Archive for the ‘Journaling’ Category

Why YOU should write your story!

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Nick,Bob,Al,Ann,John

My mother and a few siblings overcoming their past.

Family stories are important in sharing bonds with each other and imparting family history. But for children, appreciating family stories actually increases their self-esteem. Since kids learn from our stories, it’s important to write them down while we can.  And as truthfully as we can.

From small details to larger stories, my mother’s sister revised history.

“Mother and Father?” muttered my mom after my aunt shared a story about their parents.  “They were Ma and Pa in our family.”

Suddenly, gone were the lean years.  My grandfather never drank.  All was rosy in their past lives.

Why do families change their stories?

“It sounds better,” said my mom, of her sister’s tales.  “But it’s not true.”

“Mom,” I assured her.  “It wasn’t your fault you were poor and your pa was an alcoholic.”

Understanding why people act the way they do gives more layers of meanings to family stories. But for families sharing a legacy, the Pollyanna picture rather than grim reality is easier for them to face and they won’t have to fear possible judgement.

Actually sharing the less-than-picture-perfect tales are vital for family members.  We learn from longings, wishes, and regrets.  Cautionary tales show how to learn and move beyond mistakes, sorrows, and tragedies.  People grow from these experiences and strengthen bonds perhaps more than through the happy, contented moments in our lives.

“There’s nothing to writing,” said author Red Smith.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Writing Prompts:

  1.  Write about your life from the moment of your first memories.   Use photos to jog your memory.
  2. What was going on in the world during the time?  Your community?  Neighborhood? You may begin your stories chronologically, but you don’t have to stick to this format.   What moments in your life were emotional for you?  Why?  Your favorite moments, scary times, funny anecdotes, and tragedies all should be explored.
  3. Interview others in your life as you grew up.  What is their take on the experiences you shared together?
  4. Listen to music of the time.  Remember the foods you ate.  Senses help us to recall our thoughts and actions.

 

Alert! Idea Attack!

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Ideas surround us.  We live them in the small moments of our days

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and in our life-changing experiences.

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How do we choose which one?

  1.  Live your life keeping your “idea feeler” alert on.  What sensory details strike you?  Characters abound.   Notice their quirks!  Anticipate the “what ifs” and “how comes” everywhere.
  2. What sticks with you at the end of the day?  First thing in the morning?  Keep an idea journal in your phone or in a notebook. Record your dreams to discover what your deeper creative consciousness.
  3. Brainstorm your memories and passions.  Don’t censor!  All ideas can be writing and art inspirations.
  4. After you feel you’ve collected many, put them away.
  5. Walk away from your list. Ruminate.  Which ideas stay with you?  Begin to percolate?

Playing with your idea with words and images will release serendipity!  One thread leads to another.  Above all, have fun with the process!

Aussie Makes Me Cry: Saying Goodbye & Writing with Heart

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Sad Aussie

Today we visited our local animal shelter to donate clean rugs and towels.   My husband and I could feel the sadness as we walked inside.  People held or stood near their beloved dogs.  All were cloaked in an aura of grief.

What were their stories?  The dogs weren’t puppies.  These owners weren’t dropping off a holiday pup just because they didn’t want to go through the bother of house training.  As we walked passed the cages, dogs made eye contact with me, their tails wagging, as if crying out, “Hey, look at me! See how cute I am! Take me home!”

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.  “We can’t.”  Zoie, our nearly eighteen-year-old Yorkie, wouldn’t put up with it.  And we’re having our hands full giving her what she needs as she copes with her dementia, loss of hearing, sight, and other health issues. We must wait.

These dogs can’t.

On the way out of the yips, barks, and crying, I see an Australian shepherd sitting next to two men.   I knew the answer to my question before I asked it.  “Are you adopting?”

They shook their heads no.  I bent down and scratched the dog, who repaid me with kisses.

“My sister is on dialysis, and can no longer keep him.  There’s been a lot of sobbing and goodbyes.  It’s breaking our hearts,” said the man holding the leash, slumped toward the dog.  His anguish spilled out.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

Before I could say another word, an official came over.  “It’s time.”  He grabbed the leash, and the shepherd knew.  He pulled back, alarmed with fear.

With tears in my eyes, I beat a hasty retreat.

Writing Prompts

  1. Saying goodbye to animals, people and even places may be emotional and heartbreaking.  Do any of the characters in your writing say goodbye?  In your own life?  Write a story with a character or yourself in this situation.
  2. I know it won’t be long now before I must say goodbye to Zoie.  Although I’m trying to brace myself, I know I’ll be bereft when it happens.  I’ve lost friends, relatives, and my parents. Each experience filled me with grief, but later, with time, became moments of memories.  Write a scene showing those moments of joy and memories.
  3. How does the loss affect you today?  Create a poem, song, story, or another genre of art which expresses you.
  4. Living through tough times may be helped by keeping a journal.  Write about what you and your loved ones are going through helps you survive, appreciate the special moments of joy, and be creative.

 

Six Essential New Year Resolutions for Writers

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

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How to be the Most Productive and Inspired!

  1. Create a haven for which to write.  It might be in the middle of a busy coffee shop.  It could be in a library or on the subway.  Where do you write best?  Try out various settings.  I know one author who wrote in a closet for fifteen minutes before work.  She wrote several books this way!
  2. Set aside fifteen minutes a day to calm your mind and write.  Tune out list-making procedures and tune in to your intuition.  The best moments to get creative are when you daydream, awake from sleep, or are so relaxed you reach your most inspired moments. Wonder about a character, story, or idea.  Play what if . . .
  3. Notice one new sensory detail each day.  You can be at your desk, in a classroom, on a bus, or lounging in your favorite chair.
  4. Play a simile/metaphor game often. What do you see which reminds you of something else?  Find similarities between two random things.
  5. Read good writing.  Read more than you ever have before.  Keep a reading journal.  Jot down a wonderful word, image, phrase, or character you love from what you’ve read.
  6. Finally, don’t forget to PLAY!  Play in the snow, the sand, and the leaves.  Build with blocks.  Create a puzzle.  Act out charades.  Let go and have fun!

Vacations: How They Inspire Writing & Art

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Where can we find the tastiest shrimp in the United States?  Why, in Louisiana!  The seafood melted in our mouths, sauces made us swoon, and restaurant menus enticed us to loosen our belts.  On a recent trip, my husband and I along with our friends, Paula and Jerry, traveled to New Orleans and Lafayette, LA, Vicksburg, MS, and Little Rock, AR. 

The live Cajun bands in Louisiana, set our bodies to boogey-ing! 

Mississippi’s National History Site of Vicksburg and the gunboat U.S.S. Cairo, sunk in 1862 and raised in 1964, brings the Civil War battles here to life.    

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitors’ Center created an emotionally packed step-back-in-time experience.  In the fall of 1957, nine courageous African-American students attempted to de-segregate the all-white high school.  What followed is highlighted at this center, with videos of interviews and conversations with all nine students and several white students who interacted with them.   President Clinton’s Library took most of a day, and if we had time we could have stayed longer.  Not a dull moment in either place. 

The people we met were among the friendliest, ever.  But many had no desire to ever step foot out of their favorite place:  wherever they lived.  Returning home, I discovered lots of people from various parts of our country have no urge to visit the south. 

Yes, we may love where we live best of all.  But turn down a trip to somewhere we’ve never been before? 

Do we have preconceived thoughts and images?  Discover by travel, real life experiences which can never be taught, shown, or explained.

And now, with my love of animals of any kind, I’ll share a photo of this fine fellow, who greeted us on a swamp tour.

My Louisiana Buddy

Keep your eyes peeled on all of your journeys.  Take a dip now and then, into unfamiliar territories.   You’ll broaden your life, your writing, and your art. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  With any trip, whether near or far, carry a notebook or device in which to jot down the details, sensory images, and thoughts.  Let your mind wander to soak up the surroundings.  This will spark so many ideas, you’ll need a lifetime to carry out your creative projects.  Don’t you feel terrific when you have too many ideas?

2.  Write down anecdotes.  Who did you encounter?  What happened?  Who said what?   You can develop this into a personal experience essay, part of a memoir, or even fodder for novel scenes. 

3.  Interested in writing for a magazine on your trips?  Propose an article before you arrive!  The editor’s specific needs will help you jot down your notes.  And the money from the assignment may pay your way.

4.  Your photos will help you bring back the moment to you.  Take more than you’ll need.  Not only do they serve as inspiration, but you may sell them with your article, too. 

5.  Finally, enjoy your trip.  Sometimes you have to set down your pen and notebook or device and LIVE! 

 

Writing Saves the Day

Friday, May 16th, 2014

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Writing to Save the Day

Why do you write?  For publication?  Money?  Fun?  Passion?  Many of us answer yes to all of those choices, but beneath it all, writing deeply nurtures our souls.  Here’s what Henri Nouwen had to say about it:

“Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.

Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be “redeemed” by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.”

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From the Henri Nouwen Society

Writing Prompts:

1.  When was there a time you considered writing your lifesaver?  What served as a catalyst for this feeling?  Share your emotions  through an essay or poem.

2.  Write a pro-writing essay.  Your goal?  Encourage others to write!

3.  Often our most emotional experiences offer the deepest writing subjects, as  we have lived those moments or can imagine how others may feel.   Peruse a photo album from your past.  Write an emotionally deep story using a photo as inspiration. 

4.  When were you embarrassed at the time, but later laughed about your encounter?  Humor is based on these moments.  Write a story, script, poem, or song on a funny conflict or problem in your life.   Revise by reading it aloud for comic timing.

Headline Declares: Cameron Diaz Doesn’t Believe in Using Deodorant!

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Internet Headlines:  gotta love ‘em.  cameron-diaz-huntington-ny-jan-actress-signs-her-book-body-book-law-hunger-science-strength-other-ways-to-36707407

Although many people enjoy a bit of mindless entertainment, if that’s all we’re choosing, we limiting ourselves.

An aunt of mine chose to read tabloid newspapers from the supermarket.  But when she became ill and needed hours of chemotherapy, people sent her novels.  Discovering reading a different genre, she hungered for more.  When, out of habit, she bought the latest tabloid, she confessed, “I’m tired of those newspapers. Send me more books.”

Years ago as a teacher, I talked to a parent who told me, “Sam read the cereal box this morning.”  She rolled her eyes.  “Strange kid.”

“Fabulous!” I said. “Line cereal boxes up on the table for him to read.  What can he discover about the information on them?”

 “Really?” she said. 

 “All the reading and writing we’ve done in class has carried into his daily life.  Encourage it.”

If we’re reading about Cameron Diaz’s anti-deodorant stance, ask yourself what the take-away is for you.  Humor?  A statement about culture?  Or nothing more than celebrity gossip? 

Writing Prompts

  1. Use titles online, in books, movies, and from the newspaper as a source of creativity.  Write a humorous riff based on the Cameron Diaz headline.
  2. Keep a list of the books you read.  Add comments. Inspiring? Fun? Boring?  Why? 
  3. Is there a genre of material you haven’t read?  Open a well-reviewed/rated book from this category.  If you’re a fiction reader, try a nonfiction book in a subject you love.  Never read a travel book?  Go for it!  There are so many types of books, you’ll experiment for a long time.   
  4. Share your choices and book recommendations with your friends and family. 
  5. Join a reading group or participate in online or library book discussions.

 

Summer Vacation Vs. Back to Writing: 10 Tips to Unblock Your Plot

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

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I’ve returned from a lovely vacation in Utah, where family members met and hiked in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. There is one slight problem with vacations, however. They end! When writers return to work, many of us occasionally have difficulties with getting back into the creative flow. The past few days I’ve done laundry, walked the dog, and even – - don’t faint – - IRONED – - in order to avoid my office.

But writers must write. How do you get back to your fiction?

Writing Prompts for Me and You:

1. Write about ANYTHING. Just get your pen moving, or type words on the computer screen.

2. Write an imaginary account of what happened on a summer vacation with the photos above. Make it as outlandish as you can.

3. So you want to get back to your novel? First, read what you have already written. Revise to make it better. Stuck on what happens next? Remember, everything goes back to your characters.

4. Write a journal entry in your main character’s point of view about what’s happening in your story. How does she/he feel about everyone else? What actions does she wish she could take? What does she want more than anything else in the world? What stops her from getting it?

5. What is the main character’s relationship with every other character in the story? What are each characters’ epiphanies? How do they get them?

6. If you are stuck on #5, write more back story for your characters, or have them interact in current scenes that may or may not appear in your book. Just get them together and see what happens.

7. Read another author’s good writing. Good reading inspires good writing.

8. Wonder about your characters. Wonder about them as you walk, wash dishes, or gaze into space. Wondering is often the most important step in writing.

9. How can you make the scene you are writing more difficult for your protagonist? More emotional or suspenseful? Push your writing to the limit. Have you used all of your senses? Enough specific details?

10. Ask your subconscious for help before you go to sleep. Don’t worry about your book. Just wonder what will happen next. Keep paper next to your bed. As you wake up, the answer may be part of your dream or a clear word or image.

Elephant Seal Antics

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

 This past week my cousin came from Wisconsin and we played tourist, taking her places in Northern California, including Ano Nuevo, where male elephant seals are currently moulting.  Even though there are no females around, a few of the younger seals practiced showing dominance, as showed in the photo, and with their tremendous, guttural wails.

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Seals flipped sand onto their backs and bellies as a cooling mechanism, as it was a warm day.  One seal became a sand mound; so he wiggled out only to start sand-flipping all over again. 

Writing Prompts:

  1. Study a creature in nature.  Describe its habits, vocalizations, or body movements.  How does it relate/communicate to others?
  2. Write a poem, short story or personal experience based on this being. 
  3. Is your summer filled with day trips or longer travel?  Keep a travel journal.  Collect photos and paper souvenirs which can help recreate your experiences. 
  4. Create art or writing based on an anecdote in your journal. 

Writing Realistic Dialogue

Friday, October 5th, 2012

“So, like you know Nick’s mom?” the teen’s pony tail swished behind her as she walked.

“Yeah, like she’s blonde  right?” said the girl in the middle of the three, her short-shorts hiking up oh, so far.

I huffed and puffed behind them on the walking trail and made sure I kept up so I wouldn’t miss a word. 

The girl on the right chimed in with awe in her voice.  “She’s really good-looking.”

“No kidding,” said Ms. Pony Tail.  “She looks exactly like Carrie on Sex in the City. Her body, anyways.” 

All three murmured their agreements. 

Just a tidbit of conversation, but a goldmine for a writer.  Why?  Because if you’re not around teenagers, you don’t know how they sound any more.  Whether they’re in your  young adult novel or in another work of fiction, their dialogue needs to sound real.  Nothing worse than phony characters!

Ever read a book for adults with a child who doesn’t  sound kid-like?  The talking doesn’t match the character, where they live, or time period?   Fake.     Or lines of useless talk without a purpose?   

So what makes dialogue good?

Dialogue should show character and move the story forward.  Talk should be action.  Can you get your characters’ words to heighten conflict?  Sometimes great dialogue has subtext, or a secondary meaning when  words that mean one thing on the surface, but underneath they have a deeper emotional meaning.    And occasionally dialogue is important because of what isn’t being said.   The elephant in the room that no one is talking about.

It reminds me of an incident once years ago when my husband, young son and I traveled to see his parents, brother and sister-in-law.  We talked in the living room for a couple of hours and then took separate cars to meet at a restaurant.  In our car I mentioned to Bob that his mother was upset with his father and my sister-in-law knew, but I hadn’t figured out the reason yet.  And my sister-in-law was irritated about my mother-in-law over an issue too, but we’d learn why at the restaurant.

Bob’s mouth dropped open.  “You are nuts.  We talked about the weather, everyone’s health and what the kids were doing in school.  How did you get all of that out of mindless conversation?”

“You weren’t paying attention!” I said.  “Watch the body language, the eyes, listen to the voices.” 

My husband shook his head in disgust.  “You are wrong, Liz.  Totally wrong.”

Of course, we discovered the source of my mother-in-law’s irritation with her husband, and my sister-in-law’s problem with my mother-in-law.  Later, he grew to appreciate my “women’s intuition.”  But I don’t think it’s limited to women.  All writers have this when they are working. 

And when aren’t we? 

Writing Tips: 

1. Don’t use substitute words for “said.”  I just unearthed a beginning writing piece of mine from a trillion years ago and I’m embarrassed to say each time someone talked I used gasped, murmured, whispered, indicated, questioned, etc. so often it was embarrassing.  Occasionally it’s appropriate but generally, use SAID.  it will make your writing flow more smoothly.  

Or, skip the tags and employ an action.   (See above.  Bob’s mouth dropped open.  The teen’s pony tail swished behind her as she walked.)

2.  Don’t use dialogue to tell information a character would already know.   Example: 
“Mary, you are my very best friend.  I’ve known you all my life and your mother is our horse’s vet.  She saved his life two times.”  

Writing Prompts

1.  Listen to real dialogue wherever you go.  Keep a journal.  Jot it down after you hear it so you won’t forget.  (But try not to write it down as you walk, or you’ll be caught like Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.)  Choose a piece of real dialogue and create a story with it.

2.  Write a story with special buzzwords.  These are words that each and every hobby or occupation has.  Does your character love horses?  Research horses.  Interview a horse lover.  Read horse books.  How does a horse lover talk about them?  What are the “horse words” that would go with this character?  

My husband was an engineer and he wrote a recommendation for one of his secretaries and said she had good “phone presence.” This time I thought HE was nuts.  But sure enough, in that industry, it was exactly what they called good phone etiquette.

3.  Write a story about you with real dialogue.   Read your dialogue out loud.  (In fact, read ALL dialogue you EVER write out loud!) 

4. Check a recent project of yours.  Do you have long narration that needs to be broken up with dialogue?  Make sure your piece is balanced.  Dialogue helps provide a balance and is good for pacing.  Need faster pacing?  Write short dialogue and skip tags.   But don’t have huge blocks of dialogue, either.  Make sure you have a balanced story that flows well.  Read it aloud to make sure it feels just right.