One of the things I love about teaching is what I learn from it myself. In a recent memoir writing class, I gave students a writing prompt based on a story I’d heard about a man who only wrote in lists.
I told the student to write their memoir in 20 statements.
What they wrote was revealing, funny, and at times sad. I also realized that each statement could be a springboard for writing an essay, a chapter for a longer manuscript, or a poem.
If you’re searching for a way into your writing, try it yourself and see what you come up with.
For more ideas about ways to write a memoir, read my posts Four ways to write about your life and Four ways to write about your life, part 2.
I believe you have to make your own writing inspiration rather than waiting for it to happen. I’ve found I can generate inspiration by being observant, reading, and by using writing prompts and freewriting. Even when I feel resistance, I find that if I just start, I surprise myself.
One of the most effective prompts I use is one in which I type or write in a notebook, “I remember.” Then I time myself for about 20 minutes and list everything I can think of. If you’re trying to access memories for a memoir or to spark a short story or poetry ideas, you’ll be surprised at what this exercise reveals.
The second step is to do the same thing with the phrase, “I don’t remember.” You might think, “how can I write about what I don’t remember if I don’t remember it?” Have faith. These prompts are a good way of letting go of writing resistance. These exercises, especially done together, have a way of revealing themes and emotional moments that will take your writing to a whole new level.
What are your favorite ways to warm up for writing or excavate new ideas?
For more ideas to nurture writing inspiration, read Carol’s post, Four ways to cultivate writerly inspiration.
Some people think writing exercises are a waste of time. I heard one writer once say, “just write your story.” But I’ve found that writing prompts can be a doorway for something surprising – an intriguing plot or the birth of a character.
In one writing workshop I attended, participants were instructed to write about the tools they needed to do their job. I didn’t expect anything compelling but found that as I wrote, the words picked up steam, spilling out a very emotional essay about a story I had reported on as a journalist.
Since then, I’ve collected interesting exercises and think of them as warm-ups when I need to flex my writing muscles. As I was doing some reorganizing recently, I ran across a favorite book called The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing, by Bonnie Neubauer.
Here are a couple exercises from “The Write-Brain Workbook.”
Exercise 1 – Spoiled Rotten Read more
Tanya Lloyd Kyi has a prescription for filling blank pages: Freewrite with childlike abandon. Kyi shared tips about writing and generating ideas in her workshop, “The Inspiration Zone: Practical ways to generate and sustain ideas,” at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Oct. 19-21.
Kyi said that, as a child, she wrote constantly and didn’t worry about who saw it. But things change when you get older.
“We can find ourselves in a straitjacket worrying about what we’re allowed to write about and not write about,” she said. “Sometimes we have to cast away those doubts and just write.”
Writing prompts can spark ideas for new stories. Read more
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. . . . Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.”— Stephen King
I’m starting a new book with the goal of finishing my first draft in 90 days. I started writing the book last year but was sidetracked with other writing and editing projects. I was also sidetracked by fear:
- The fear of getting it wrong;
- The fear of not being good enough;
- The fear of getting halfway through the story and not knowing how to end it;
- The fear of writing myself into a corner;
- And about 100 other fears.
As Stephen King suggests, I’m learning how to let go of my fear to become a better writer. Read more
A young woman introduced herself to me at a poetry reading recently. “I write poetry, too,” she said. “But only when the inspiration strikes me.”
Ah, youth. I remember saying the same thing when I was younger.
You see, I’d bought into the myth that writers are a temperamental lot who only write when their muse “inspires” them. Fortunately, I’ve grown as an artist and realize now that the best writers are the ones that cultivate their inspiration daily. They discipline themselves to write each day even when they’re tired or don’t feel like writing. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, inspiration becomes a habit.
How can you cultivate inspiration? Read more
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy finding a letter in their mailbox from a friend or relative. But in this age of e-mail and text messaging, writing letters has become a lost art. If you’re feeling self-conscious about your writing, distracted, or out of your groove, penning a letter or two is one way to warm up your writing muscles.
If you frequently talk to or e-mail the person you’re writing to, you might think you don’t have much to say in a letter. And who wants to talk about the weather, unless there’s something drastic about it? Instead, think about how you might tell your friend a story about what’s happening in your life. Maybe you met an interesting person when you were out and about, experienced something funny in your workplace, or observed something odd on the way home from work. Be poetic. Think of just the right words to tell your stories. Read more