Information Sheet # 95

December 7, 1995


[A simple exercise. At the beginning of the fall term I asked students--freshmen through seniors--in four of my classes to write a paragraph beginning with three words: "Writing is like. . . " Here are 34 of those responses. Although this was a minor, ten-minute warm-up exercise, it is remarkable to see the richness of analogies students chose to convey the frustrations and sweet mysteries of the writing process. ]

Writing is like . . .

. . . walking beside a wild beast. You are awed by its movements yet terrified by its strength. It is like the panther, which stalks the writer's mind until it pounces and devours its prey. It may take the form of a giraffe, tall, elegant, untamed and unpredictable, awkward, yet captivating. The wild beast in every writer displays freedom; it terrifies. -- J.K.

. . . building a beautiful cabinet out of a live oak tree. First, the tree is cut down as raw material, rough, with no shape or direction. Then you strip off the bark and shape the raw material. After the wood has been fashioned into the shape you want, it is sanded smooth. When the raw oak has the desired appearance, it can be varnished to enhance its beauty. Just remember: don't start out dead set on building a cabinet, the raw material may want to become a chair. -- C.S.

. . . navigating via urban transportation at rush hour when ya have to get across town in half an hour. You must start moving instantly, you can't wait for the taxi of inspiration. -- D.G.

. . . like walking backwards--you never know what lies ahead. Often the author can begin with a thesis but will eventually pursue something entirely different from the original intent. Thus, writing is like walking backwards, with inevitable potholes along the way. -- T.B.

. . . a road trip. When I leave, there is no way of knowing where I'll end up. I could get lost or . . . discover something incredible. Going nowhere to get somewhere is what I do when I write. It frequently surprises me and opens my eyes to new vistas. Just like a good road trip. -- L.N.

. . . farting. When you feel the need, you have to let it out. -- B.K.

. . . trying to get words on paper. It sounds easy, but it can be a long, frustrating process, finding a good opening sentence, something that catches the reader's attention. When I find the right sentence, I'm constantly trying to find the next "right" one and the next, and so on. Eventually I have to tell myself "you don't have to write a perfect first draft. In fact, you can't. Just get the words on paper." -- J.B.

. . . stretching my arms to dive. I strike the water and begin to move--mechanical, practiced motions but strenuous thought. My legs straight, breathing regular, strong kick. I feel the swimmers in the neighboring lanes but I don't look up, distraction will slow me down. I hit the wall and propel myself in the other direction for the final stretch. My hands slap the wall. Third place. I crawl from the water, disappointed until I realize that third is better than fourth, fifth or last time--sixth. I stretch. I will practice and try again. I sit in front of my computer, ready to write. I stretch my hands before me and dive. -- C.R.

. . . blowing up balloons. To some, blowing up balloons is futile. There is no point in expending energy and time on something that may pop, or blow away. Others may feel that blowing up balloons is an enjoyable but unnecessary activity. It's fun while it lasts, but you don't need it to live a fulfilling life. Still others may see it as a joyous celebration, a revelation of colors and spirit. -- V.S.

. . . a pizza. The crust of the pizza is the foundation of the paper. Just as the crust supports all of the toppings, the theme or subject holds the ideas of the paper together. All of the individual toppings are comparable the details and ideas formed in a paper. -- K.S.

. . . a greasy McDonald's Big Mac. You start out imagining how great it will taste, how great the paper will sound. Your first bite into the double layer of beef is awesome, exactly what you wanted. Then you get about halfway though it and you realize that it tastes like total crap and you want to hurl. Sometimes writing a paper it starts off great, but as you read you see. -- K.B.

. . . lying. The more you bullshit, the better you get. . . . A good writer is typically a good liar; a person able to discharge words in a convincing manner. -- G.K.

. . . the recovery process after having slept all night on a hard, wooden floor. -- E.H.

. . . gardening in the dark. I plant a seed, though I don't know how or when it will grow. However, the light of day, my ideas and realizations, allow me to see the growth of my paper. Finally, I am satiated with the flower of my thought. -- S.L.

. . . excretion. Sometimes it flows easily--however at times it's a complete strain on your system. When such a strain occurs, you may find yourself swamped with messy paperwork. But when done, you relish the relief of having such a load lifted from your being. -- A.C. & M.J.

. . . trying to move a huge boulder down a long slope. When you first make an attempt, the rock is heavy, impossible to move. You feel overwhelmed, but you shouldn't and you don't. You push on the boulder, trying different angles, different techniques. Finally, one approach works. The rock budges. After that initial lurch, it is still tough, but it's moving. -- J.H.

. . . a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You start with two totally different things, put them together, and make something good and tasty. They may be good alone, but together they are better and more exciting. The peanut butter blends with the jelly in just the right way--like words blended to produce a yummy result. -- N.L.

. . . long-distance running. The most difficult part of the process is the beginning, motivating myself to start. Once I begin running, I push myself to keep trudging, struggling with every stride. Then comes the "second wind"-- an inspirational gust--which pushes me. I feel as though nothing could stop me. -- L.R.

. . . shoveling snow. In the early morning, 30 below zero, the snow six inches deep in the driveway, cold and still. Daylight does not bring warmth but it does help you see your own moist breath turn to foggy crystals. Wool sox, Goretex boots, Thinsulate gloves, and a down parka provide a shield from the elements. The rusty snow shovel inside the garage door waits to assist you in an hour of early morning, upper-body aerobics. One shovel full of thick, wet, glistening snow at a time. -- C.G.

. . . diving. As you fall you build speed. Suddenly, the cool water hits you: the shocking climax of the story reveals itself. You write as fast as possible, holding your breath under water. Your head pops above the water, and you feel the pride and satisfaction of being finished. -- C.R.

. . . building a bridge from which the writer will eventually jump. One builds the bridge word by word: with each word the gap closes little by little until, finally the writer expresses his thoughts, hopes, and opinions to the reader. It is after the bridge is completed that the writer jumps: he hands a part of himself to the reader, often an unknown audience, with no idea of how it will be received. -- A.D.

. . . climbing a mountain. At first the task seems insurmountable; one needs to just start climbing to reach the top. The path may be steep, it may come to dead end, but to conquer the mountain one must persevere. Although the legs tire, eventually with hard work the pinnacle will be seen. Some are more adept at climbing, while others take days to crawl to the top. No matter what your skill level may be, the view from the summit is always exhilarating. -- T.S.

. . . crocheted mittens that your grandma made for you. Sitting there in her creakity, oak rocking chair she combined your favorite loud colors into an expression of who you are. She stitched fuzzy yarn with tightly bound string to bring together two different things... the practicality of warm material and her concern for you.... -- A.B.

. . . training in the monastery. I concentrate when I write. I can't do anything but search for words. . . . I don't eat, I don't drink, and I don't sleep. Sometimes my mind is packed, full of thought, and sometime it's empty, blank as the prairie covered by snow. . . . As I scratch my red eyes in front of the desk at two o'clock in the morning, I wonder why I have to write, but later I love my papers when I reread them. -- Y.T.

. . . playing telephone--although one person has an original idea, each reader will have a different perception and interpretation. -- J.M.

. . . painting. An artist uses colors, an author words; one for the eye, one for the mind. As an artist uses his brush strokes to create a form on the canvas an author will use the pen or keyboard to write lines of words, creating new forms. -- D.S.

. . . taking a walk in the rain. Sometimes ideas and words saturate your mind and flow onto your paper; while other times a few sprinkling drops will convince you to be patient, waiting for the rest to follow. -- A.P.

. . . a river. At times it flows smooth from our hearts and through our fingers to produce a work of love like a picturesque tranquil bay. Sometimes writing is powerful like the raging river, able to destroy boulders and drown our weak opponents. The water of a river sustains life; our thoughts live in the water of our words. -- R.H.

. . . giving a stranger a massage. It's doing something familiar over uncharted territory. You may work smoothly, without interruption. Or you might keep running into bumps and ridges that need to be worked out. Some hard spots may be expected, others surprise you. Sometimes conversation will work into the flow and make for a better finished "product." By the end, you are intimately acquainted with someone new. -- T.K.

. . . entering a foreign country. You become completely immersed in a subject and the language is what allows you to explore it further. You form preconceptions of what it will be like--some are confirmed and others are refuted as you travel on your writing journey. You aren't sure what to expect, but by the end you have become versed in the "culture" of language. -- E.V.

. . . riding a horse across pastures never seen before. The reins in your hand, you give signals, the horse responds, but you are never in control. The horse is more powerful than you, more beautiful. The horse moves with such effortless energy across a valley, but the ride is often rough, difficult, even frightening. The horse is never frightened, never tires, always eager to run and run. -- L.M.

. . . smoking a cigarette. After a while it can become addictive. Sometimes you don't want to do it, but you have to. The spark that lights the cigarette is like the spark that goes off in your head when you find your source of inspiration. Each drag represents an idea that grows and develops. Exhaling puts each separate thought, a sentence if you will, to an end. The conclusion can either be ground out, or gently rubbed into a sandpit or ashtray. -- G.L.

. . . painting. You start with a blank canvas wondering what this one will look like. You choose a color and start applying colors on the canvas. It doesn't look like much till you start adding detail. A tree here. Some grass over there. Maybe a stream in the middle. Who knows? -- T.G.

. . . having a tooth pulled. . . . you feel very relieved when it is over. -- C.P.


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