Why Be A Writer? - writercize #76

Interestingly enough, the question Why Write?, theme of a one day blogfest hosted by Kayeleen Hamblin, was the title of my very first blog post here at writercize.  

Here is one passage from that entry:  I write because it challenges my mind and makes me feel, in my own small way, powerful.  Control over what I can communicate to the world is an incredible tool.  Writing forces me to reflect in ways that spoken dialogue does not permit, allows me to sift through information and pick out the interesting bits that turn my brain on.  I write because it calms and soothes me, because it makes me curious, because I feel accomplished when I read over a statement and know I am connecting.

Since I don't want to just cheat and repeat, I've decided to alter the question slightly and post that as today's writercize.

writercize:  Why do you choose to be a writer?  

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response about how writing allows me to combine several interests into one flexible career path.  

Note: Those involved in the blogfest, please provide a link to your Why Write? post in the comment form.  All other faithful readers, I would love to see your reasons for writing!


Numeric Rhyme Time - writercize #75

Today it's all about numbers mumbo jumbo!

As my kids are out of preschool for the summer, we've been sure to get in plenty of rhyming and singing fun to help them learn some new concepts such as seasons and letters and time ... and numbers!  Suffice it to say, I have counting and rhymes on the brain big time.

Number rhymes are fantastic for learning about mathematics and language all rolled into one.  Rhyming is one of the top pre-literacy skills kids can learn; it helps them with phonics and language development, and it's a simple technique to inspire memorization.  

Think back to a couple of rhymes English speakers surely learned from a very young age:

1, 2 Buckle my Shoe
3, 4 Shut the Door
5, 6 Pick up Sticks
7, 8 Lay them Straight
9. 10 A Big Fat Hen

1, 2, 3, 4, 5
I caught a fish alive.
6, 7, 8, 9, 10
I let it go again.

These are simple rhymes; the first borders on non-sensical, but it encourages children to learn number sequence in a format that sears itself into memory.

writercize:  Create a rhyme based on numbers.  You may sequence as many or as few numbers as you like; count by 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s or even fractions.  Pick any theme for your rhyme.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response on dancing numbers.  (Note: Tuesdays are pretty busy writing days for me "off the blog," so I try to keep things light and fun over here at writercize.  Log on most Tuesdays for word play.)


Tending The Money Tree - writercize #74

I'm a big lover of fables because they are short, sweet and impart a nice lesson that can be referred back to when reminding young children of what they should be doing.  Sometimes, I believe adults could use a little return to the world of fables themselves.  Check out the Aesop's Fables website for more than 600 fables by the infamous author, thoughtfully indexed both alphabetically and by lesson.

For those unfamiliar with fables, or curious about the difference between a fable and a parable, something I had never even though to ask, check out Wikipedia's definition:  

"A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.

A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind."

I'm currently trying to think of a way to alter "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" into a more feminine story to make my girls understand the concept of not whining or crying unless it's totally worth it.  I'll let you know if I find success.  In the meantime, I have a photo prompt for you thanks to the Group Blogging Experience that I'll work off of to find another moral to impart.

writercize:  Using the photo of the elusive money tree below, pick a moral and write a fable to match!

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about Joshua's money tree.


Product Review - writercize #73

One simple way to practice writing and help your fellow man at the same time is - write a product review.  It could be glowing or scathing; it could cover any product from the mundane to the luxurious.  Whatever you say, make sure it's helpful, accurate and as "objective" as possible, and make sure you are willing to stand behind your statement.

writercize:  Log onto a website that offers online shopping and write a product review about something you have used.  Post a copy of your review or a link in the comment field to share!

Click "read more" to see writercizer's sample response about the most mundane product of all - toilet paper.


Tea Time Fiction - writercize #72

If there is one daily ritual that I never go without, it's brewing a nice cup of tea - several times a day.  I brew one first thing in the morning, one when I get bored, one when I sit at the computer, when I read, when I write, before I turn on the TV.  I love tea.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good caffe latte as much as the next sleep-deprived writing-addicted over-scheduled mom, but I leave my coffee preparation to the experts.  Experts and playgroup friends.  One important life lesson I've learned from playgroups - no matter how much you lack confidence in your coffee brewing abilities, a smidge of creamer will cause any guest to lick her lips and reach for more.  Honest to goodness truth.

That said, home alone, I'm faithful to my tea.  Which brings me to today's writercize.

writing exercise:  Write a fictional vignette inspired by tea.  Note you are not limited to a cup of tea; you may choose to base the story on a tea plantation or in a tea house, or wherever your mind may take you!

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about ... well, I can't think of a summary that won't give too much away, so just click more and read it!  ;)  Before or after you write your own.


Next Word - writercize #71

Who's ready for a little easy breezy word play fun?  Next word is a writing prompt that I post once every month or so where I list five words and you free associate to the next word.  It's fun.  It's mindless.  It's revealing to see how you relate words to one another.

I imagine the game has roots in my mind attached to Step by Step, a TGIF sitcom from the eighties.  I specifically remember the goofy, dim-witted character Cody trying to remember where he left his keys, and to find them, he free-associated a list of twenty-plus words before arriving at the conclusion.  

There is no doubt that I do the same thing in my daily life, but silently.  My husband often looks at me with a confused look on his face, and I know it's not just the fact we speak two different mother tongues.  It's because something he has said triggered another idea or two or three in my mind, and I don't open my mouth to respond until I'm so far down the chain of thoughts that he has no clue how the discussion is relevant.  I forget he is unable to read all those silent rapid-fire thoughts in my head.  If only I'd married a mind-reader, I suppose ...

Ok, on to the game ...
writing exercise:  Write down the first word that comes to mind for each of these five words:
  • frame
  • bottle
  • castle
  • blink
  • white
I always love to see the basis for the association, so share your reasoning if you are so inclined!

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response.


For the Love of Dad - writercize #70

In case anyone missed the Hallmark signs, targeted advertising campaigns and proud men in restaurants, yesterday was Father's Day.  I do realize it was not Father's Day in the entire world, so if you are outside of the United States and were not aware, you are hereby excused.

In my house, Father's Day fell on this past Thursday.  That morning, the girls and I headed to a friend's house to decorate Popsicle stick photo frames for cute Daddy and me photos to put on the fridge.  Absolutely fun and adorable craft for young tots.  

On the way home, we stopped to buy cards for my husband and my dad and picked up a statuette for my husband of a Dad with his two girls.  When we got home, they decorated the cards full of Mickey and Minnie Mouses and their rudimentary (but adorable!) handwriting and we wrapped the gifts and hid them away, saying "Goodbye 'til Sunday!"

Thing is, the instant my husband walked in the door Thursday evening, my youngest hopped of the couch and shouted, "Daddy, I got you Mickey card!  I have to show you right now!"

A Thursday night Father's Day it was. 

(Bear with me as I pause for a moment: This is my fifth week blogging with the Group Blogging Experience 2, a group of 150+ bloggers who write on a single topic for a post each week.  This week, the prompt was "first love" which combined with Father's Day got me thinking of the earliest love we experience in our lives, the love of our parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members.) 

I am fortunate to have a wonderful mom and dad who have been role models for enduring relationships, treating people and the earth with respect, pursuing creative passions and lifelong education.  Though we may debate at times about the state of the world, I value their insight to my core.  They have always, always made sure that my sister and I knew that family was the most important thing to them, and they would dedicate all the time and love in the world to helping us grow.

There are certainly first crushes and first romantic loves and first loves of hobbies and passions, but rarely is a love as enduring as that for family, so today's writercize focuses on a child's love for dear old Dad.

writing exercise:  Write a Father's Day greeting card.  May be humorous, poetic, sentimental, therapeutic - writer's choice!

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Turning Frowns Upside Down - writercize #69

Thoughts are powerful.  Negative thoughts have the ability to stifle creativity and success in an all-consuming manner.  Positive ones have the power to make it happen.  "Yes, we can."  A simple phrase that boosted one man on a presidential path.

It is important to reflect for a moment on the idea that we can control our thoughts rather than allowing them to control us.  

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop with the Torrance Children's Book Writing Group run by the lovely Nutschell Windsor, aka The Writing Nut, called Re-energizing Your Writing.  Nutschell (pronounced new-shell, not nut-shell, in case you were trying to figure it out!) asked the group how many were having trouble with their writing, and several raised their hands.  She then pointed out that generally writer's block is instigated by a fear.  The key to getting back to writing is to identify that fear, address it in a sentence, and turn it around into a positive.

Fear: I am afraid that my character will take me outside of my story's outline and I won't know what to do.
Positive Statement: I am glad that my character has developed enough to take me on his/her journey and am excited to see what adventures s/he takes me on.

Nutschell gave us all a few minutes to identify the fear, and I have to admit I was wary.  I really just recently came to the realization that writing is a plausible career path.  I am enjoying this blog and doing some freelance journalism.  However, it is true that I am interested in eventually writing something that will have a longer shelf-life than a weekly paper, so it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to work towards that point.  I pointed to "time" in my mind, but I'm the first to say that's a shoddy excuse - we make the time that we prioritize.  Though I wish there were more hours in the day and admittedly terrible at e-mail correspondence, the way I choose to spend my time is entirely on me.

At any rate, I was feeling pretty fear-free at the moment, but wanted to be a good participant so I gave it a shot.

I wrote down, "Writing is exposing myself, and that is a scary thing.  Even if I am writing something that is not personal, my brain is the conduit and it may leave me feeling vulnerable."

As I said it, it didn't really ring true.  It would have, several months ago, but that was no longer the case.  When I began this blog, I posted an entry called "Why Write?" and addressed that vulnerability.  Through blogging and frequent writing, that fearful ship had sailed.

On my way home in the car, I mulled over the question and realized that there are two writing fears that I grapple with (well, if we're being totally honest, let's go with 2 1/2). I then turned them around in my head to make them shining, happy, smiley thoughts.  I invite you to do the same. 

writing exercise:  Think of something that you wish you were doing right now, but are not.  Once you have dismissed all those surface-level excuses from your mind about why you're not doing it, dig deeper to identify the fear holding you back.  Write it down.  Now examine the sentence and decide how you can turn it around into something positive.

This does not need to be writing related - it could be taking the next step in a relationship, learning to surf, admitting an end to something, making a large purchase, traveling alone, anything you wish you were doing but are holding back. 

Click "read more" for writercizer's sample response about fears of being pigeon-holed, the family-work balance and understanding the business side of the writing industry.


On Recovery - writercize #68

Over the weekend I was listening to an interview with poet and blogger James Nave.  During his recovery from surgery related to prostate cancer, he vowed to write 100 poems in 100 days chronicling the process. On air he read a poem in which his legs were filled with thousands of colorful butterflies flapping their wings.

The interview got me thinking about recovery, the many meanings of recovery, and how poetry has the power to bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction with vibrant images and emotions to communicate both the beauty and stress of living in a society.  

I thought about how recovery can apply to life after disease, addiction, a natural disaster, a broken heart, a financial crisis, abuse.  It's pretty incredible how one word can tie together so many negative experiences, and inject them with a new feeling, that of hope.  Recovery is one powerful noun.

I've been lucky in my personal life that I've only had to recover from surgery and heartbreak, but those two recoveries were enough to not wish for many more!

In truth, lucky may be only part of it.  Incessant concern to remain in full control of my body and thoughts probably did a lot to steer me away from many addictive things too ... when I know my hormones are affecting my thought patterns, I start to freak out, so imagine anything else! 

writing exercise: Write a poem inspired by the word "recovery." The poem may be any style, including freestyle.

Click "read more" for the writercizer sample response, The New Joneses, on economic recovery.

Light Hearted Limerick - writercize #67

Light hearted may not be completely accurate for my daily example, as you shall shortly see, but a limerick it is, and in it's rhythm and rhyme a limerick tends to evoke an airy feeling.

As Tuesday is my news day, it looks like Tuesdays will lean towards word play and short poetry here at writercize, keep your eyes peeled if that's your favorite theme!

writing exercise:  Compose a limerick on the topic of your choice.  Limericks are five line rhyming poems with an AABBA rhyme scheme where the B lines are one beat shorter than the A lines.  Generally, the first line introduces a person on whom the limerick is based.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response about burning the midnight oil.


Space to Improvise - writercize #66

This afternoon I headed down to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and had a blast playing in an outdoor installation created with these long yellow-green stringy tubes.  One of the most interesting aspects of it all was watching how people interacted with the space and what stories they invented for what those strings could be.  It was like being in a free outdoor comedy improv workshop.

I know it's not the same as a tactile experience, but I took a few photos to share.  Sometimes simple exposure to something different from the every day can inspire outside the box thinking and writing!

writing exercise: Imagine various scenarios inspired by this space.

Click "read more" to see the writercizer sample response.


What's His Story? - writercize #65

Sometimes the best source of inspiration for a writer means turning off the computer, closing the book and walking out the front door.  I've said before that I love people watching and creating a story, and even more so I love seeing what stories people can imagine from the same situation and clues, so I've decided to revisit a writercize from April.

The previous writercize, Read Between the Lines, gave a prompt of a woman walking into a jewelry consignment store silently sliding a ring over to the store employee.  A couple of brave writercizers took on the challenge to write her story, and I was so impressed and excited to see what they imagined had happened in her life.  If you like today's prompt, I invite you to try that one too.

writing exercise:  Imagine you see a man in the following situation and create his story.  

A young man sits on a park bench.  His head hangs between his knees and a single tear drops to the pavement between his feet.

Who is he? What is he doing in the situation?  As you look around the park, are other people involved in the story?  You may want to think about whether it is day or night, what neighborhood the park is in, or where he was prior to the park what sounds are nearby to complete the picture.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response.


Alphabetical Brainstorming Challenge - writercize #64

A strong grasp of vocabulary is one of the best weapons a writer can master in his / her communications arsenal.  Understanding when to use subtlety and when to use strength with words gives your writing a flow and keeps the reader engaged.

There are several ways to increase your vocabulary.  One, naturally, is to read, and read often.  Another is to peruse the pages of a dictionary or thesaurus.  One of my favorite ways, however, is through word play, whether it's a crossword puzzle, a riddle or challenge.

Tonight I'm thinking of ways to paint pictures and scenes with words, so I want to give my brain a chance to work through the alphabet focusing on a descriptive topic.  I've selected three topics for you to choose from, listed below.
writing exercise:  Work your way through the entire alphabet (as best as your can) using one of the following topics as inspiration:
  • colors
  • emotions
  • weather
Write down one word for each letter of the alphabet.

This exercise will be as challenging as you make it.  If you can not think of a word for a particular letter, you may choose to skip it, research it, or get creative with your spelling.  Write your first instinct, or push yourself to dig deeper.  (i.e. If the topic were "fruit," for the letter "P" you may stick with peach or plum, or you may work your way over to pineapple, persimmon, pomegranate.)

I selected the three prompts above as they are each important tools to create ambiance for your story.

Click "read more" to see writercizer's sample responses on color and emotion.


Six Words - writercize #63

Last week I discovered a fun little site called Six-Word Memoirs where people post about any topic in the world using only six words.  It's tough in the beginning, but oddly addicting, so I wanted to invite you to give it a try.  I also happen to think that frequent practice will make editing and summarizing your work a breeze.

writing exercise:  Describe this moment in six words.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


A Lost and Found Relationship - writercize #62

Relationships are complex, organic, complicated, confusing things that can often take on a life of their own.   Each person brings his or her own ideas and expectations to the table.  Many of these are never communicated out loud, or in the right words or context, so we may involve ourselves in a web of unidentified disappointments and missteps.

Eventually, if we're not careful, these disappointments and missteps can lead to resentment, outrage, intense frustration and we can completely lose it.  "It" being patience, respect, passion, our temper ...
We may lose it by lashing out in anger and hurtful words or by closing off a part of our hearts in stone cold reserve.  We may lose it by suppressing the values that matter to us or by ending the friendship or relationship.

However we lose it, the person we hurt the most is ourselves, until we find a way to accept what has happened and move forward.  Whether moving forward is acknowledging and working around a relationship road block, finding peace within our hearts to accept our faults or those of another, reaching out to the other person, or finding peace with the natural end of a relationship, the only way out of the purgatory of an uncontrollable emotional state is to work towards acceptance.

When working on a character in a work of fiction or non-fiction, it is very important to understand the status of their relationships with others and with themselves.  A writer must intrinsically feel when the excitement of getting to know a new person seeps into the comfort of familiarity, and when that bleeds into the yearning for something new or the resentment of interdependence, then whether that splits off into a renaissance of the self or acceptance of the relationship and eventual contentment at growing together.

One of the best ways to feel your character, of course, is to tap into personal experience.  So, today's writercize asks you to do just that.

writing exercise:  Reflect on a time when you've lost track of a personal relationship, and what it took to find resolution.

Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response on the mother-in-law relationship dynamic.


Proverb-ially Speaking - writercize #61

Proverbs are fantastic little literary gems; they represent oodles of wisdom in a compact package. 

A few well-known examples:
The early bird catches the worm.
It's no use crying over spilled milk.
When the cat is away, the mice will play.
Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
Rome wasn't built in a day.
Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction brought it back.
If you lie down with dogs, you'll get up with fleas.
Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
Different strokes for different folks.
You can't tell a book by its cover.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of these nuggets of advice, but I won't go further.  You'll notice many relate to food and animals, easy to remember for illiterate and uneducated folks when many of the proverbs came into being.  

Some of these may be taken out of context, such as the last one, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."  It seems reasonable to believe that the phrase is championing fruits and vegetables for a healthy diet and thus healthy body, but according to the book The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (highly recommended if you enjoy the point where history and food meet), the proverb actually dates back to prohibition.  While alcohol and spirits were illegal to sell and consume, many people resorted to home-brewing methods.  This was still illegal, but presumably more difficult to catch.  Since alcohol has the power to kill off bacteria, and apples were used to brew cider, the true meaning of the proverb more closely aligns with a way to get around prohibition under the radar.  Either way, there is wisdom in the wording.

Back when I was in first grade, my teacher gave us an assignment concerning proverbs.  She gave us the first half of the proverb, and we had to complete the phrase and make an illustration.  After we completed several of these proverbs, she spiral bound them into books for us to take home.  Since we were just on the verge of understanding the complexities of English idioms, the results were a mish-mash of accurate proverbs and utter (entertaining!!) nonsense.  To this day, I think "don't bite the hand that holds the fork" is the accurate proverb; my false six-year-old idea is so firmly ingrained in my memory.  Today's writercize challenges you to harness that innocent child within you, throw out the proverb you know, and substitute it for new age wisdom.

writing exercise:  Pick any three of the proverbs listed above (or another familiar favorite of yours).  Create a new ending to the proverb, using the true first half of the line and your imagination. 

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about birds, books and tears.


Inspired by the Big Book of Words - writercize #60

Let the big book of words - a.k.a. the dictionary - guide you in tonight's writercize.  

Although I would be willing to bet more than half of the households in the U.S. no longer traipse around with this hefty hardbound, relying on the internet for all their definition-seeking needs and spell check to figure out the proper order of letters, I'm also betting that the writers and educators who read writercize have one tucked away for good measure.  My go-to dictionary was a high school graduation gift for my mom, which she passed along to my very talented screenwriting cousin, who passed it along to me.  Suffice it to say, it's been well-loved.  It may not be the most current book for slang, science or technology terms, even geographical names, but it's still pretty handy, and I felt like feeling some paper tonight since I spend so much time writing online.

writing exercise:  Pull your dictionary off the shelf.  Close your eyes.  Open the dictionary to a random page.  Count down to the thirteenth word.  (Not within the definitions - the thirteenth word on the page being defined.)  Type the word and it's definition in your comment field, then use it as inspiration to freewrite for a few minutes.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response "Reflections on the Quad" about beginning college.