Sunday, 14 August 2011

10 Minutes!: Standing Ovation

One of my A Level English teachers (I had two and both were great, inspirational and decent teachers) would, each week, teach a creative lesson.  She’d sit at the desk and holler out a random word followed by the phrase “10 minutes!”  This meant we had 10 minutes in which to free-write (which is pen-to-paper spillage, no pausing and no editing, just stream-of-consciousness) about the word or topic she’d chosen – an exercise often used in creative writing.  What probably isn’t oft used is the chorus of repeated “10 minutes!” and rounds of laughter from us students when recounting the lesson in the common room – but still, she was fab.

I’ve still got the work I did in the those classes (topics range from ‘pigs’ to ‘in the bathroom mirror’ and all others between) and I’ve often tried to use this technique daily to keep my hand in, creatively-speaking.  Problem is, I’m not that good at routine so there’s more attempts than results – but last week I stumbled on an American blog called ‘Sunday Scribblings’ - see  It’s a weekly writing prompt consisting of a random word or phrase and invites you to post you work on Scribbling Sundays – while some prompts are rather obvious and even clich├ęd, there are a few surprises...

So, in the spirit of “10 minutes!” I scribbled this Sunday:

                                                                            Standing Ovation

 The reader stood in front of us all – or should I say the writer, the orator, the one brave enough to share their work with us – and spoke.  At first they were quiet, “ums” and “ahhs” peppering their speech, with a few coughs and stutters thrown in for texture.  I fidgeted in my seat but listened still – after all, if that was me up there I’d appreciate the respect, the courtesy. 

After a minute or two, I relaxed into the orator’s delivery, acclimatising to their timbre and intonation, able to pick out the beginnings of paragraphs in the book and to imagine how I might lineate the poem if it were mine.  It probably isn’t that fair to decide how you’d do it before you’ve got to the end of hearing how they’ve done it, but still – that’s writers for you.  It’s impossible to read a piece without having your critiquing eagle-eyes open and talons ready to tear apart the syntax. 

The crowd in the hall, probably about 70 of us all told, started to shift and sigh as one, like a wind whistling around the eaves waiting to escape.  And then the amazing happened – the orator read a line that was pure gold. 

I replayed it in my mind – and wished I’d written it, wished I had the potential to one day write something like that, something which had the power and intensity to reach out and grab the reader, the listener.  Had the integrity to collide with that person’s sensibilities, to make them stop and think. 

The orator nodded slightly and closed the book, signalling the reading was over.  Still shocked and altered by that life-changing line, and without realising I was doing it, I stood.  Raising myself out of my seat, I began clapping.  My standing ovation spread to the rest of the audience one by one like reverse dominoes – people stood, joining me in my impromptu expression of gratitude...and respect.

My gaze caught the orator’s eye and lightning sparked between us: I knew that this would be how it would feel when it was me standing up there, waiting desperately for someone to join me out on that lonely limb.  I’m glad I had the courage to show how I really felt, how I truly responded. 

For without the reader, the writer has no conversation.

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