As I was reorganizing files last week, I found a writing exercise I’d done that helped me see how I could quickly sketch out the outline of a story from beginning to end in about 12 to 15 sentences (or more depending on how deep you want to take it).
I discovered the exercise in the book Writing and Publishing Personal Essays by Sheila Bender. She assigns it to help her students practice collecting sensory images. She credits a poem by poet Charles Proctor as the inspiration.
It’s a good focusing tool to note the key elements of a writing idea and chart the beginning, moments of conflict, middle, and resolution. And it works whether you’re writing a poem, memoir, short story, or novel. Read more
I’ve always loved poetry. But it wasn’t until I studied for my MFA that I really began to delve into the craft of writing it after one of my advisors gave me the assignment to annotate poetry. By directing me to study poetry, she knew I would understand the power of words in a new way.
While poetry wasn’t my main focus, that taste of learning about it at a deeper level spurred me to continue studying on my own. Besides writing and reading poetry, I’ve found several books in which poets discuss their approach to writing. Read more
In my last post, I wrote about a writing practice that I was using to try to generate material for poems, essays, and even memoir. If you joined me in my quest to write from the subconscious, you may be accumulating some wild pages of words by now. So I’m going to give you the next step in the practice.
When you have about 10 or 12 pages, pull them out of the drawer and read them. Highlight, underline, or circle anything that looks interesting, tugs at your chest, pings your brain, or just seems downright weird. You’ll find some material that is boring, odd, and exciting. You’ll likely not even remember writing it. Read more
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore. I guess I’m at the age where I see each day as an opportunity to flex my resolve. But I do find the beginning of the year a great time to reflect back on all I achieved in the preceding year and set new goals for the next one. I do this in all areas of my life and in different phases. Phase I of my New Year’s plan is to start a gratitude list.
For ten to twenty minutes, I write a list (in a sparkly new journal) of things I’m grateful for. The beginning of my list looks something like this:
I’m grateful for:
1. My family who not only loves and encourages me but also helps others in the world;
2. My writing partner, Carly, for pushing me to stretch my comfort zone and believe in myself;
3. My friend J.M. for making me use my brain and heart in ways I never knew I could; Read more
Looking for some good free reading? Check out Narrative Magazine—an online journal dedicated to great literature. The magazine publishes poems, short stories, nonfiction, fiction, six-word stories, novel excerpts and more. Narrative even pays its contributors and is free for anybody to read (although donations are greatly appreciated to maintain the Narrative mission).
I just finished reading Joseph Stroud’s poem “Provenance” about the winter he lived in Madrid and mourned his father. Everywhere he goes in the city, his grief follows. His pain is reflected in artwork, cobblestone streets, a Gypsy violin, even a bowl of tripe soup.
I love how the poem goes on and on with no stanza breaks, how it wraps around itself as the poet wanders the streets of Madrid and the depths of his love for his father. If you want to see how a great poem is put together, study this poem. Read it out loud. Allow the words to wrap around you, feel their weight on your tongue, in your heart.
Writing about strong emotions, particularly about the death of a parent, is a difficult task to do well. The key is to use specifics to evoke the emotions. Stroud is a master. Read more
At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference this last weekend, I received the honorable mention award for poetry in their annual writing contest. It was an incredible honor and an exciting, inspiring conference. Later this week, I’ll share some of my personal highlights from the weekend—including a few tips I learned from author Diana Gabaldon on writing sex scenes and author Wendy Roberts on what makes a good villain.
In honor of my poetry award, below are three previous posts about ways to use poetry to better your writing:
Two exercises to help you write poetically
Four ways to stimulate creativity and cure the writing blahs
Three ways to feed your muse: hunting down inspiration
If you have other ways you use poetry to better your writing, please share!
Earlier, I wrote a post about word riffing—applying the musical technique of riffing to find just the right word. Sometimes, I use this riffing technique to generate ideas for plot, character traits, or anything else I might be stuck on.
Often an idea will grab my attention and I’ll follow it, riffing along to see where it leads me. Riffing is like dominos–one thing leads to another. To really get my brain going, I ask questions such as: What if? What’s next? How does it feel?
This happened recently when a friend was diagnosed with an illness. She told me how the doctor’s words felt like a curse. The idea of words as a curse intrigued me so I started asking myself questions. Below is the poem that was born from my riffing: Read more