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Posts from the ‘Writing Life’ Category

Cultivate conversation with a mini essay

You never know where you will find wild words.

In a recent post, How to find writerly inspiration while eating a burrito, I wrote about Chipotle restaurant’s Cultivating Thought — Author Series in which it features essays from 11 authors on cups and to-go bags.

The campaign was meant to spark conversation and introspection through essays that take about two minutes to read.

In the spirit of cultivating inspiration and discussion, consider writing your own two-minute essay. Here’s a list of writing prompts that might spark an idea.

1. What is your personal philosophy?

2. What is a favorite memory and why?

3. What frustrates or annoys you?

4. What makes you happy?

5. What are you grateful for?

Write about 300 to 400 words. When you sit down to write, suspend all critical thought and just pour your heart out on the page. You’ll have time later to edit and revise. Consider even writing your first draft by hand in a notebook. When you’re done, publish your essay on your blog or website and start a discussion of your own.

How to find writerly inspiration while eating a burrito

The minute I finally learned to read, I was hooked on words. I was like a staggering lost child who had crawled out of the Mohave desert and couldn’t stop gulping water from the first faucet I found. I checked out stacks of books at the library and read anything I could get my hands on, including the back of the Cheerios box as I sat at the breakfast table.

So it’s no surprise that when I went to Chipotle yesterday, I immediately glued my eyes to the copy written on my to-go sack as I chomped down on my burrito.

“Hope that, in future, all is well, everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.” George Saunders

I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Huh? What’s George Saunders, the short story writer extraordinaire, doing on my burrito sack?”

This is what: Saunders and 10 other writers are part of a Chipotle campaign called Cultivating Thought — Author Series. The campaign was the brainchild of Jonathan Safran Foer, a featured author and curator of the project.  It’s meant to spark conversation and introspection through essays that take about two minutes to read. The idea, Foer said in a video on the website, was not for the campaign to be any sort of marketing tool. He goes on to say that, “….in the scheme of corporate America, this is not a massive investment of any kind. But it might have really beautiful payoffs.”

Other authors include Toni Morrison, who wrote the essay, “Two-Minute Seduction,” comedian Sarah Silverman, Harvard professor Steven Pinker, and Michael Lewis, author of “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side.”

The essays on Chipotle’s bags and cups are meant to, “create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, provoking introspection or inspiration, and maybe a little laughter.”

Besides the essays, the paper bags and cups feature original art. For a bite of inspiration, go to to see the artwork, author bios, Q&As with the writers, and their essays.

Fun and inspiring titles for your summer reading pleasure

It’s summer here in the U.S.A., so time for many of us to head out for a vacation. Wherever you’re going, it’s a perfect time to take a stack of books or your e-reader to catch up on some reading.

For your reading pleasure, here’s my list of fun and stimulating titles.

I was totally entranced by The Rosie Project, a novel about socially challenged genetics professor, Don, who tries to turn the art of love and his search for it into a science project. An unlikely relationship develops between Don and one of the candidates who responds to his search, Rosie Jarman. The Rosie Project is quirky, funny and different than any other romantic comedy I’ve ever read.

For those of us who live for writing, you’ll be inspired by Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir, A Place to Stand. Baca writes about how he learned his craft and found redemption in poetry while serving time in a maximum security prison. At one point, he gets into a fight with another inmate and as he hovers over him about to plunge a blade into his heart, Baca hears in his head the words of Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda, two great Spanish poets he’d been reading.

“How can you kill and still be a poet?” he asks. Baca is torn between a prison code of survival and the beauty and inspiration of words and in the end chooses poetry — and life. Read more

Energize your writing life with these three tips from other writers

Sometimes the trick to having a great writing day is just getting started. Here are three tips from other writers that inspired me and may help you too.

Write scenes out of order. Sometimes I know the end of a story before I know the beginning. So I go ahead and write the last scene. Or sometimes I have a key scene in mind that is asking to be written. I write it, and it gives me momentum to find the rest of my story.

This drives one of my writing friends crazy because she absolutely must write her novels starting from the beginning. I say, do what works. You’ll find advantages and disadvantages to every approach. But if you’re stuck about how to approach your next piece of writing, think about writing scenes in the order they come to you. Read about how Roz Morris started doing this in her post, Writing your scenes out of order on her Nail Your Novel blog. Read more

Heat up your writing with these prompts

Sometimes I get into a writing funk. It’s as though I’m frozen in place.

Maybe this has happened to you. You’ve gone through a stressful event, you’re not sleeping well, or you’ve been consumed by work deadlines. Stress and fatigue are known to affect creativity and inhibit the brain from generating creative ideas.

I find that the harder I think when I’m in my slump, the more I blank out. I’ve learned that I need to think differently. I need to activate the part of my brain that comes up with new ideas, instead of the part that is sparked by stress.

One of the things I do to re-energize myself is read good works of literature. I also find that doing a few writing exercises helps me out of my rut.

One of my favorite books for this is The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. If you’re in a slump, try this prompt from The Daily Poet.

Choose a color. Now write a poem only using images of that color. For example, if you chose white, your poem might include clouds, snow, yogurt, angels, paper, ping-pong balls, or plastic bags. The poem may or may not evoke an emotion associated with your chosen color.

Here are two more prompts from another of my favorite writing books, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg. This book is geared towards writing memoir but the prompts are equally good for writing essays and poems and even coming up with the seed of an idea for a short story or character. Here are two sample prompts from the book:

Knew. What did you know that you didn’t want to know? Go. Ten minutes.

Repair. What have you tried to repair? Write for 10 minutes.

Waste a notebook with your random ideas

One day when I was in the fourth grade, I got in trouble for not paying attention in class. I was scribbling away on my tablet, writing notes that had nothing to do with what my teacher was talking about. She said I was daydreaming. She said I had to go sit in the hallway. I narrowly avoided a visit to the principal’s office.

Writing in a notebook has been part of me for as long as I can remember. In my notebooks, I write interesting words or phrases, the title of a good book recommendation, the date of the next book club meeting, words of a song that sound like poetry.

At some point, I type the notes from my notebooks into my computer so they’re easy to search. I know that in this electronic age, many people type everything on their digital devices, but I don’t enjoy typing with one finger. Mostly I just enjoy the act of writing with pen in hand. And it gives me a good excuse to buy more notebooks.

Little did I know, with all my scribblings, I was creating a “waste book” in the tradition of 18th century German scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who had a habit of collecting aphoristic notes, ideas, and lists. According to a Scientific American review on, in his student days, Lichtenberg began the lifelong practice of recording his observations and reminders in notebooks that he called “Sudelbücher” after the waste books that English businesses used to enter transactions temporarily until they could be recorded in formal account books.

This is one of my favorite of Lichtenberg’s aphorisms: “The book which most deserved to be banned would be a catalog of banned books.” Lichtenberg’s writings have been translated in The Waste Books.

My waste books might seem a morass of random scribblings to some people, but when I look back at them, I find a gem here and there — an idea that may find it’s way into a story, the root of an essay, or a character waiting to be born.

For another take on keeping a notebook, read my previous post, A twist on the writer’s journal: The commonplace book.


Stay in your writing groove with this tip

One of my biggest challenges is staying in the flow of my writing. I find it especially hard to stay in the groove if something interrupts my regular writing practice. Long gaps between writing sessions make it hard to maintain creative momentum.

I’ve been inspired by my friend Mandy who takes pages of her manuscript, or sometimes the whole thing, with her wherever she goes. She says having the pages with her helps her stay connected to her project. She can also take advantage of down time while waiting in a doctor’s office or commuting to her day job.

Mandy uses her breaks at work to read pages, make edits, or just think about where she’ll take her story next. The pages are a constant reminder of how important writing is to her.

Mandy says it’s hard to find quiet time when she gets home at night and is caught up with the demands of her family: fixing dinner, helping children with baths and homework, and getting ready for the next day. So those moments on a break or during a commute are golden for grabbing quality writing and revising time. And on those days when she’s too tired to write, reading the pages maintains her connection to the words.

If you want to create a strong link to your project in process, consider carrying a few chapters with you. Just having your pages close by may be enough to help you stay in your writing groove.

For more writing practice tips, read these posts:

Talent vs hard work: 5 tips for a deliberate writing practice

Don’t beat your head against the wall: Try these tips to develop a daily writing practice


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