Exercise 1, Part 1

Writing Exercise

D. J. Cools

1/3/20182 min read

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, like other work of hers I have read, is direct, blunt, and oddly tender. Her lessons make me feel ashamed and hopeful by turns. I see my mistakes exposed and many issues in my approach and intention. I also see new techniques and fresh understanding peering from the obscuring trees of my failed attempts. Under her firm clear hand I despair and take heart in the same moment.

Writing takes work—I do not need to be convinced of this, but I need to be reminded because I am lazy—and the resulting sentences are inconsistent, often disappointing, always personal. No, not lazy. Scared. Fear pushes me out of my chair to the stove for tea, or outside for a view of the street from my porch, or to the reading nook with a graphic novel. I sit down at the table again and write about writing. Anything except actually writing.

Reading about writing, something new for me, has been galvanizing. That, and the healing effect of down time over the holidays. Hope has returned, and maybe the most important thing I have embraced (once again) is the intention to practice. The following is my response to the first exercise from Steering the Craft:


We stood together in the white room. Brushfuls of caked white paint, indicating many rebirths, glossed over every seam and crack, a smooth, rounding skin covering the decades. Filling, spilling, dripping, schlicking, schploching, thick over the room’s sins. This room, at least as old as my great-grandfather if he was still alive. But he died with a bottle in his hand.

We stood in the white room filled with a setting September sun and the air of cold summer coming in through the open window. Shh and hhhrrush and brusshhh, went white curtains against white walls. A small wind, cool and dry as chaff.

They turned and moved down the hall, talking. I stayed. My breath rising and falling, inaudible, swaying with the breeze that was sneaking over the sill, I stayed. Was I waiting?

I was still for another tick. Though the tock and click of a clock was surely imagined in this unpeopled house. This house as empty as the hilly fields of after-harvest stubble outside. This room without a bed. This space without a living shadow but for today, ours. Was I waiting for something? For the paint to peel back and reveal the cracks and stains, the whisper of lives that once watched the same September sun sink over stubble-fields? Maybe an enameled steel bed under those windows, a dresser by the door. A desk with a pencil or a hairbrush on it’s scarred surface.

Someone was in the curtain. Feet and thin legs with the white wall behind, the rest of her under white folds of cloth that bellied and billowed like the soul of the stubble-and-dust wind.

She was there until I looked.


She was cracks and seams, a stain on the white, a gap in the glop that sealed everything in. She was under the paint, bump and texture beneath filler. She was a shape that brushed-over years could not gloss away. She was shaped air or imagination. Clear glass.

She was there until I looked.


Light moved over the wall, shifting yellow and orange, bent by the breeze and the form of her, there and now lost, and me standing and waiting and breathing until they called me from down the hall.