Prompt: Write in Squares / by Teresa Carmody


How do you begin writing in another genre or form?

Or rather, how might you be with (assist, help, support) your writing as it migrates into a new space?

When I decided to go back to school for my doctorate, I knew I would be expected to write seminar papers. I was nervous about this. I’d been out of school for more than 10 years; I had not been an English major or even a “traditional” student (whatever that is), for I’d completed my undergraduate work at an interdisciplinary, no-departments, no-majors institution (Evergreen), and then an MFA in a low-res studio program (Antioch). But I’d been reading and thinking and book designing and going to public talks and conferences, poetry readings, listening to audio lectures and editing and writing, of course, creative writing.

Writing critical papers would build other muscles, so I decided to practice by writing about Clarice Lispector and Amina Cain; or rather, I would write about my uncanny experience of feeling (re-calling) Amina Cain’s writing as I read a collection of Lispector’s stories, Stations of the Body. I began reading some critical/theoretical texts about the uncanny, including Freud’s essay (his wonderful misread of “The Sandman” by Hoffmann) and The Uncanny by Nicholas Royle.

When I was ready to start actually writing, I went to the store and bought a large piece of poster board. My friend had just given me a gold sharpie, which I used to draw one square, then another, on the sheet.

My job: write into the squares.

I moved back and forth between Lispector and Cain.

Eventually, I filled the sheet, and moved onto the back of the paper. Eventually, I began migrating the words on the page into a document on my computer. Eventually, I presented this writing at the &NOW Festival in Boulder, Colorado, as Amina Cain sat in the front row. Eventually, I revised the paper for an anthology, and revised it again and again (under the direction of amazing editors Kristina Quynn and Robin Silbergleid), and eventually it was published in Reading and Writing Experimental Texts: Critical Innovations.

The paper began, literally, by writing in squares. (The irony: I was also trying to write more “square-like,” but needed to let the squares be absurd and golden.)

Prompt: Divide a large piece of paper into several smaller squares, or write on several smaller squares (or rectangles) and put them together later. Let go of linearity, which is just one kind of logic. Let yourself play.