Sunday Shape Up: Oval

June 22, 2014  Prompt #51

eggs

For this week’s Sunday Shape-Up, we will carefully press a circle into an oval and give it a spin.

Instructions

  1. Quick Tip: The word oval originates from the Latin ov or egg. Hence, oval means egg-shaped.
  2. For five minutes, jot down phrases and images that come to mind when you hear the word oval.
  3. Re-read what you’ve written and underline a phrase or sentence that stands out.
  4. Write that phrase on the top of a new sheet of paper.  Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Running tracks are oval. Imagine you (or one of your characters) approach one at 6 a.m. on a spring morning. What happens next?  Include outward descriptions and inward thoughts. Write for 20 minutes.
  • Oval Office.
    • Get inside the head of a U.S. president. Imagine what he thinks about when he is alone in the Oval.
    • Write about your favorite fictional U.S. president.

Variation for Writing Groups

Eggs

  1. Bring two eggs (raw, boiled or both) to writing group. Pass them around (gently). Feel the weight of them in your hand. If you are at someone’s home, try cracking one open or peeling one.
  2. Next, for 10 minutes, write down all your associations with eggs.
  3. Read your work out loud.
  4. The person to your left chooses one word or phrase they find inspiring from your writing and uses it as their prompt.
  5. Continue around the circle until everyone has a key word for their prompt.
  6. If you have more than 4 people in your group, pair or triple up to share work and choose a prompt word.

Ovaltine

  1. Stir up a glass of Ovaltine.
  2. Sip and write. Sip and write.

 

De-Construction

June 12, 2014.  Prompt #43

photo

photo

 

 

 

 

 

Walking with friends along Pearl Street tonight, we came across the demolition of the Daily Camera building, a structure that housed our local newspaper for decades. (It moved east of downtown several years ago.)

For today’s prompt (somewhat the philosophical opposite of yesterday’s prompt) we’ll work with words associated with destruction, rubble, and, perhaps, transformation

Instructions

  1. Choose nine words from this list: wreck, boom, brick, clear, concrete, dust, empty, engine, expose, fence, hard hat, haul, lot, reduce, rubble, shatter, torn, truck, watch, wreck, zone.
  2. Using the nine words and others of your own, write a nine line poem.
  3. Write for 9 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Write about something physical that is gone from your life. Tie it in, perhaps, with an emotional state.
  • Write about an old man or young girl watching a building being torn down. Describe their thoughts, conversations, or reactions. Include descriptions on sounds and the physical atmosphere.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Choose one or two of the words from the list which are both noun and verb. Play with those combinations in a short piece. This is a chance to use repetition in a deliberate way. Write for 15 minutes.
  2. Visit a wrecking site. Take notes.  Using your imagination, write about the construction of the building currently being torn down.

 

Plant

June 11, 2014.  Prompt #42

garden bed

For the last six weeks I’ve been working on my flower bed, vegetable garden, and planters. Spring gardening is annual ritual that is sometimes hectic as I work to get soil turned and amended, seeds and seedlings planted, and everything watered in between bouts of rain and sometimes snow. Mostly, though, it is just plain joyous to get my hands in the soil and start the starts off on their new lives.

For today’s prompt, we’ll work with words associated with plants and planting. May your writing bud and blossom!

Instructions

  1. Choose nine words from this list: bed, beet, bloom, bury, dig, dry, fruit, iris, leaf, peas, pepper, pollen, rain, rock, root, seed, soil, sow, sprout, squash, stem, sun, trim, turn, water, weed, wilt.
  2. Using the nine words and others of your own, write a nine line poem.
  3. Write for 9 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Use the same nine words and write a piece that has nothing to do with gardening. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Choose one of the verbs from the list and use it in a poem or piece of short prose nine times. Vary it at least three times, using different forms of the verb.  For instance, if you choose dig, try using also using digs, digging, dug, or digger. Write for 15 minutes.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Choose one or two of the words from the list which are both noun and verb. Play with those combinations in a short piece. This is a chance to use repetition in a deliberate way. Write for 15 minutes.
  2. Choose words from the lists that have more than one definition, such as bed, pepper, or iris. Write a piece that makes use of their multiple meanings.
  3. Read your writing out loud. What do you notice about its rhythm and pacing?

 

Breaking News

telegramJune 9, 2014.  Prompt #40

I just finished binge watching marathon viewing four seasons of Downtown Abbey. The very first episode opens with a close-up of a telegraph in motion, complete with taps and beeps as the operator sends a message. The telegraph not only grounds the story in history (in this case, 1912) but also conveys the urgency of the news being sent.

Instructions

  1. Write a piece that begins with the delivery of news.
  2. Start with an object of communication, for instance, a television, computer, or newspaper. You could choose a newer form of communication, such as an email, text, or Skype call, or one from the past—a telegram, letter on the Pony Express, or a phone call on a party line.
  3. Next, choose a message to be delivered. What does the message say? Who sends it? Who receives it? Who announces it? Who hears it?
  4. What happens next?

Further Writing

  • If you wrote about bad news, write a second version with good news or ambiguous news. If you wrote about good news, try making it disturbing or unclear. What is the effect on the tension, tone, or pacing of your piece?
  • Slow down the action. Record in detail the moment that the news is received. Describe in detail in the surroundings, the sounds, the smells and the textures.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On an index card, write two messages in the style of a telegram: clear and concise.
  2. Place the cards in the middle of the table. Either deliberately or at random, choose one and write in response to it. Write for 20 minutes.

 

Sunday Shape Up: Try Angle?

June 8, 2014  Prompt #39

old tri

 

For this week’s Sunday Shape, we turn to the triangle. Here’s a chance to examine language closely (and playfully, perhaps) and link images with people, actions or memories with abstract ideas.

 

 

Instructions

  1. For five minutes, jot down associations, phrases, and images that come to mind when you hear the word “triangle.”
  2. Read what you’ve written and underline a phrase or sentence that stands out.
  3. Write that phrase on the top of a new sheet of paper.  Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Choose one of these phrases as your springboard: Love Triangle. Bermuda Triangle. Research Triangle. Musical Triangle. Triangle Fire. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Write a triangle poem of four lines.
    • Line 1: one interjection or command
    • Line 2: two adjectives
    • Line 3: three nouns
    • Line 4: four verbs

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On individual index cards, members write down a word or short phrase from each of these categories. a) A setting. b) A person or animal. c) An object. For example, “City park in the early morning,”  “Black dog,” and “Baby carriage with a broken wheel.”
  2. Keep the three sets of phrases in separate piles. (Or, mix them for another variation.)
  3. Members choose a card from each pile and writes the phrases, one each, on each side of the triangle.
  4. Write a piece in which the three phrases appear, connect, or interact.

Inspiration Everywhere: Poetry and Prose Readings

Thomas Sayers Ellis  (photo by Lynda Koolish)

Thomas Sayers Ellis (photo by Lynda Koolish)

June 6, 2014.  Prompt #38

On Thursday night, I attended an outstanding reading at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. It featured Lee Ann Brown, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Rebecca Brown, Norma Cole, and Eleni Sikelianos.  Over the next month, I’ll talk more about all these writers and how their work might inspire you.

If you’ve never been to a reading, check with local book stores, libraries, coffeehouses, or colleges to see if they sponsor or know about readings in your area. If there aren’t any near by, start your own.
 

 

Introduction

For today’s prompt, we’ll look at Thomas Sayers Ellis poem “Or”  

Or

Or Oreo, or
worse. Or ordinary.
Or your choice
of category

or
Color

or any color
other than Colored
or Colored Only.
Or “Of Color”

or
Other

or theory or discourse
or oral territory.
Oregon or Georgia
or Florida Zora

or
Opportunity

or born poor
or Corporate. Or Moor.
Or a Noir Orpheus
or Senghor

or
Diaspora

or a horrendous
and tore-up journey.
Or performance. Or allegory’s armor
of ignorant comfort.

or
Worship

or reform or a sore chorus.
Or Electoral Corruption
or important ports
of Yoruba or worry

or
Neighbor

or fear of…
of terror or border.
Or all organized
minorities.

From Skin, Inc. Identity Repair Poems  Grey Wolf Press

This poem astonished me because, like the conjunction “or” from which it takes its title, it knits together sound, language, history, academia, and all kinds of assumptions. Yet even as the role of conjunctions is to join words, the conjunction “or” also separates. It requires you to choose one over another.  Ellis uses the word or as the core of the poem, then builds on it by incorporating dozens of words containing the letters or and other words with the or sound. The words, sounds, their meanings, and their associations all build upon and play off of one another. “Or” is filled with strong and specific nouns and proper noun yet still open to the reader’s own experiences.

Instructions

  1. Choose a short word, perhaps a conjunction or preposition since they, by their nature, suggest connection and relationship. Some options (or choose your own): and, as, at, but, by, down, for, in, nor, of, off, on, or, out, so, to, up, with.
  2. Write down your word followed by words or phrases containing the letters of your word. Also write down words that share the sound of your word. Try using rhymes and near-rhymes too.  For instance, if you chose “so,” you might write sew, sow (as in the female pig or planting seeds) soap, south, social, sole, soul, son, some, sort, song, soft, stow, insulate, insolate, insolent, desolate, insomnia, resolute, also, miso, torso, verso, gesso, espresso, snow, manifesto, Winslow.
  3. Once you’ve produced a list of 30 or more words, read through them and circle one or two words or phrases that resonate for you.  Then choose twelve more words that have a connection, either in meaning, sound or “energy” to your core word.
  4. Next, pull it all together and write a poem, a story, a soliloquy, a declaration, or an intricate question.  Include your initial set of words, add more, toss some, and keep coming back to your core word. Don’t worry about making sense or being logical.  Your work may be serious, playful, dreamy, angry or a mix of these. Its larger meaning or story may emerge quickly or it make take a few drafts bring out connections.

Considerations

  • For this prompt, think about sound and meaning. For instance, if you choose “so,”  you might feel connected to the word South because it contains so and because an abbreviation of south is So.  On the other hand, because so and south don’t sound alike, if you intend to read your work out loud (and you should), the pairing of so and south may not strengthen your piece.
  • Sometimes prompts such as this develop into a solid poem or story. In other cases, you may generate a single phrase or sentence that stands on its own and is the springboard for a new piece. Whatever you create, this prompt will help you think about sound, connections, and the nature of language.

Inspiration Everywhere: Maya Angelou

June 2, 2014.  Prompt #33

mayaAs a writer, I am often asked, “Where do you find your inspiration?” That question always surprises me, as I find inspiration everywhere. In this week’s posts, I’ll offer a variety of people, places, and instances that may inspire you.  Using your writer’s notebook, track what engages you throughout the day.

 

Maya Angelou

Last week, writer, performer, professor, and activist Dr. Maya Angelou died.  My Facebook feed was filled with tributes and quotes. This was among my favorites: Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.

Instructions

  1. For five minutes, free write about the word courage. Include whatever associations—people, places, situations—arise.
  2. Next, for ten minutes, write about a time when you acted courageously, in either word or action, either big or small.

Further Writing

  • Write about a time when you (or your character) were not as courageous as you wished you’d been.  Was there a time when you missed an opportunity to act courageously?
  • My father used a say, “Discretion is the better part of valor”  (originally “The better part of valoris discretion,” from Shakespeare’s Henry IV.)  Write about the difference between valor and courage and the complexity of courageous acts.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On an index card, write a short description of a real or imagined courageous act.
  2. Place the cards in the middle of the table and choose one to write about for 15 minutes.
  3. Discuss the power of big vs. understated courageous acts. What are the challenges of writing about each of them?

 

Circle Round

June 1, 2014  Prompt #32

Photo

My tea dish with a tea strainer tea stain. (which washed right out.)

Let’s run around in circles for this week’s Sunday Shapes. Like last week’s square, writing about circles helps you consider language closely and link images with people, actions or memories and build upon abstract ideas.

One word of caution: Because the circle is such a ubiquitous shape in our world, be careful about falling into cliches. Keep your circular writing fresh and specific.

 

 

Instructions

  1. For five minutes, jot down associations, phrases, and images that come to mind when you hear the word “circle.”
  2. Read over what you’ve written and circle (!) a phrase or sentence that stands out for you.
  3. Write that phrase on the top of a new sheet of paper.  Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Choose one of these phrases as your springboard: Full Circle. Inner Circle. Vicious Circle. Circle the Wagons. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Draw a circle with a crayon or with a stick in the sand or the dirt. Draw a circle with lipstick on a mirror. Circle a word you don’t know in the dictionary.  Write about it for 10-minutes.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On individual index cards, each member writes down two things that are circular (one per card). For example, “A Peach Pie.”  “An Astrology chart.” “A bicycle tire.”
  2. On a second set of cards, each member writes down two short descriptions of a person (one per card). For example, “a balding bouncer at a dimly-lit club.”   “A grey-haired woman with a deck of cards,” “An 8-year old wearing a wig.” (Note sure how the hair theme crept in, but there you have it…)
  3. Keep the two sets of phrases in separate piles.
  4. Each member chooses one card from each pile and uses the description of the person and the round object as their prompt. For instance, ” After just a moment of hesitation, the 8-year-old tosses off the wig and digs into the peach pie.” What happened just before this? What happens next?

And Finally…

How can we talk about circles without mentioning Joni?

“And the seasons they go round and round,
And the painted ponies go up and down,
We’re all captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go ’round and ’round and ’round
In the circle game.”

 

 

“Get in Shape” Sunday

May 25, 2014  Prompt #25

photoFor the next four Sundays, shapes will be our springboards. Today’s prompt helps you consider language more intricately and will perhaps move you to explore the origin of phrases. It encourages you to link images with people, actions or memories and build upon abstract ideas.

Ready to square off?

 

Instructions

  1. For five minutes, jot down associations, phrases, and images that come to mind when you hear the word “square.”
  2. Read over what you’ve written and circle a phrase or sentence that stands out for you.
  3. Write that phrase on the top of a new sheet of paper.  Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Choose one of these phrases as your springboard: Square Meal. Square Dance. Fair and Square. Be There or Be Square. Times Square. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Find a piece of grid paper (or download one here or here.) Write on it in a non-traditional way, for instance, spiraling in or spiraling out, or writing in chunks on separate parts of the paper.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On individual index cards, each member writes down two phrases (one per card) with “square” in it. For example, Town Square. Square Deal. Hip to Be Square.
  2. On a second set of cards, each member writes down two short descriptions (one per card) of a person. For example, “thin man with a cigarette,” “young woman with a John Deere baseball cap,” “grandmother who just finished swimming 20 laps.”
  3. Keep the two sets of phrases in separate piles.
  4. Each member chooses one card from each pile and uses the description of the person and the “square expression” together as their prompt. For instance, the thin man takes a drag on his cigarette and says, “It’s hip to be square.”  What comes next?

What did you think of this writing prompt? Share your thoughts.

 

Body Parts, Inc.

May 5, 2014  Prompt #4

Today’s Prompt: Embodied

DSCN3268

Here’s a simple but surprisingly powerful writing prompt. I first used it when I was leading writing workshops for GLBT high school students.

Instructions

  1. Choose a body part from the word list below and match it with an adjective from the list below that.  Feel free to add your own body part or adjective too.
  2. Write both words on the top of a fresh page of paper.
  3. After looking at your phrase (such as “big ears,” “sturdy ankles,” thin hair,” or “powerful arms”), close your eyes and repeat the phrase out loud three times.
  4. Open your eyes and write for 10 minutes.

Body Parts   abs  ankle  arms  breast  butt   chest  cheeks crotch  calves ears  elbow  eyebrow  eyes  face  foot  fingers  gums   hair   hands   head  hips  junk  knee  lashes  leg  lip  mind  muscle  nose  nails neck  package  palm   shoulder  six-pack   skin  sole  stomach  teeth  thigh  tongue toes  waist

Body Adjectives   bad  big  blotchy  bony  built  butch  cow  crooked  curved  curly  cute  cut dark  dark  dull  fairy  fat  fierce femme  flabby  flat   fleshy   freakish   frizzy   generous   girly   good gross gums hair hairy hands hips hot knee knobby light   limp   loaded   mannish   patchy  powerful  pretty   puffy round  sexy shiny   short skinny  small  straight   strong  sturdy   tall   thick   thin   ugly   waifish   weak  wide wrinkled

How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  1. It can give you insight into your own perceptions of your body, which is generally a useful thing.
  2. It can give you insight into a character’s perception of his, her, or hiz body—also a useful thing for character development.
  3. You might write on a topic you have not considered before—even though you live in your body all day.
  4. It offer the opportunity to go from the specific (such as an elbow or ear) to a large theme, such as fear and desire, overcoming shame, family lineage, and human connection.

Next Steps for More Writing

  • Read your piece out loud. Circle a sentence that was difficult to write and rewrite on the top of a new sheet of paper. Write in response to it for 10 or 20 minutes more.
  • Keep the same body part but choose a new adjective. Write in response to the new phrase.
  • Keep the same adjective part but choose a new body part. Write in response to the new phrase.

Tips and Variations for Writing Groups

  • At the end of the 10 minutes,  everyone rotates their body part word clockwise to create a new phrase. Write for ten more minutes.
  • If you feel comfortable, share your pieces. Listen for a phrase in the work of others that particularly troubles or puzzles you. Write it on the top of a new sheet of paper. Write for 10 more minutes.

Looking Ahead

For tomorrow’s prompt, you’ll need to find a domestic object to write about it. It could be range of things, for instance, a chair, a rug, a chess piece, a hat, book, hammer, button, ring, spool of thread, or box of fishing tackle. Choose what inspires you, but try to find something at least 20 years old. Even older is better!