The Watcher and the Muse:
A Generative Exercise to Explore Attitudes Toward Writing
This two-part assignment engages writers in imaginative and descriptive writing using metaphors to help them express attitudes and experiences with writing.
The first writing piece, “The Watcher,” asks writers to create a figurative representative of writing impediments or negative attitudes. “The Muse” compliments this first piece by asking writers to imagine the figure that aids and helps them write. Peter Elbow talks about how when we write we are both critical and creative at the same time, and how these contrary forces tend to cancel each other out and lead to writer’s block. This activity helps writers find a name and something concrete to capture their attitudes toward writing. (See the guide on The Writing Process.)
Prompt for "The Watcher" Piece:
I want you to think about times when writing was difficult for you or when it didn't come out right. Think back to a particular experience when you struggled as you wrote. Then, think in general about what gets in the way of your writing coming out as well as you want it to. Now close your eyes for a moment and examine the images that are inside your head (visualize). Select one or select the image that is there--NO MATTER WHAT IT IS. This image or imaginary figure is your "Watcher," the imaginary embodiment of what makes writing hard for you.
--My watcher is a boulder. I push it up…
--My watcher is like a boulder.
For the first part of this exercise, describe this imaginary figure. BE AS DESCRIPTIVE AND AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE! Try to use some of the techniques of description. As you describe this figure, like you might interpret a dream, try to figure out the significance of this Watcher figure as an impediment to your writing. Connect the qualities and characteristics within the image to your experience of having difficulty writing.
Consider using seeing your Watcher as a metaphor or simily.
Metaphor--My watcher is a boulder. I push it up hills...
Simile--My watcher is like a boulder. ...
The second half of this exercise is to write your Watcher a letter.
Get off my back. Why don’t you leave me alone. …
Give it/him a piece of your mind (no profanities, please).
Prompt for Companion Piece: "The Muse"
For this piece, think about times when writing worked for you and when you felt good about your writing. Again, if you can think of a specific experience or two, it helps. Generalize about what sorts of things help you to write well and feel good about your writing. Close your eyes and visualize what this figure of the Muse is for you. Select a clear image of some thing. As you did with The Watcher, select the image that is in your head no matter what it might be. This image or imaginary figure is your "Muse," the imaginative embodiment of what make writing successful for you.
For the first part of your writing piece, describe this Muse figure in as much detail as you can. Again, be as descriptive and specific as you can. Interpret this fiture also in terms of what it might represent compared to your experience writing well.
Again, think of your imaginary figure in comparative terms.
Metaphor--My muse is the wind. ...
Simile--My muse is like the wind. ...
Like with the Watcher, after you describe your Muse, then write this figure a letter.
I am so happy when you are around. Thank you for...
Example Watcher and Muse Pieces
I see looming in front of me a wall consisting of dark, stormy clouds hundreds of feet high. It is constantly moving and changing, billowing thickly here and stretching to almost trasparent over there. As far to either side of me as I can see, it hugs the world from horizon to horizon, but when I try to reach through it all I fell is an icy wind that blocks all of my movements.
I know that in the past that I have walked along your edges, afraid of the cold you bombard me with if I should try to enter, intimidated by the monstrocity of your sheer size, but I wanted to let you know that I don't care if I should have to climb a thousand years to reach your heights or walk a thousand miles to reach your borders or even to bear the pain of being shot with a thousand of your icy arrows, I will get past you and I will not be intimidated or afraid of you anymore.
Eyes closed the visual image is all so clear, the wrinkles in her snarling face as she glares over my work. The click of the wooden worn heel beats down on the floor as she paces to await my completion. All energy is focused as the words that were on the tip of my tongue lost. With the tick of the clock and the time runs against me a last ditch effort is made as I jolt down the scrammbled up words of what once were my masterpiece, now seem to be only a sribbled up mess! I feel the cinkle in her frown calmly glare the return of my paper;
At last my turn to stare you down and please remember that I will not frown. Your gastly ways of what you thought to be control, seem to have turned you to an old lady troll! Ineffective and cruel you spoke not a word, and somehow intimidated every young girl. The response you wrote were all of discern, for this time you must read, perhaps you too may learn.To correct is not to cut up my words,and control is different than your Hitler type rule. Patience is kind, as neither were you, and now I'm here to tell you you're through!
~M--formerly a student of yours
As I close my eyes, I see a vivid hole of blackness. And out from that hole appears a flurry of ashy blue smog. Slowly erecting its self from the shrouds of blackness, appears an older man, with a grey bushy beard. He appears to be wearing a tall an old looking pointy hat. With a grim look on his face he smiles at me. When I look at his face, all I can see is his nobility, and I can tell that he is very wise.
Oh how I thank you for guiding me through the treacherous deeds of writing. Please continue to be by my side at every moment while I place my thoughts to words, or as I place my words to paper. Your respect is mine ye Muse.
I am able to see the crisp water as it crashes to the end and begins but another wave. The wave is so blue, so perfect, one can see the bottom of the world that lie beneath, the covered beauty that is all so mysterious for me. The winds air blows to cool the drieness, what the sun leaves behind on your skin.The moistness of the days heat welcomes the dry breeze, refreshes.The sand is soft, that you may lie there, never knowing how long you have been, or what time is left for you to stay. Even the pucker that the salt leaves behind, not so unwelcome for that is but a part of it all.
I am writing to thank you for the beauty you provide for me to enjoy. The place you give is often my escape in that my words are able to flow freely. My soul is at rest for the time share, always there and this is my escape. To the beauty you portray so inscaved and so natuaral, is that beaty that I seem almost blind to each day. The calmness that enters into my mind is one that is cherished, enabling the images that are locked in to evolve in the words I write.