Haiku On My Mind - writercize #59

A few days ago I came across a sweet little blog called Haiku Corner.  The author can turn anything at all into a slice of haiku heaven (cats, gas prices, jello anyone?), so it's got my brain trying to convert everyday thoughts into haiku. 

Haiku, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, refers to a poem comprised of three lines.  The first has five syllables, the second has seven syllables, and the third is back to five syllables.  In its truest form, this Japanese poetry abides by several more rules, the most important of which juxtaposes two ideas.  For a beginner such as myself, the syllables are enough of a challenge, and the 5/7/5 rule generally satisfies the English notion of Haiku.

writing exercise:  Compose a haiku poem inspired by your current state of mind.  You may find it helpful to draw on nature or physical comparisons to illustrate your point.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response on sorting out my house and mind.


Multidimensional Character - Success & Secrets - writercize #58

When I open up a novel, I like a character with layers and undertones and some good old-fashioned internal strife.  Give me hope, vulnerability, frustration, insecurity, sadness, relief, deception.  Realistic desires and relationships mixed with slightly exaggerated reactions and behaviors.  Characters who are all good or all bad just don't do it for me - they aren't a challenge to get to know, and I bore easily of them, put down the book, forget why they mattered.

I find that characters I am drawn to in literature would most likely drive me insane in real life; they may be too self-absorbed or conniving or generally screwed up, but I love to escape into their nutty worlds.  Give me a character who's successful with a dark and dirty backstory or a character deemed as a failure by all around them but internally the greatest success there is (Holden Caulfield, Ignatius J. Reilly).

Today's writercize is all about building depth and exposing a character's layers to see straight to the core.

writing exercise:  Take 5-10 minutes to write a short story or character study using the sentence below as your prompt. 

prompt:  To the outside world, everything about Alex screamed success - good looks, supportive family, a plenitude wealth - but beneath the surface ...

You may interpret it any way you wish, and expose the character from any angle (his/her own POV or that of an omniscient narrator or other character in the story).  Feel free to delve into fantasy or sci fi if that's your thing too!  Copy and paste the prompt into the comment section and type away.
Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Blogs with Heart - writercize #57

Blogs With Heart.  Sounds like a modern Native American moniker.  Dances with Wolves.  Sitting Bull.  Little Wolf.  Blogs with Heart.

Today, "Blogs With Heart" is the name and award I am bestowing on a friend, Christina.  She is a fashionista, handbag designer, blogger, entrepreneur, mom, traveler and all around pretty amazing individual.  This week, inspired by her travels to Egypt and her commitment to raising awareness for women and children, she launched a fundraising campaign in partnership with the Young Mother's Shelter of Hope Village Society in Egypt.  She is modeling 140 outfits daily during the second half of her pregnancy over at her blog, Christina Elaine, to raise awareness and link to the campaign website. Her goal is to raise $2,000 in 105 days for this great cause.  The first post on the project includes an overview of the project and photos of Christina in a cute combo of jeans, floral blouse, sweater and belt, and the second post is of a long flowing dress in a field of flowers.  She's a beautiful model and stylist!

I wanted to recognize her for using her blog to make a charitable difference in the lives of others, real people who need help out in the "real world" (read: offline).  I searched around the web for a blog award that fit the purpose but couldn't find one, so I decided to create one.  I am by no means a designer and have no clue what I am doing with computer artwork, so it's pretty rudimentary, but I think it serves its purpose.  

writing exercise:  You have two options for today's writing exercise!

1 - Bestow the "Blogs with Heart" award on another blogger (or two or more) who have used their blogs to make a difference in the world and WRITE about why they deserve it!  This could be by raising awareness for a particular issue, fundraising, organizing and soliciting volunteers for a project or event - interpret the award as you wish.  To pass it on, feel free to grab the image out of this message, but please also include comment with a link to the recipient's page and description of the reason for passing on the award so that we can all learn about their blog!

2 - If you aren't a regular blogger, make your own award on paper for a friend or family member to recognize them for something they do that you think is pretty special! 


Name Jumble - writercize #56

It was a long, late night of writing for a freelance gig last night, so today I'm taking it easy on the writing front.  Who's up for a little word play?

writing exercise:  Using your last name, jumble the letters to find as many words as you can in a couple of minutes.  If your last name is short or you're up for more of a challenge, throw in your first and/or middle name as well!

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response using the last name Garrigues.


A Mouse in the House and Animals that Rhyme - writercize #55

Sadly, we have a mouse in the house.  It is an uninvited guest with a chocolate-snatching habit and sly as a fox intelligence.  

Our preference is that it vacate the premises immediately without incident.  Since this does not seem to be the mouse's preference, the more likely scenario will involve the mouse's end.  We tried to catch it with cheese on a glue trap, but it stood on the trap, ate the cheese, and somehow used super-rodent strength to break free.  The next day we saw four paw prints sunk into the glue, but no food and no mouse.  We tried to lure it into a box of poisonous mouse food, with the idea that it would consume the food and return to its nest outside to pass away.  Apparently, salty mouse poison is not appealing to a mouse with a sweet tooth.  

Today we discovered the mouse had somehow climbed up a tall table, into a bowl and snatched Kit Kat bars out of the box, back to the ground, behind the couch, opened the wrappers and eaten them.  The mouse has serious dexterity and bravado.  If it were not a mouse, I would want to catch it alive and encourage it to join the circus.  But it's a mouse and it's spending nights in my house, and as much as I hate to kill any creature (besides mosquitoes and spiders that is) I want it gone.  Yesterday.  So, tonight we shall devise a new plan and hope for no more nocturnal visitors in the very near future.

While I was contemplating the best way to semi-humanely dispose of this mouse in the house, the kids' writer part of me started to have fun with the way a mouse in the house rhymes, so out of a frustrating situation in our living room, tonight's writercize was born.

writing exercise:  Write a poem or short-story about an animal or animals in rhyme.  If you need help brainstorming animals, here are a few that are easy to find rhyming words:  cat, frog, dog, horse, cow, mouse, rat, bug, pig, fish.  Some animal ideas if you're looking for more of a challenge:  monkey, donkey, zebra, hippo, camel, spider.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Hey, What's Your Goal? - writercize #54

It is my belief that there are two primary types of people in this world - those whose expectations of themselves far exceeds that of what anyone else could possibly think to expect of them, and those who set the bar so low of their self-expectations that others are continuously trying to pull them up.

Both types of people are set up for disappointment, the first disappoint themselves and the second disappoint others.  

That is not to say that disappointment is necessarily a negative thing; at times it can help us better recognize our strengths, weaknesses and limitations.  In this way, we have the power to alter either our thinking or behavior to change future outcomes.

I am a classic example of someone who sets the bar higher than I can reach.  However, I feel that as long as I am able recognize my limitations when necessary and forgive myself for my perceived short-comings (oh so important!) this quality of setting high expectations is a very good thing.  It allows me to dream BIG.  Most of these dreams remain in my head and I enjoy playing them out every once in a while (win Pulitzer, discover mosquito repellent so effective that insect-born disease is obliterated, win Oscar for Best Actress, encourage all citizens to take part in community building, and the list goes on and on and on).  

Clearly these are not true expectations of myself, but when I find a dream that is important enough to grab onto, I try to convert it into a reasonable goal, with attainable results within a practical time frame.  Sometimes, my goals will aim a little high to keep something just out of reach, so that I can keep striving and challenging myself.

Speaking of challenges, since I do love them oh so much, I've decided to check out the Group Blogging Experience - aka GBE 2 - brought to my attention by Marie over at Write, Wrong or Indifferent.  It's basically a group of people who receive a weekly prompt to incorporate into their blog sometime during the week.  Great concept.  You can sign on to Facebook to receive the prompt by looking for a group called "GBE 2: Blog On."  This week's prompt was expectations, which was very convenient since I was planning to write on goal setting anyhow!

Now that intros have been taken care of, onto today's writercize.  Please post your writercize result as a comment!

writing exercise:  Think of yourself ten years into the future.  Allow your mind to wander and dream to identify your achievements - personal and professional alike.  Identify 3-5 of these achievements that you would like to pursue as a goal, and write it down.  

I like the ten year time period because it allows you to dream bigger than short-term one or two year goals.  It also allows you enough distance that if for whatever reason you are unable to achieve the goal, you haven't fallen as short of your own expectations as a short-term goal.  You can always chock ten years up to a different path life decided to take rather than a personal failure, and that flexibility feels good.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response.


Food on the Brain - writercize #53

For whatever reason, lately I have serious food on the brain.  

It could be because I just returned from visiting my in-laws, where the meal is undoubtedly the highlight of the day.  It could be because getting back, the fridge was completely devoid of food so I went grocery shopping starving and ended up with an unbelievable amount of food.  It could be because my stomach is craving everything it didn't get to eat for a few weeks while I was away, as well as everything that it did eat.  Whatever it is, I'm obsessively thinking about my next meal.  I used to tease my mother-in-law about this; she would literally begin talking about dinner while doing the lunch dishes, but for the past few days I am beginning to understand her a little better.

So, today's writercize is all about food.  Give me some good ideas, and try not to drool on your keyboard!

writing exercise:  How would you prepare the following ingredients?  A few of the ingredients are a little autumnal for this time of year, but run with it if you can and feel free to add any additional ingredients.  Maybe we'll do a summer one in a few weeks.  Write your own recipe or share good prep techniques.
  • prosciutto
  • squash
  • zucchini
  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response, including pasta dish, cold cuts and salad.


All The World's A-twitter - writercize #52

I recently caved in to the modern world and signed up to join Twitter.  From what I've been reading in the blogosphere, it looks like I'm not alone in making the leap over the past couple of months; many bloggers I follow have also recently signed on.  I am @writercize if you have an interest in following me.  I must admit I do not have a plan of action for my five W's of tweeting (who? what? where? when? why?), but I understand it's an important self-branding tool so as a freelance writer branding means business.

For many people in the United States, I think that twitter is just that - a branding tool.  For others, it's a way to impart tidbits of news information, like the tickers at the bottom of cable news, and for some it's a way to slice through the Facebook noise straight to the origins of status updates.  Twitter use in the United States is certainly of interest for social networking strategies in the 21st century, but what really fascinates me is Twitter use worldwide.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to (op ed) news coverage about the Middle East uprising, now coined Arab Spring.  One of the speakers was of the belief that the uprisings and desire for democracy and transparent government were directly linked to Obama's foreign policy, which the speaker perceives as laid-back when it comes to championing democracy.  In his opinion, Bush's "cowboy" politics of promoting democracy were undermining the citizens' own desire for democracy.  In other words, he felt that Middle Easterners living under oppressive regimes were unable to express their own desire for a democratic republic because of anti-American sentiments - pro-democracy would be associated with pro-America and thus anti-Arab/anti-Islam with reference to perceived foreign policy.  He believes that by Obama taking a step back on talk of spreading democracy world-wide, citizens were able to declare themselves pro-democracy and not be instantly associated with American policy.

So, what are my thoughts on this and how does it relate to Twitter (and writercize for that matter!)?  Bear with me - I'm getting there.

As much as I cringe at any leader trying to spread their preferred government on another country (there's a reason more than one type of government exists in the world, and to assume every nation's history and structure will neatly fit into the idea of democracy, particularly imposed by a foreign nation with political backing for any potential candidate, seems naive at best to me - and all too reminiscent of ideas manifest destiny and ethnically challenged missionaries - but I digress), I believe the speaker was giving both Obama and Bush far too much credit for their respective impact on Middle East politics.

Don't get me wrong - I recognize the complex relationship between the United States and the Middle East is important and weighs heavily on the minds of citizens from countries around the globe - but I truly don't believe the protesters who rose up to defy oppressive dictators did so with either Obama or Bush at the forefront of their minds.  

What spurned the uprisings?  What made the difference to allow them to stand up today and not five years ago?  Was it the change of the American president several time zones away?

Twitter, Facebook, and a population that is young enough to adapt quickly to new technology but old enough to be educated and ready for a workforce that was non-existent.  Five years ago, there was no Twitter.  Facebook was still in its infancy, and to the best of my knowledge not available outside of the US and British university system.  The demographics of the population, which in many nations throughout the Middle East are composed of 60%+ citizens under the age of 30, were just enough younger to still be in school or just graduated.  

Five years have brought a new American president, yes, and perhaps that has marginally influenced the timing of the uprising, but more importantly, five years brought the technology to connect real people.  People could band together virtually in groups with similar interests, tweet the horrifying reality of eye-witness news accounts of unjust brutality, commiserate about the impossibilities of finding gainful employment despite university education and multi-lingual skill sets.  As one group of protesters experienced success, they could tweet about it and update Facebook, giving others the courage to press on, risking their lives for something they believe in.

writing exercise:  Reflect for a moment on something that really matters to you, something that you would take a stand on or an overwhelming sentiment relating to world affiars.  It could be political, or it could relate to ethics such as the environment or equality.  For your next tweet, in lieu of branding or one of your standard updates, let people know what you really care about.  

(Non-twitter users, you can still participate in the exercise too.  Here's the trick about twitter - you are limited to 160 characters per tweet, so you must be precise in your writing.  Post your thought as a comment below, and be sure to count your characters!) 

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Prompt: Ex.haust.ed - writercize #51

Two and a half lazy weeks of vacation in Southern Italy, engorging on endless plates of pasta and cheese and lounging in the Mediterranean sunlight, completely detached from all aspects of world wide web technology, followed by 26 hours of travel with twin preschoolers to return home to Los Angeles, I am an odd mix of blissful repose and sheer physical exhaustion.  

As my brain slowly reboots back to the real world and tackles thinking and writing once again, while I recover from jet lag and attempt not to overdose on the internet, I can't help but feel as though I am chasing my brain in circles, trying to catch half-thoughts that don't quite make their way to comprehensive ideas.  

writing exercise:  Using the writing prompt "exhaustion," create a short story, journal entry, character study or poem.  Write free flow for about 5-15 minutes, and edit yourself as little as possible.  Your writing does not have to include the word exhaustion; you may choose to include it in the story or simply use it as inspiration.

(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)


Slogan Contest Reminder - FREE blog logo design to winner

With any luck, by tonight I'll have landed in LAX and be back home, perhaps posting in real time again, but just in case, I want to remind everyone to enter the contest to get a FREE logo for your blog by writing a slogan for Garrigues Graphics, a design company.  

Here's the link to enter.  Write your suggested slogan as a comment for writercize #35 and be sure to include your facebook or blog so that I can contact you if you are the winner (selected by owner of Garrigues Graphics).

The contest ends TONIGHT at midnight, Pacific time, and the prize value of the logo is $150.  (May 17 writercizer edit:  CONTEST EXTENDED due to blogger site difficulties over past week.  Garrigues Graphics will select a winner on Saturday, May 28.  Deadline to enter now MAY 27!!)

Good luck!!


Photo Inspiration - writercize #50

Inspiration can come from anywhere - silent meditation, conversation with a friend, in the shower, on the road, in a book, from a blog - but today, I'd like you to use a photograph for inspiration.

writing exercise:  Write a poem, vignette or short story inspired by the photo below.

(Click "read more" for writercizer response.)


Tongue Twister - writercize #49

Who doesn't love a good tongue twister?

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, a peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.  If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?

(Wow - that one is even a good typing twister!  I didn't realize how much exercise the pinkie gets with those Ps!)
She sells seashells down by the seashore.

Sheena leads, Sheila needs.

A tongue twister is meant to tie up your tongue and send you in circles as you read it aloud.  It's a great tool to improve diction for actors, and guaranteed fun and giggles for kids!  Tongue twisters can use alliteration (in which nearly all the words begin with the same letter), homonyms (same sound, different meaning), difficult sound combinations (such as "toy boat"), rhyming or repeat sounds within the word for their tangled effect.

writing exercise:  Using any method above, or creating your own, write a tongue twister.  Be sure to read it aloud (as fast as you can!) before posting to ensure it will successful tie up the reader's tongue.

(Click "read more" for the writercizer sample response using alliteration with the letter B.)


Five Words 2 - writercize #48

As a young girl on long flights and road trips, my mom knew just the thing to keep me quiet and engaged for an hour at a time.  She would buy me a notebook and a pencil and write down five words that I had to use in a story.  When I was young, the words would be simple like dog and ball, but as I grew older, the words would be more complicated or in some way related to the trip to serve as a travelogue.

At the time, it was a great writing tool for me.  I loved to write, but could never for the life of me figure out what to put down on the paper.  My mind would race so quickly that I was left with a blank stare at an empty page and get frustrated.

It's still a good tool, but not as necessary anymore.  The thing that fascinates me now about the exercise is that with the same five words, no two people will write the same story, and I love that!  So please, show me how your mind works.  Write a sentence, a poem, a paragraph or a story, but write. 

writing exercise:  Use the following five words in a sentence, poem, paragraph or short story. 
  • bother
  • pet
  • plate
  • steep
  • wave
Don't worry about structure - just freewrite for a few minutes.  You may use the definition of your choice for words with multiple meanings.

(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)


Next Word 3 - writercize #47

Always a favorite, I believe for the exercise's simplicity and fun insight into how many meanings we can take from words, next word is back on the writercize agenda for today.

Growing up, I can remember teachers using a very simple icebreaker to fill time on the bus for field trips or indoor recess days.  In the game, teachers would say a word, and students would free associate the next word that came to mind.  It's an interesting study on how your mind makes connections and relationships between ideas.  

writing exercise: Look at the list of words below and type your instinctual response to each word. Feel free to simply state the next word or evaluate your response.  I love seeing the wide variety of responses!
  • chicken
  • door
  • gray
  • pattern
  • string

(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)


Mama's Day Greeting Card - writercize #46

This Sunday is Mother's Day in the United States and much of the rest of the world and while some of you may be parents and others are single, I guarantee every one of you had a Mother and can relate in some way to the holiday.  

Mother's Day has historically been the number one day for Sunday telephone calls in the United States (see Calling Mom on Mother's Day).  Per Hallmark, it is also the third busiest holiday for greeting cards, with an annual 139 million cards.  It falls after Christmas and Valentine's Day and has a 40 million card lead over the fourth placed Father's Day.

Writing a greeting card can be a nice personal touch for Mom if you're the DIY type.  Selling a greeting card phrase can also be a (albeit small) way to line a freelancer's pocketbook.  So, think of a Mom - your mom, the card you yourself would like to receive, your wife as mom, an imaginary mom, whoever your inspiration may be - and write away.

writing exercise:  Write a Mother's Day greeting card.  No limitations - you may go poetic, sappy, humorous ... write from the kids, to grandma, to a mom-to-be, from new dad, to a motherly figure in your life, to a mom friend ... whoever you'd like to acknowledge as one great Mom!

(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)


Green Day - writercize #45

Color has meaning.

A simple method to create the ambiance you seek for your characters, whether in film or on paper, is to mention the colors surrounding them.  Color can create a powerful visual connection to a scene (who doesn't remember the red coat in Schindler's List?) or allow the audience a peek inside the psyche of the character's brain (picture the varying levels of emotion and warmth during the memory sequence into DiCaprio's character's brain in Inception).  Colors may be used to analyze dreams.  Marketing and promotions professionals study the way in which color affects a person's productivity, hunger, emotional well-being, self esteem, happiness, likeliness to pull out the plastic and buy, buy, buy.

One goal of the writer is to create a world in your reader's mind that can be visualized and thereby visited vicariously through the personas in the book or article.

writing exercise: Please spend a moment to focus on the color GREEN.  For today's writercize, you may: 
  • evaluate your feelings towards and associations with the color green, or 
  • use it as a background to a short character study.
Write 50-200 words. 

If you need a little extra inspiration, visit: Color Psychology - Green or green quotes.  A few possible assocations: envy, greed, environmentalism, ill (looking green), calm, natural.

(Click "read more" to see the writercizer sample response after mid-May.  Sorry I couldn't get it up sooner!  I would love to see your response though, so write away!)


Crossword Clues - writercize #44

It's time to reverse your crossword skills.  Rather than answering crossword clues as you generally would, use your knowledge of words combined with a bit of research to create clues from a completed crossword puzzle.  

I must say that after creating my own crossword, I have a new-found admiration for the people who fit words together within a grid and make it look good.  Writing the clues is the easy part.  Turning a blank grid into interlocking words and blank spaces is tough!

writing exercise:  Create clues for the crossword puzzle below.  I have provided you with a key to the numbers down and across that you can copy and paste into your response.

Crossword Clues



(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)


Packing List - writercize #43

I have written this blog post in the past (or am currently writing it in the future!) thanks to the miracle of technology.  Scheduled posts are amazing.

Why am I not writing this today?  I am far, far away visiting family with no computer, no internet and no smart phone. Which got me thinking about packing lists and characters in books going on vacation.

The way a person travels can say so much about their character, their likes and dislikes, pet peeves, fears.  Do they travel by train, boat, car or plane?  Are they planners or prefer a spontaneous trip?  Do they research heavily prior to travel, learning local language and customs, or hope that the "universal language" of English will be enough to get by?  Is travel meant for relaxation, adventure, familial visit, research, work, a weekend getaway with friends, reflection, solitude, a celebration?  Do they prefer business class travel and five star hotels with spa or student fares and cheap hostel digs?  

writing exercise:  Your character is preparing for a trip to Ireland.  Give your character a name, age, nationality and purpose for the visit.  What is on his/her packing list?

(Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.)