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Perl's Focusing Composing Guidelines

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  1. Find a way to get comfortable. Shake out your hands, take a deep breath, settle into your chair. Close your eyes if you'd like to; relax. Find a way to be quietly and comfortably aware of your inner state.
  2. Ask yourself, "What's going on with me right now? Is there anything in the way of my writing today?" When you hear yourself answering, take a minute to jot down a list of any distractions or impediments.
  3. Now ask yourself, " How am I right now? What's on my mind? Is there anything I'm interested in that I might write about today? Does a particular person, a place, or an image come to you? Jot down what comes. Maybe you get one thing, maybe a list. If you feel totally blocked, you may write down "Nothing." Even this can be taken further by asking yourself, "What is this `Nothing' all about?"
  4. Ask yourself, "Now that I have a list is there anything else I've left out, maybe a word I like, something else I might want to write about sometime that I can add?"
  5. Whether you have one definite idea or a whole list of things, look over what you have and ask, "What here draws my attention right now? What could I begin to write about, even if I'm not certain where it will lead?" Take the idea, word, or item and put it at the top of a new page. (Save the first page for another time.)
  6. Now--taking a deep breath and settling comfortably into your chair--ask yourself, "What are all the associations and parts I know about this topic? What can I say about it now?" Spend as long as you need writing down these responses. Perhaps it will be stream of consciousness writing or separate bits, a long list, or notes to yourself. Don't stay on any one response too long.
  7. Now having written for a while, interrupt yourself, set aside all the writing you've done, and take a fresh look at this topic or issue. Grab hold of the whole topic--not the bits and pieces--and ask yourself, "What makes this topic interesting to me? What's important about this that I haven't said yet? What's the heart of this issue?" Wait quietly for a word, image, or phrase to arise from your "felt sense" of the topic. Write whatever comes.  
  8. Take this word or image and explore it. Ask yourself, "What's this all about? Describe the feeling, image, or word. As you write, let the "felt sense" of this in your body deepen. Continue to ask yourself, "Is this right? Am I getting closer? Am I saying it?" See if you can feel when you're on the right track. See if you can feel the shift or click inside when you get close, "Oh yes, this says it."
  9. If you're at a dead end, you can ask yourself, "What makes this topic so hard for me?" or "What's so difficult about this?" Again pause and see if a word, image, or phrase comes to you that captures this difficulty in a fresh way--and if it will lead you to some more writing.
  10. When you find yourself stopping, ask, "What's missing? What hasn't yet gotten down on paper?" and again look to your "felt sense" for a word or an image. Write what comes to mind.
  11. When again you find yourself stopping, ask yourself, "Where is this leading? What's the point I'm trying to make?" Again write down whatever comes.  
  12. Once you feel you're near or at the end, ask yourself, "Does this feel complete?" Look to your "felt sense," to your body, for the answer. If the answer is "No," pause and ask yourself, "What's missing?" and continue writing.
  13. Now you may have one to several pages of notes as the basis of a piece of writing. Ask yourself, what form would work best for what I'm trying to say? Is this a story? A Poem? An essay? Something else? Who's talking? What point of view is this? Make some notes about the shape your piece will take.
  14. When you have a shape for your piece, begin writing it.

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This page was last modified on 07 November 2003