Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Writing Exercises’ Category

Poetry prompt: How to use a favorite poem to create your own

Have you ever read a poem that inspired you in your own writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” is one such poem for me. I have read it several times over the years. It’s one of those pieces that has stayed with me and became even more resonant over time.

My husband died two years ago so when I re-read Oliver’s poem recently it was from this new perspective of understanding how fleeting our time is here, how every moment is a blessing.

Her work inspired me to write a poem called, “When Love Comes.” I started by following the general form of her poem but then allowed my poem to flourish and take off in its own direction. Though I started off using her form as a guide, I made sure I used my own words and my own ideas.

The result? I like it enough that it’s going to be the final poem for my poetry book to be published later this year.

Below are a few tips for using another poet’s work as a jumping off place for your own poetry: Read more

Write active, sensory description to make your story believable

In a post I read a few years ago by Marg McAlister, “Verisimilitude: Description that Puts the Reader in the Scene,” I copied and saved one of the excerpts she used because I thought it was a good example of how sensory description can work well in a scene.

I was reminded of this last night as I lay in bed reading an urban fantasy novel (to remain nameless except to say it is a popular series by a well-known author in the genre) and my pet-peeve radar was activated.

But let me ask first–why do we read? I read for many reasons: to learn about the world, to learn about the craft of writing, to activate my imagination, to take a break from work. But the main reason I read fiction is to enter other worlds, to lose myself in another place and time, to feel what the characters feel, to experience something different.

So, my biggest pet peeve when reading is when an author pulls me from that world.

And pulling me from that world with an info dump of inactive setting or character description is the worst offender. Pure, unadulterated, torturous Hell. Or, what I imagine Hell might be like for a writer or avid reader. Read more

How one piece of writing can morph into something else

A few of my writing friends and I meet up occasionally to read our work and give each other feedback. One day, I read a poem I’d written about an encounter with a woman who had Alzheimer’s.

When I finished reading it, one of my friends said, “I really like that character. I want to know more about her. I think you should write a story about her.”

I’m not sure why, but when I get a writing idea, I usually know exactly what format it should take: poem, short story, novel, flash fiction. But I realized that one format CAN evolve into something else.

It really made me think. Maybe some of the writing we do is a warm up that can take us in a new direction. My poem still stood on its own as a complete poem, but my friend inspired me to learn more about my character and where I could take her story.

So I was especially interested in a blog post by Roz Morris, on her blog Nail Your Novel.com. Morris suggests that if you want to see if you can turn a short story into a novel, start by doing some planning. Whether you sketch out general ideas or a detailed outline, this plan will help you see the possibilities. Next, “climb in and explore” your story. See if and what you can enlarge in your story. For more excellent tips, read the whole blog post, How to turn a short story into a novel.

Roz also has a series of Nail Your Novel books that you can check out on her blog.

Exercise: Look at your body of writing. Do you have a piece that could be the beginning of something different? Write on.

 

Writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider, or how to get your creative juices flowing

Ok, I lied. This post isn’t really about writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider—more like life advice.

Hang with me for a moment. You’ll see what I mean.

After taking nearly a year off from writing poetry, I had an idea to kick start 2015 with the goal of writing two to three new poems a week for the month of January. But I wasn’t feeling very inspired. Some pretty heavy stuff was going on in my life, and I felt drained.

Then, a gift arrived in the mail.

My blogging partner Carly sent me The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, by Diane Lockward (I hadn’t even mentioned my goal to her…scary how we think alike, isn’t it?)

Now, I’m normally NOT a “prompt” person but being the good friend that I am, I felt I should at least flip through the book so I could extend my sincere gratitude to her. (Wink. Wink). Late one night, I dragged the book to bed with me and the strangest thing happened—the pages reached out and grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Hands down, best poetry craft and prompt book. Ever. Nine of the ten poems I’ve written so far this month were inspired by the book.

But what does this have to do with a Tasmanian cave spider? Read more

Five ways to build your curious nature

I’m a curious person.

My intense curiosity propelled me into a writing career. So when I read Bernadette Jiwa’s post, The Relationship Between Curiosity and Business Growth, my curiosity meter spiked into the red zone.

Jiwa tells about going to her local florist one Friday night and being surprised by the sheer number of roses she found in the shop. Buckets of roses filled almost all the floor space. She assumed they were for a wedding the next day and questioned the florist. The florist explained that the roses were for a customer who bought 110 bunches of 10 roses every Friday evening. The florist didn’t know what the customer did with them.

As a person who lives a life of curiosity, I could hardly stand not having the answer to this question.

Curiosity is what drives children to develop skills, scientists to devise groundbreaking inventions, and writers to write best selling novels by asking “why,” “how,” and “what if.”

The good news is we’re all born with this trait and developing and embracing it can make us better writers. Exercising our creativity can help us be attuned to story ideas, build out better characters, and think of more creative plots.

Make a practice of pursuing your inquisitive nature each day with these tips: Read more

Dialogue tips: the fastest way to improve any manuscript

In this 30-minute video below, author Joanna Penn interviews author and writing teacher James Scott Bell about his book on dialogue, “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.”

Bell gives some great tips to make your dialogue sing and catch the eye of an agent, publisher and reader:

  1. Characters shouldn’t be feeding each other information they already know. Example: Brother to sister: “Look sis, our mom, Linda who is a school teacher is home.”
  2. Don’t hide exposition or backstory in dialogue. Readers are savvy, will pick up on it, and won’t be happy. Bell says if you must convey the information, try turning the exchange into a confrontation. More information tends to be exchanged when people are confrontational.
  3. How do you differentiate dialogue between characters? Bell suggests keeping a voice journal for each main character. For more on this, see my earlier post, “Use a voice journal to capture your character’s original voice.”
  4. When using an action beat instead of the dialogue tag “she said or he said,” make sure the action is integral to the story — otherwise you’ll wear out the reader over the course of a novel.
  5. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it snappy and vital. Make it sing. Also read dialogue out loud from other novels and screenplays.
  6. Think subtext—what are the characters really saying underneath the words they speak?

For many more great tips on using dialogue to quickly improve your manuscript, watch the video here:

For you Nanowrimo peeps, try this exercise to increase your word count: Dive deep and write some dialogue runs between characters down the page without any tags or actions. Just straight dialogue. See if you can get into a rhythm and keep going. You can clean it up and add actions and attributions later.

Poetic inspiration for your writing

We’ve all faced the need to clean out our closets and finetune our possessions, whether we’re making a move, downsizing our living space, or just reorganizing.

We have to make hard decisions about what to keep and what to toss or give away. And sometimes the decisions aren’t hard. We wonder why we still have that stack of papers or miscellaneous junk that we never should have saved to begin with.

Exercise: Think about a time when you sorted through your stuff and had to decide what to get rid of and what to save. Think about how you felt. What were the emotions? What tugged at you and why? What was hard? What was easy? Now, write a poem, story, essay, or scene about it.

For inspiration and one poet’s take on getting rid of stuff, read the poem below from the American Life in Poetry project. Visit the American Life in Poetry website to sign up to receive a free weekly poem in your e-mail inbox.

American Life in Poetry: Column 497

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I’d guess everybody reading this has felt the guilt of getting rid of belongings that meant more to somebody else than they did to you. Here’s a poem by Jennifer Maier, who lives in Seattle. Don’t call her up. All her stuff is gone.

Rummage Sale

Forgive me, Aunt Phyllis, for rejecting the cut
glass dishes—the odd set you gathered piece
by piece from thirteen boxes of Lux laundry soap.

Pardon me, eggbeater, for preferring the whisk;
and you, small ship in a bottle, for the diminutive
size of your ocean. Please don’t tell my mother,

hideous lamp, that the light you provided
was never enough. Domestic deities, do not be angry
that my counters are not white with flour;

no one is sorrier than I, iron skillet, for the heavy
longing for lightness directing my mortal hand.
And my apologies, to you, above all,

forsaken dresses, that sway from a rod between
ladders behind me, clicking your plastic tongues
at the girl you once made beautiful,

and the woman, with a hard heart and
softening body, who stands in the driveway
making change.

————————

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jennifer Maier from her most recent book of poems, Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Maier and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.