Writing Exercise Storymatic 1

A friend gave me a Storymatic@, which I use occasionally when I need writing prompts. One day I pulled cards with these phrases and wrote a story:
rest area
pet is behaving strangely
employee in a fast food restaurant

Untitled

Rory hated working at McDonald’s. well, truth be told he hated working around food. Period. The smells alone made him wish he were made of plastic with no need of sustenance.

Was that possible, he wondered? What if GI Joe or Ken or American Girl Doll came to life, not as a human but as a live plastic person. He liked the idea.

When he was growing up his sisters used to get into trouble with Mama because they fed their baby dolls milk. Within a few days of course the dolls began to stink as the milk soured. But they played with them until Mama made them toss the dolls away. They begged and whined for more dolls and promised to never do it again. Even fed them water for weeks before the lure of milk beckoned again. Mama stopped buying them dolls with holes in their mouths.

Or was he misremembering this? Maybe they just got tired of dolls once they realized they couldn’t be fed real food. That was more likely.

He wondered what it would be like to be plastic and not need any sustenance. He wondered what it would be like then lost interest when the cat, a large yellow female walked into the front door of the restaurant. It walked as though it belonged there. In fact, it looked around in such a way that Rory would not have been surprised if it had taken a seat next to the couple who were coo-cooing at a baby sitting in the restaurant-provided high chair.

The cat stared at the couple with a look that was intense, even for a cat. Rorry had seen lots of odd things. You do when you work in a restaurant located in a rest area. People are not always at their best: hungry, tired, lost, pissed off with everyone. Occasionally, there are folks who are excited at the freedom of a drive with a stopover at a rest area with clean bathrooms, and restaurants.

The only stray animals Rory ever saw were rodents, birds, and the occasional raccoon. Now that he thought about it, he’d never seen a cat at the rest area.

“Maybe it’s looking for a job,” a bemused voice said behind Rory. He jumped. Valerie, the manager had quietly joined him in looking at the cat visitor.

The cat, still standing on all fours in a commanding way, looked at Rory and Valerie and meowed loudly.

Well we have got plenty for her to do with all these rats running around, Rory said, just a bit too loudly. The couple had stopped cooing and Rory’s pronouncement had filled the silence. Valerie poked him hard with her elbow.

Ow! He yelped.

The couple looked at them and began hurriedly packing up their things. The mother clasped the baby desperately to her chest, looking around as though a horde of rodents was closing in on her.

The cat watched all this for a bit with disdain only a feline can muster. Then with a twitch of her tail, she headed straight for the kitchen.

You’re hired! Valerie shouted at the cat, as she disappeared around the corner. The two friends burst out laughing

Habits

Which habits support your writing?

One of mine:

Writing in the morning, whether or not I feel like it, at least 500 words. If, like me, you have other employment, you don’t have the luxury of spending hours upon hours developing your prose or poetry. It doesn’t take long to write 500 words. Most mornings, I go beyond my self-imposed goal, and that is inspiring in and of itself. 

Sometimes the piece is a brilliant spark. Sometimes it’s dreck. It doesn’t have to be brilliant. It just has to be done.

Joy in Creativity?

I subscribe to a couple of – okay, several – blogs.

Seth Godin’s is my favorite because he writes pithy pieces containing useful ideas. I don’t always agree with him, but I always read what he has to say.
 
In “You’ve arrived,” Seth writes:
There’s no division between the painful going and the joyous arriving. If we let it, the going can be the joyful part.
It turns out that arrival isn’t the point, it can’t be, because we spend all our time on the journey.
 
I take this to mean that going and arriving are so intimately connected, there is no point in trying to separate them. The journey is the point.
 
Where are you going in your writing or other creative expressions? Do you receive joy from the process? Or is joy suspended in anticipation of the product to come?
 
I am exploring these questions this evening.
 
What about you? Do you take joy in your creativity?
 

 

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.

Make Time for Your Writer Self

What do you do instead of writing? You probably have a long list of things that you do. Two of my favorite low-key activities are watching Netflix and reading. These are not inherently bad activities; however, they do take time away from writing. Yes, you can learn a lot about narrative from watching a series or a movie or reading a novel or collection of essays. And that is what I tell myself: it’s research. Sometimes, it’s research; sometimes, it’s procrastination.

Let’s face it, you can’t write all the time. You have to experience life, relax, have fun, see people, take care of domestic chores, and – if your writing doesn’t support you – spend time at your place of employment.

I have a busy life and I make time for my Writer Self. I hope you do, too. 

Keep writing!

Ruth

Join me for my mini-seminar. See information below.

It’s teatime. Let’s write!

Make time for your Writer Self. Sign up for my FREE 30-minute online mini-seminar, Tea and Writing, Sun 6/4, 4pm eastern. Click on this link to sign up: 

Bring your playful spirit. We’ll imagine ourselves together sipping tea, eating scones (or egg sandwiches, or sponge cake). We will talk about writing and do a brief writing exercise that you can delve into after the gathering.

 

Television. Really?

Every now and again I wonder: Why do people watch television? I include myself in this. In fact, let’s rephrase the question: Why do I watch television?

I love watching television shoes and movies. I don’t own cable; I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, and whatever I can cadge off the Internet. My question ponders the act of watching other people pretend to live other people’s lives.

Personally, I like getting lost in other worlds. I usually watch shows that have little similarity to my own life; so, it is an escape. Fortunately, I am aware of this.

I have just finished watching Bosch Season 3 on Amazon Prime. I’ve read most of the Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. Titus Welliver is the perfect actor to play this sardonic character and Jamie Hector looks and acts exactly as I pictured J Edgar. Perfect casting makes the characters real for me as I watch people pretend to be other people, who are themselves figments of an author’s imagination.

Thousands of years ago, would humans have even thought about such a phenomenon as television and streaming video? Well, they went to see plays or listened to stories about historic figures– watching (or listening to) people pretend to be people that may or may not have existed. This fascination with imagining and enjoying other people’s lives is nothing new. Perhaps television is an inevitable evolution of our artistic enjoyment, embedded in the human genes. Those who don’t watch TV or videos might scoff because they read books. However, even reading books represents the same phenomenon: experiencing other people’s lives, some of whom may exist or have existed at one time; much of the time, fictionalized lives.

As I watch Titus Welliver, I realize that he is the actor doing a fine job playing Bosch, the character himself, Bosch as depicted by or deviating from the character as conceptualized by Michael Connelly. I consider the artistry that makes me believe that Welliver is Bosch. Camera angles, soundtrack, lighting, all work together to create a mood and narrative as depicted by the director (among so many others).

When watching televised performances, I frequently consider technical aspects. So much is involved in creating even the shortest film. The other day a colleague showed us a 15-minute film of herself folding paper cranes while reading a poem she’d written that used cranes as metaphor. A few months before, she had read this poem to us while teaching us how to fold cranes.

These events are totally different. We shared this with her after she showed us the film. For me the film was a performance. Some people would view it as an art installation. I asked her about camera angles. I assumed that someone else had filmed her. However, she had filmed and edited everything by shooting and reshooting from different vantage points, editing and re-reading, editing and re-reading, until she acquired the effect she wanted.

I was fascinated by the process and her talent. Reading this, you probably are thinking that watching someone folding cranes isn’t the most interesting thing. However, it was very meditative watching one segment of a person’s life, while listening to her read a poem about the history of indigenous people. I have taken all the juice out of the experience with these flat words. Yet, at bottom, that is exactly what went on.

And if I were to flatten out the scenes from Bosch, the words would be something on the order of watching a police detective go about doing his job. Many of the scenes are just he and his partner driving around talking. Every now and again, there is a chase, gunplay, or other physical action emotionally intensified through music. Scene after scene. It is a performance that many, such as myself, find enjoyable enough to spend hours watching.

Our ancestors might not have been able to imagine television, but I think they would have understood the fascination.

***

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

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!