, then, build those sentences toward a satisfying conclusion. When we speak it is often in fragments and shards that flutter around the main idea. While it might appear conversational, writing is more direct. It is a distilled form of communication that requires sentences where a subject is linked with its predicate to …?
Where was that sentence supposed to go? I have no idea. See, the dragon has struck again! I have a sense of my piece as a whole and I am clear about what I want to say, but I can’t seem to get it said in writing. Is it just a missing verb or has the entire predicate gone west? And, to make things worse, the Dragon of Transitions and the Dragon of Flow are the squirming, puling children of this monster with multiple heads and way too many faces.
In the past I have tried to separate the processes, to distinguish between the writing phase where I pour ideas onto the page, make loose associations and puff up the volume of words and the revision/editing stage where the prose is cut, polished, and styled. Until recently, grammar, sentence construction and word choice were banned from my early drafts. But I often find once I have gathered my content, I am left with a tangled thicket of words that I cannot find a way to articulate, and it is precisely then that the Dragon of Lost Endings swoops in and blasts it all to kingdom come.
So, against the current thinking, I am going to turn around and confront the beast, person to chimera, using wordplay as a warm-up strategy. For me, ideas can be deeply connected to the words in which they are uttered. As a preparation for my encounter, I am going to delve into the dark mysteries of grammar. No more will nominative absolutes, gerunds and complex compound sentences be a foreign language.
Another way I like to foil this beast is to lead it astray. Instead of slaving over my keyboard desperately searching for endings, I leave the dragon to prowl while I take my notebook for a walk, go out for a coffee or enrol in a writing workshop. My theory is that dragons do not like to do their dirty work in public.
The writing warm-up is another tactic with dragon-taming potential. Before I start my real writing, I begin by closely observing the things around me and noting how I feel in a separate journal. I listen to my senses and write about the things that make me want to write. The space outside or around the writing not only reveals the text from different angles and brings its subtle tonalities to light but it also offers another way to sneak up on the writing from a place where few dragons dwell.
A number of writers recommend warm-up strategies, including the mystery writer Sue Grafton and Melbourne poet Kevin Brophy, but I first came across the idea in a flash fiction workshop with Blaise.
[Editor’s note: This almost feels like a fragment, like there was something that’s been chopped.] You know what’s happened don’t you …? I’ve lost my ending.
– Assistant Editor