Monday, June 17, 2013

Introversion vs. Extroversion & Other Writing Prompts

Did you know “introvert” is not synonymous with “shy”? Generalizations and stereotypes abound about both extroverts and introverts. Today’s writing prompts will lead you to consider the differences between the party animals and wall flowers among us:

--Would you describe yourself as an extrovert or an introvert? Why?  

--Jennifer hated going to parties because….

--After Ben volunteered to deliver the eulogy, he remembered that….

--What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done in a public place?
On the subject of introverts, I recommend: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. (Yes, I’m introverted.)

Saturday, June 01, 2013

5 Reasons to Write Every Day

“I made a startling discovery. Time spent writing = output of work. Amazing.” – Ann Pachett

One of the most common pieces of writing advice is simple:  Write every day.

Like many simple things, it’s not easy.

Life is full of distractions. Errands. Dinner. Chores. Pinterest.

I’d always regarded the advice to write every day as an ideal, something that only saintly writers did. I tried to corral my writing neatly, while still leaving time for all of the distractions I like so much. I wrote schedules and created plans for certain days of the week to be set aside for specific projects. Invariably, something came up in those time slots. I had to work late, or I had a sick pet, or unexpected visitors showed up.

I decided the least complicated solution was to write daily, and in the process I discovered five important reasons to write every day:

1.) Writing is mental exercise. Think of it as crunches for the brain. Whether you’re writing in a journal or working on a novel, the act of writing will make you use your noggin. This is a good thing.

2.) Small bits add up to big things. Books are written one word at a time, and if you write every day—even just a few words, if that’s all you can manage—you’re creating a word change jar. Over time, it adds up to something.

3.) You can take chances. Take this as an opportunity to test drive new styles, formats, genres. I vowed to write every day, but I placed no limits or constraints on my writing. I consider any number of words, any style acceptable. On days when I really don't want to write much, I can manage a poem.

4.) Writing every day keeps the passion alive. Have you ever been caught up in the passion of a new story? You can’t wait to find time to work on your project. Writing every day feeds the fire. Otherwise, lack of contact can cause you to fall out of love with a story (in much the way as you do with people).

5.) You get a great sense of accomplishment. When you strive to do something positive every day, whether it’s writing or running or doing actual crunches, you feel like you’ve done something good. I’m all for more things that feel good, aren’t you?

What about you? Do you write every day?
Picture, "Miss A Writes a Song," courtesy of Denise Krebs/mrsdkrebs at flickr

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lola the Lost Lizard & Other Writing Prompts

“Not all those who wander are lost.”   --J. R. R. Tolkien

Have you ever been lost—literally or figuratively? Today’s writing prompts have two things in common: each has something to do with the word “lost,” and each prompt is a picture.

We’ll start with the story of Lola, the lost lizard:
 Photo by squant at flickr

Who lost this bear?

Photo by By Kevin Saff at flickr 

Emotionally lost can feel even worse than physically so, don’t you think?
Photo by By S.³ at flickr  

What happened when the man arrived at his vehicle… without these?
Photo by at flickr

The opening quote comes from Tolkien's poem that begins with, All that is gold does not glitter,” which could inspire several writing prompts itself. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Climbing Mount Everest & Other Writing Prompts

What’s your favorite form of exercise?  This batch of writing prompts uses physical activity to inspire a mental workout. Get at the starting line and see where one of these takes you:

~Ellen decided to climb Mount Everest because….
~He watched Willy throw the golf clubs, one by one, into….
~“I think we should play tennis,” she said, inspiring him to reply….
~He told his wife the bowling league met on Thursdays, but the truth was….

What’s the most challenging physical thing you’ve ever done? Marathon, back packing, sky diving?

Photo courtesy of PeterGene

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Lessons of a Writer’s Journal

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg

For a long time, I journaled like my life depended on it. And when I say “a long time,” I mean over ten years. (Prior to my years of excessive journaling, I was merely a frequent journal writer. I’ve kept a diary/journal of some sort since I was nine.)

I never regarded journal writing as important. I thought of it as free therapy. Writing helped me sort through my thoughts. It gave me a place to vent without getting fired or arrested. Bad fiction and sappy poetry lived in my journals, right next to the written temper tantrums and to-do lists. It was word gumbo.

At some point, perhaps after the point at which I was buying my favorite style of journal in bulk, I started reading my old journals.

The first thing I noticed was that the sheer volume of writing practice had sharpened my voice and style. Practice may not make you perfect, but it will make you better.

The second thing I noticed was that I complained a lot. I had journal upon journal filled with ranting, anger, and a core set of constantly repeated gripes (let’s call them Standard Operating Gripes—just because SOG is such a great acronym for what I found). This discovery was enlightening and disturbing.

The last thing I discovered was that there was some good stuff in there. I read descriptions of taking my son to the beach when he was a toddler, of caring for my mother when she died, of lazy afternoons under the plum tree in my beloved old backyard—all of it unedited, honest, and deeply personal. It was like panning for gold. I sorted through the dirt of complaints, marveling when I uncovered the nuggets.

It took me days to read through my old journals, and at the end I realized I had a priceless resource. I had a record of my life, a clear picture of my improvements and failings (as both a writer and a person), and some inspired pieces of work.

Keeping a journal gives you a place for unrestrained, raw writing not intended for an audience. It's where you build the foundation for the article, or the novel, or the breakthrough that will come later.

What have you learned from journal writing?

For more great writing quotes, visit Writer's Digest.

Photo courtesy of TheCreativePen

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Gold Hunting & Other Writing Prompts

I was cruising around Outside’swebsite when several headlines caught my eye, inspiring me to post another installment of Prompts with Links. Certainly, one of these headlines (or articles) will inspire you to take an adventure of the written kind (a ten minute adventure, in which you write without stopping or crossing out or questioning the direction you’re going—judge your results after the buzzer goes off).

Which prompt inspires you?

Photo courtesy of D'oh Boy (Mark Holloway)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Wardrobe Malfunction & Other Writing Prompts

Have you ever had an article of clothing rip open, fall off, or otherwise fail you? I’ve had to find creative solutions to the unexpected failure of everything from shoes to bikini tops. Those embarrassing sartorial moments are the inspiration for this week’s writing prompts. Try on one of these prompts, and see if you can stitch together a story:

~Sam heard the fabric rip and realized....  
“~Give me your shirt,” she demanded, “because….”
~The elastic wasn’t strong enough to withstand….
~Have you ever used duct tape, paper clips, or staples for an emergency clothing repair?
What's your most memorable wardrobe malfunction?

My picture of a pair of jeans that failed my hubby at a most inopportune time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Traveling Companions and Other Writing Prompts

Over dinner with friends last weekend, I wound up talking (too much) about vacations I’ve taken—in particular, some of my trips that went awry (to use that term loosely). Those trips inspired this week’s writing prompts. Grab a prompt and jet away, figuratively, into a story… 
  • Hawaii was beautiful, but her traveling companions were….
  • “I’m going to Boston with or without you,” he said, “so you can stay at home or….”
  • I found the graveyard charming, until….
  • The night before her flight home, she found out she was allergic to….
What about you? Do you have a trip-gone-awry story?

Photo Info:
My photo of  Ka Lae/South Point (the southernmost point in the United States), on the Big Island of Hawaii, 1995.

Monday, February 04, 2013

You’re a Writer if You Write

“A writer is a person who produces and composes fictional or nonfictional writing or literary art such as novels, short stories, poetry, plays, screenplays, or essays—especially someone who writes professionally.” ~Wikipedia
Notice that Wikipedia’s definition of “writer” did not say, “A writer is… only someone who writes professionally.”

If you write, you’re a writer.

Don't put a bunch of conditions on being a writer. Own the label without restrictions.

You don’t have to have a book on the shelf (or the cyber-shelf) to be a writer. You don’t have to have your by-line in a big magazine (or even a little magazine). You don’t have to have your by-line appear publicly anywhere, actually, to be a writer. 

If you put words together in written form to tell a story, you’re a writer.

Have you heard that it only “counts” if you’re published? If you’re acclaimed? If you’re paid?

All of that is nice, but in the end, if you write, you’re a writer—no matter why you write, how you write, or where your words appear.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What’s your definition of “writer”?
Photo courtesy of Tnarik

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Message in a Bottle & Other Writing Prompts

Here’s a twist on my usual writing prompts: actual headlines, linked to their respective articles. I’d bet that if the headline itself doesn’t spark a story (any kind of story, in any form, by the way), then something in the article will. Pick one and dig in for ten minutes to see what you can create (remember, no backspacing, no crossing out… just write).

Photo info: Copyright by Moyan Brenn

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Prompts: The How of Writing

Many writers have a routine that eases them into the waters of creativity. I recently changed my routine, which got me to thinking about how we write; our writing spaces and the things we do to call the muse.

With that idea in mind, here are four writing prompts:

1. Describe your perfect writing space.
2. The one thing I have to have when I write is…
3. First drafts: Longhand or computer? 
4. Have you had an interesting experience while writing in a public place (Starbucks, the library, etc.)?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Have You Put in Your 10,000 Hours?

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell wrote about super-achievers. One of the things he examined was the role of sustained practice—the often cited 10,000 hours—in attaining world-class success.

How many hours a week do you spend writing?

If you wrote for 20 hours each week and kept that up for ten years, you’d have 10,000 hours of writing practice. If that sounds like a lot of time, consider that the average American spends more than 20 hours a week watching television.

How many hours of writing practice do you think you’ve accumulated over the past year?
Photo courtesy of Indi Samarajiva

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Return of Writing Prompts

When my writing group was meeting on Wednesdays (I miss you all, by the way, wherever you are), I created writing prompts each week to give everyone a warm-up exercise.

~What’s your favorite food?
~At the top of the stairs…

The goal was to spark an idea that could be used in any way: poetry, fiction, memoir, or essay, and it didn't matter how tangential the piece might be to the actual subject or question in the prompt. Crossing out was strongly discouraged and no dictionaries were allowed. We took ten or fifteen minutes to craft our impromptu pieces. Sometimes we came up with gems, and sometimes we wrote clunkers.

~Describe your first car.
~Combine a bowl, a lamp, and a dog toy in a story/poem.

Writers are often dismissive about prompts since no writer has a shortage of ideas. I think of prompts as an exercise, or something akin to Suduko for people who like to write.

What do you think you could do with one of the prompts above? All were popular with my group.

My first car was a Ford Granada that looked a lot like the one in the picture above. Photo courtesy of Dave_7.