Thursday Thoughts: Why Write?

IMG_2214July 3, 2014

It’s Thursday Thought-day again, so instead of posting a prompt, I’m posing another writer’s question.  Ponder, discuss among friends, consider, debate.

We write for different reasons at different times. Why do you write? Do you write to understand life more fully — to explore subjects, people, or places? To better understand yourself? Do you write to express and share beliefs? Do you write to create beauty?

 

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Genre Swap

June 28, 2014  Prompt #57

photoTo wrap up revisions week, here’s a playful prompt. See if you discover anything about your writing (or yourself!) with this one.

Instructions

  1. Choose a section of a story or essay you’ve written that is about a page long. Or choose a single piece of flash fiction or a short to medium-length poem.
  2. Rewrite the piece in a different genre. If it is literary fiction, for instance, try writing it in the style of traditional criminal mystery novel. If it is an critical essay, say the same thing in verse. Change a poem into investigative journalism.
  3. Write for 15 minutes.

 

Further Writing

  • Read what you’ve written aloud. Circle a favorite phrase or sentence. Can it be reworked into the original piece before the genre swap?
  • What style of writing intimates you the most? Try writing in that style — on any topic — for 20 minutes.

Writing Group Variations

  1. Each members fills out three index cards.
    • On the first card, write the name of a genre, such as high romance, free verse poetry, or critical review.
    • On the second card, describe a person or object. (A swimming instructor. A 9-year-old boy. A razor blade. A wooden spoon)
    • On the third card, write the name of a geographic place (Times Square in NYC. Texas Hill Country. A marsh.)
  2. Put the cards into three separate piles — genres, person/object, and geographic place.
  3. Each member draws one card from each pile and, using the genre, person or object, and place, writes for 15 minutes.

 

 

Play It Backwards

June 27, 2014  Prompt #56

DSCN6122Today, more random play as we explore ways to re-vision, re-see, and re-imagine our work. This exercise comes from writer and translator T. Begley, from whom I took a writing workshop 20 years ago at The Naropa Institute (that’s what it was called back then).

 

Instructions

  1. Choose a section of a story or essay you’ve written that is about a page long. Or choose a single piece of flash fiction or a short to medium-length poem.
  2. Retype it or rewrite it backwards.  That is, on a fresh sheet of paper, write the last sentence of the paragraph, followed by the second to last sentence, and so on until you write the original first sentence as the new last sentence.
  3. Read it out loud.
  4. Highlight something that surprised you.
  5. Circle something that has taken on a new meaning with the rewrite.
  6. Underline something that you think could be improved or changed.
  7. Underline a sentence or phrase that particularly speaks to you. Write it on the top of a new sheet of page and write for 10 minutes.

 

Further Writing

  • Thinking about #4 above, for 10 minutes, write in response to what surprised you. You can continue in the same style (fiction, verse, etc.) or try more of a self-review.
  • Thinking about #5 above, for 10 minutes, write in response to what has taken on new meaning. Again, you can continue in the same style (fiction, verse, etc.) or try more of a self-review.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Cut up your original poem or prose excerpt into individual sentences or long phrases.
  2. Swap one each of your sentences or phrases with two other writing group members.
  3. Rearrange your sentences and your newly-obtained sentences into a new piece.

Considerations

If your style or subject matter is feeling stale or repetitious, prompts like this can help you step back from your writing and see it in a new light.

 

 

 

Thursday Thoughts: Trans-Genre

June 26, 2014  Prompt #55

Instead of a prompt today, I’m posing a few writer’s questions. Think about them yourself, ask other writing friends, or discuss your ideas here.

  1. Do you write in more than one genre — for instance poetry, fiction, and essays?
  2. If you write in more than one genre, do you consider yourself, for instance, a fiction writer who dabbles in poetry? Or a poet who writes the occasional essay? Or do you feel equally comfortable in a range of forms?
  3. Are you able to be more playful in the genre that is not your official form?
  4. Within a given genre, do you practice or experiment writing in different styles. For instance, if you write literary fiction, have you tried literary mystery or speculative fiction?

 

Double Double (Toil and Trouble?)

June 25, 2014  Prompt #54

DSCN5693_2 DSCN5693

Sometimes, a successful story is the result of careful planning, clear outlines, and a well-conceived structure. Other times, random play generates surprising results. For today’s prompt, we are going to play.

Instructions

  1. Choose a section of a story or essay you’ve written that is about a page long. Or choose a single piece of flash fiction or a short to medium-length poem.
  2. Reprint it or rewrite it by starting every sentence on a new line AND leaving two blank lines between sentences. See example below.
  3. In the white spaces between the lines, write new sentences. They can be a logical extension of the existing work or something less directly connected.
  4. Don’t over think this one. But do have fun.

====================================================

Original Paragraph:

“When does a Jew become an adult?” Mrs. Glickenstein asked. “Twenty-one? Eighteen?” Clarissa Wallach and Yackov Winpool raised their hands, but I hesitated.  It didn’t matter: Mrs. Glickenstein answered her own question. “Thirteen. Thirteen is when a boy becomes a man.” Every Jewish kid knows this. Thirteen is the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, after which boys are counted in the minyan and can read from the Torah in front of the congregation. For girls, nothing changes, but, let’s face it, Bar Miztvahed boys aren’t adults either. It’s not like anyone of us can drive a car, vote for president , or buy beer the day we turn thirteen.

 

Prepared Paragraphs for the Writing Prompt

“When does a Jew become an adult?” Mrs. Glickenstein asked. “Twenty-one? Eighteen?”

 

Clarissa Wallach and Yackov Winpool raised their hands, but I hesitated.

 

It didn’t matter: Mrs. Glickenstein answered her own question.

 

“Thirteen. Thirteen is when a boy becomes a man.”

 

Every Jewish kid knows this.

 

Thirteen is the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, after which boys are counted in the minyan and can read from the Torah in front of the congregation.

 

For girls, nothing changes, but, let’s face it, Bar Miztvahed boys aren’t adults either.

 

It’s not like anyone of us can drive a car, vote for president , or buy beer the day we turn thirteen.

====================================================

Further Writing

  • In the blank spaces, write from the point-of-view of a different time period. For instance, if the existing story takes place in the past, write a parallel story in the present. Or write a parallel story from 50 or 100 years earlier.
  • In the blank spaces, write an interior voice.
  • In the blank spaces, write in a distinctly different style.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On index cards, write down feelings or emotional states. (For example: doubt, joy, sneakiness, outrage, enthusiasm, uncertainty, distrust, drunkenness, or despair.)
  2. Choose an emotion from the pile and rewrite your sentences in that style. In other words, shift the tone or mood of your original piece.

 

Considerations

Read over what you’ve written, then make note of anything you’ve learned from the prompt.  For instance, you might discover ways to add depth to your original work. You might realize your original piece needs more sensory details (or fewer) or more summarizing (or less summarizing) and so on.  Overall, prompts like this shake up your work and, in the best of circumstances, give you fresh eyes for revision.

 

 

 

Fresh Perspectives

June 24, 2014  Prompt #53

DSCN3336

It’s revisions week here at The Writeous Sisters, so pull out a rough draft. It’s time for a tune-up!

For this prompt, we shift point-of-view. While you might not incorporate anything you write for this prompt directly into your work, examining point-of-view can give you valuable insights.

Instructions

  1. Choose a work you’ve written from a particular point-of-view. If possible, find a piece with two or more characters.
  2. Rewrite it (or a section of it) from the perspective of another major character in the scene.
  3. Does the work seems richer or more complex with the changes? Any new insights about either character?
  4. Did the rewrite shift attention away from the focus, mood, or purpose you were aiming for or did it strengthen it?

Further Writing

  • Try rewriting from the point-of-view of a minor character in the scene.  If there is no minor character, make one up. Could a child be overhearing an argument? Could a waitress be watching a brother and sister discuss their father?
  • Try rewriting from point-of-view of an animal or an inanimate object. Often, such exercises quickly become contrived or precious but the point here is to deepen the overall piece. If you write a scene in a college cafeteria, for instance, try writing two paragraphs from the perspective of a metal fork and all the food and mouths it encounters.  While you probably can’t base an entire novel on this device (though perhaps a poem or flash fiction) it could be reworked into the thoughts of a character.  Could the confident, wealthy, country-club student suddenly have a revelation about society as he ponders the life of fork?

 

 

 

 

Expendable Adjectives

(One Day Late for) June 23, 2014  Prompt #52

adj

For most of this week, we’ll be looking at revisions.  So dig up some old writing and get ready to rethink, revise, and re-do.

Today we’ll focus on adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives modify nouns. Adverbs modify verbs. They supply your readers with information about the noun or verb. Sounds good, right? And yet…

Instructions

  1. Choose an essay, story, or poem that you’ve written.
  2. With a colored pen, circle all the adjectives and adverbs in the piece.
  3. Can you remove any of these adjectives and adverbs by beefing up the nouns they modify?  For instance, instead of writing tall building, you could write tower or skyscraper. Instead of writing she ran quickly, you might write she sprinted or she raced.

Further Writing

  • Read your piece aloud.  Do any adjectives and adverbs jar its rhythm? Consider cutting them. Read it again. Does the work feel tighter? More agile?
  • Instead of cutting back, double or triple up on every adjective. The slim, skinny, thin man took out his leather, hide, animal skin wallet. Try this for a page or two. Can you create a short piece that uses this technique?

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On a fresh piece of paper, write down all the adjectives and adverbs from a short story, a poem, or an essay. (Or from the first two pages of any work.) Read them aloud. What tone or emotion do you pick up from them? What do others in your group think?
  2. Trade a short piece of your writing–with all its adjectives and adverbs circled–with a writing partner. Write new, stronger nouns for your writing partner then swap back. Do any of nouns they provided appeal to you?

Even More

Want to brush up on your parts of speech? Try this website.