Getting Started

A writing group member found a website that offers a fun way to generate writing:
writingexercises.co.uk. Its purpose is “to help you get started with creative writing and break through writing blocks.”

Each page on the site is devoted to a different exercise including random first lines, random dialogues, a plot generator, and a character generator.

This morning, I clicked on:

Plot generator:
Your main character is a man in his early forties, who can be quite lively. The story begins in an abandoned warehouse. A witness to a crime disappears suddenly. It’s a story about forgiveness. Your character has some questions to answer.

And

What if? Scenario:
If you had no money to feed your children, how would you go about getting food?

I couldn’t resist the Town Name Generator. When I clicked the button, I got:
Ape

Then I noticed that there was a dropdown menu and I chose Bridge.
Apebridge isn’t an “English-sounding town name,” as promised, but it certainly has plot possibilities.

Prompts and exercises provide a low-stakes approach to delving into your thoughts. They can help you relax into your writing.

Our writing group has generated prompts by choosing from a bowl filled with words written on ticket stubs, using paint sample cards, and finding lines by calling out page and line numbers from whatever book is at hand.

I’ve written some fun and insightful essays that emerged from these random inspirations. Others in the group have used the prompts to create moving poetry or surprising scenes in a novel.

What helps you get your writing going?

Blissful Solitude and Wonderful Company

I treated myself to a six-day, self-designed writing retreat at the Metta Earth Institute, A Center for Contemplative Ecology. The Institute, located in Lincoln VT, is a working farm and they also offer programs in a vast range of areas: yoga and meditation, ecological leadership, beekeeping, to name a few. The co-directors, Gillian Kapteyn Comstock and Russell Comstock, and a team of young people exemplify engaged practice, meaningful work, and loving stewardship of the land.

This isn’t the typical retreat for a writer, at least not as I have experienced them or heard of from other writers. A writing retreat can be filled with distractions, starting with schedules that dictate when you have downtime or time to write.

During my retreat, I experienced blissful solitude, as well as wonderful company. Prior to arriving at Metta, I planned a list of daily activities, which included reading, writing, revising, and exercise. I also meditated, took photos, and even sketched.

My room was perfect for my needs: a sunny space with exquisite views of the garden and the mountains, shelves of books, a table to work from, and a comfortable bed. During breaks, I walked on a quiet road or in the woods. I practiced tai chi outdoors or visited the chickens, sheep, and cows.

Meals were delicious and expertly prepared by the team and co-directors (At least 80% of the food served is produced on the farm).

The idyllic setting bolstered my creativity and helped me to write and revise several essays and poems. I am so glad that I discovered this serene and inspiring place. I recommend Metta Earth Institute for anyone seeking a quiet place for an individual or small group retreat. There are rooms in the main building, and there are yurts and tents nestled in the woods. Check out their website at https://www.mettaearth.org/

If it is possible for you, plan a retreat during which you focus on your writing and other creative pursuits. Like me, I am sure you will return home refreshed, rejuvenated, and recommitted to writing, joyfully.

Your Story or Your Work

If you belong to a writing group, you probably have the pleasure of others “getting” where you are coming from. This could provide supportive energy. Everyone needs folks in their lives who wish them well and understand their values and even their stories. This knowledge could also become a detriment.

What do I mean?

Let’s say you wrote a poem about swimming in Lake Morey. Your group might know that you visited that lake many times and once had an accident. With this perspective in mind, the conversation might lean more toward your history than toward the craft of your piece. For example, instead of discussing the poem’s structure, sounds, techniques, etc., the group makes such comments as:

“I remember you telling us about that.”

“Why didn’t you also include that your brother pushed you in?”

“I thought you were with friends, not relatives.”

While it is lovely that group members know you as a person, ultimately, most of your readers will not know you personally.

Each piece should stand on its own. Most importantly, the group could be most helpful if they responded to the work.

Keep writing!

Ruth Farmer
Farmer Writing and Editing
Offering coaching, editing, and writing services
Specializing in personal essays and scholarly personal narratives
rfarmer@gmavt.net
802-377-3001

Revision: Find What’s Working

An artist’s imagination is kindled not by searching for what is wrong with the picture but by being inspired by those things worth valuing. Appreciation draws our eye toward life, stirs our feelings, sets in motion our curiosity, and inspires the envisioning mind.
(From Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change
by David. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney)

When you sit down to revise your writing, what do you notice first? What do you focus on? Grammatical errors? Gaps in logic? Some other problem that needs fixing?

Next time you read your words, spend a solid chunk of time noticing what moves you, startles you, makes you laugh, or evokes specific memories or meanings. Try this technique daily for fifteen minutes or more, over a period of one week.

Reflect on what emerges as a result of noticing what works in your prose or poetry. Have you begun to welcome imaginative leaps? Do you understand your characters better? Are you more relaxed and, therefore, more open to revisions that must be made?

Appreciating your writing isn’t a means to avoid deep revisions. On the contrary, by focusing on what is working, you may become more adept at recognizing what changes are needed.

Keep writing!

 

 

Writing Tip: Reduce to Revise

Revising an essay? Try this:

Underline the most significant sentence in each paragraph, one that evokes that section’s central meaning.

Or pick the sentence that is the most striking (in terms of imagery or ideas; you decide).

In a separate document, write the chosen sentences in order, creating paragraphs as (or if) needed.

This new piece is stark, with all the frills stripped away.

Now that you have the essence of your narrative, you can re-introduce passages that are absolutely necessary. Or, maybe this version is exactly what you were getting at all along!

In a five-minute freewrite, reflect on what emerged for you as you chose the sentences or read the stripped-down version of your original piece.

This exercise can be helpful when revising fiction or poetry, as well. 

Keep writing!

Writing With Others

Writing requires a certain amount of solitude, to conceptualize, dream, draft, and revise. And it is not accomplished solely in the vacuum of an author’s imagination and focused scribbling.

A few months ago, I decided to join a writing group. Over the years, I’ve been a member of many such groups, some more supportive and interesting than others. After the first few sessions, I remembered what I value about these gatherings:

Talking about writing offers numerous opportunities to explore what moves, challenges, bores, or puzzles me, as a reader. This provides insights when I am drafting and revising my own work.

Sharing my writing reveals what readers see in my work. What do they like, wonder about, or find funny or dull? Am I conveying what I think I am? When group members make suggestions or express confusion, I can determine how – or if – their feedback will be incorporated in subsequent revisions.

Experiencing different genres heightens my creativity: For years, I had given up writing poetry (that’s a story for another time). While my primary genre is nonfiction, recently I’ve begun writing poems again. With a few exceptions, each of us writes in multiple genres. Listening to such variety helps to tune my ear. What makes that poetry and that prose? When does repetition shift from creating an emotionally moving tone to becoming stultifying? How much detail is too much? Is the dialogue believable for that character?

The tone of the group is supportive: Group members focus as much on what works as they do on what doesn’t. As a writer, I learn from both perspectives.

Each session, we spend a few minutes writing together, using various prompts, such as words chosen from a box or random lines from a book. We leave each session with a prompt. It’s fun listening to the different ways each writer uses the same words. Most recently, I wrote a piece that incorporates the names of paint colors found on paint sample cards.

Though each of us is at a different stage in our writing career – some of us have several publications, others a few or none – all are equal at the table.

Belonging to a writing group has been inspiring: I look forward to sharing my work and listening to others’ words. The prompts are a fun way to use my imagination. And writing with a group alleviates isolation.

If you are considering joining a writing group, think about the attributes that would be most helpful for you. Give the group a trial run, so that you can observe how members interact. For example: Do they talk about the strengths in a piece as well as offer relevant suggestions? Does each writer get equal time (or do one or two dominate the discussion)? Do they have fun with writing; for example, writing together using random and, maybe, ridiculous prompts?

Keep writing, alone and with others!

11 problems a writer has while reading (in no particular order)

  1. You can’t help thinking, “I wrote that story 10 years ago. Why didn’t I try to publish it?”
  2. You wouldn’t have made the killer the best friend. It’s been done to death; pun intended.
  3. You can anticipate the next three words in nearly every line of dialogue.
  4. You wonder if the author intended to use that cliché. And that one. And that one.
  5. Because the protagonist’s name is Lindsay with an “a,” you find it difficult to take her seriously.
  6. You are bored by chapter 3, but continue to read: You are analyzing the mechanisms the author uses to maintain the reader’s attention.
  7. You anticipate that the book will end at page 245. It goes on for a hundred more pages.
  8. You are still bored at chapter 65 when the book, mercifully, ends.
  9. You are upset that you read every predictable word and you realize those hours are lost forever.
  10. You give props to the writer and publisher who had the gall – I mean courage – to bring the book to the reading public.
  11. You think, “I wrote that story 10 years ago. I could have gotten it published!

Ready for a writing coach to help you finally write that story? Contact me, Ruth Farmer: rfarmer@gmavt.net; 802-377-3001

Go Play!

When I was a little girl, I used to draw in the blank pages of my mother’s books (I’m sure there is a name for those pages, but I don’t know what that is). She was an avid reader, so there were many blank canvases for my stick figures. This was a time when hardcovers were fairly inexpensive and practically given away through book clubs – 5 for $1, for example, if you signed up to receive one book a month.

Needless to say, my mother did not see this as art. I was defacing her books.

I was not a burgeoning artist. This was not a precursor to an artistic talent that grew into a career. I just liked to draw. I didn’t care if the art was beautiful by others’ standards. I just went for it.

At what point did perfection become my constant (and difficult) companion? It is likely that in school, drawing moved from a youthful pastime to an activity that was graded. I did not become an Artist.

Yet, so many years later, I still sketch and I have taken up collage. My artistic expressions have also included modern dance. After many years of comparing myself to The Real Artists, I now accept that sometimes expressing oneself is something to be done because it feels good, because not doing so makes your life feel empty. So these days, I am not concerned if the work is good. I just care that I take time to do it. As when I was a child, art emerges from my urge to create.

That urge carries over into my writing as well. The difference is that, while I never considered myself an artist or dancer or collagist, I do consider myself a writer. Naming myself this has often led to feeling that I have to measure up to standards established by someone other than me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in conventions and quality, and creating something that can be seen as beautiful by someone other than myself. However, if I keep those external standards uppermost in my mind, as I am creating, I will never find that center, that well of imagination, that allows me to bring forth art that is Mine.

Perhaps, like me, you have always felt the urge to create. Maybe you didn’t have the materials or the support but you had the impulse. And though your creative impulses were discouraged – maybe even stamped down – by loved ones who just wanted you to Get Real, you still wrote, or painted, or danced or …

Today, you might feel that you don’t have enough education or support or money to take yourself seriously. If you did, you would ___(fill in the blank). I thought that for a long time and my creative impulses kept calling to me until I could no longer ignore them.

Maybe that is happening for you as well. Maybe you hear a sound in the distance. Like a bird or a flute or the whisper of the wind. It is your creative spirit saying, “Come out and play.”

So…

Go play.

***

Ready to work with a coach or editor to finally finish that book? Contact me at 802-377-3001 or rfarmer@gmavt.net.

Keep writing!

Ruth

 

Word for Today: Tropism

Yesterday, I went to the Women’s March in Montpelier. What a glorious event! Thousands upon thousands of people merged into this – relatively – small town to come together in peaceful response to the negativity that emerged during the recent presidential campaign.

Our power was exemplified in our bodies, our voices, our handmade signs, and our presence.

The word for today on my screensaver is tropism: the turning of all or part of an organism in a particular direction in response to an external stimulus. Usually, I think of plants when I hear this word. Today, I think of all the people at the marches all over the world – yes, world! – who turned toward peaceful, life-affirming actions in response to the violent rhetoric that dominated the media in the wake of the campaign and subsequent election of Trump.

I have deliberately not watched any coverage of the marches (though I will). For now, I bask in the experience of coming together in peace.

The phrase that stays with me is one that I wrote on my sign:
Rise up with Love!

Attending the Women’s March inspired me to offer another writing and conversation series (I offered one in my community in December). Did you attend a Women’s March? What are you inspired to do?

Rise up with Love!

Ruth