Road Tripping - writercize #16

Tonight I'm stealing a writercize from an author I spoke with last night.  I am not one to just recycle an idea, so I'll add a little twist, but this is a good, simple game to get the words flowing.  It deals with license plates.

The author's name is Susan Peterson and she is the author of a fabulous resource book for Southern California residents outlining thousands of fun places to go with kids (and grown-ups too!).  In order to research for her book, she actually checked out every single place with her three boys, now grown.  That means a lot of miles on the road and a lot of hours in the car, and a lot of road trip entertainment.

One of their favorite games, equally enjoyable for adults, was to make phrases out of the three (or more) letters they saw on passing license plates.  (Example: When she asked the room to complete a phrase for CAU, one woman yelled out CAU = Calling All Unicorns.)  It helped her pass the time and keep her eyes on the road and got a few giggles along the way.

writing exercise:  Using your license plate letters, create five phrases.  Here's the twist - add an additional letter - your middle initial.  If you have a vanity plate, no scrimping on the letters.  Use them all!  It's harder than it seems.  ;)

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


World of Words - writercize #15

Tonight I want to get inside your head a little bit.  I want you to pause and share the thoughts and feelings that waft through you as you embark on the memory of a very normal bit of everyday life. 

If you can harness the emotion and thought process of something simple in your own life, imagine how aware you could be of a fictional character you create or how deep you could go in examining a real person. 
In writing a story, you may not write about something as mundane as, say, grocery shopping, but if you know your character and have developed them in your mind, you should know how they would act in that grocery store.  You should know which aisles they'll skip and where they'll spend time, if they check the boxes for calories and corn syrup, whether they use self check-out or thrive on the 15-second banter with the checker.  You should imagine if they park close to the door or prefer to walk through the lot, whether they choose paper, plastic or bring reusable bags.  These things matter in understanding your character's environment and general outlook on life.  They may not make your story's final cut, or even a first draft, but it warrants the imagination to know who you are writing about.

writing exercise: Take a deep breath, and prepare to immerse yourself for just a moment in a recent memory, one of a place that every writer enters at some point.  You walk into your favorite bookstore, that world of words waiting to be discovered.  What do you notice, feel, smell, think?  Write a paragraph about those thoughts and feelings.

(Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response.)


Rhyme Time - writercize #14

There was a writer who loved to rhyme
to hear a lyric and keep the time.
Right on the beat the words did roll
and touched the reader's very soul.

Perhaps not the most illuminating poem, but a decent example of how by simply using words that rhyme, a thought or idea adopts its own rhythm and beat and sounds like waves, even when reading it to yourself silently.

Rhyming has been used in nursery rhymes (aha!), songs and children's stories as a tool to teach language and important skills and make learning fun and memorable before most citizens were even literate. 

Think of all the nursery rhymes used to teach counting ("One, Two, Buckle My Shoe"), colors ("Baa, Baa, Black Sheep"), life lessons such as the necessity of going to sleep early ("Wee Willie Winkie"), telling time ("Hickory Dickory Dock" and "Monday's Child"), hygiene and more.

When I need to remember how many days there are in any given month, I still resort to "30 days hath September ..." rather than committing the number of days in each month to memory. 

According to Scholastic: "The ability to hear rhymes — knowing that cat rhymes with hat, but not with bag — is an essential skill for learning to read because it means that your child can discern the differences among individual sounds (or phonemes). Playing with rhymes trains her ear to hear the differences and similarities in how words sound."

writing exercise:  Easy peasy exercise today.  Think of one word to rhyme with each of the words below.  If you're feeling adventurous, feel free to elaborate and make a little poem, or series of couplets - I'd love to read it!
  • book
  • sky
  • road
  • vine
  • pen

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


Thinking Inside the Walls - writercize #13

The Greek philosopher Plato famously wrote, "Necessity is the mother of invention."  I tend to think he was onto something.  Often, I find that the most creative solutions come from not having quite the right tool. 

This weekend I was caught entertaining two preschoolers in a busy Starbucks without any toys or props.  It should be a relatively easy task, except that all I really wanted to do was relax and savor my latte and not think about games for ten minutes, so I scanned the table for entertainment value.  Table.  Coffee sleeve.  Empty juice box.  Napkin.  Not a lot of promise.  

After a moment of reflection, I settled on the napkin and after finding it too flimsy for origami, we made paper airplanes.  Voila!  Ten minutes of peace for me and entertainment for them. 

It got me thinking about a twist to the classic deserted island question.  You know the one - If you could take one person (alt. one thing) with you to live forever on a desert island, who (what) would it be?  It's a decent open-ended question, but not quite what I was looking for.  I wasn't curious about what is important to you.  I was curious about what you would do to entertain yourself with little to nothing, how you (or your character) could think outside the box.

Today's writercize is about stretching your imagination, which is a very useful writing tool when it comes to understanding your character and how they relate to the world around them.

writing exercise:  You (or your character) are stuck, alone, in a square room with one light hanging overhead.  No windows, no doors, no technology.  You will be in the room for several hours and sleep is not an option, so you must find ways to entertain yourself.  The only objects in the room are:
  • a box of Kleenex
  • a hand-held mirror
  • a flashlight
  • a bag of rubber bands
  • a rolling pin
  • a blanket
How do you pass the time?

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


Personal Mantra - writercize #12

Be it lack of sleep, caffeine, food, time, trashy tv ... my patience is on a very short fuse today.

The first inkling of a whine is sending me bonkers.  I can literally feel my eardrums shrink from the sound, my heart gallop right out of my chest, my throat tense to choke down a yelp.  The "om" just isn't there.

So, I am determined to find it.  The "om" that is.  My personal "om."  This much I know:

Step 1: Breathe.
Step 2: Repeat personal mantra.
Step 3: Feel the zen.

What is a mantra?  Mantra is a sanskrit noun meaning: a word or formula chanted or sung as an incantation or prayer (from www.dictionary.com).  It comes from the roots of "to think" and "tool" so it literally means an instrument of thought.  The goal of a mantra is to "create transformation."  Mantras are generally associated with Hindu and Buddhist practices, as well as the practice of yoga.  

For the purpose of today's writing exercise, forget about chanting or singing or prayer.  Just find the magic phrase that you can use when you are stressed out that will help you calm down.  You can say it out loud, under your breath or keep it in your head, but it will help you center and focus you mind and calm your body. 

What is my personal mantra?  Well, that may be my problem - I don't really have one!  I end up following step one above (breathe) with a very inefficient thought, "I am so frustrated right now."  Not helpful in the least.  I think it's high time to change and replace that thought.

writing exercise:  Create your personal mantra.  Think short, easy to remember, transformative.  Use as needed to make it through the day unscathed.

Have a great weekend writercizers!  See y'all Monday.  :)
(Click "read more" to see the writercizer's sample response.)


Express Thanks - writercize #11

Remember a time, if you will, when someone said, "Thanks so much for being you!"  I bet it felt fantastic, maybe even made your day.  Perhaps you smiled a little more on your way to work or complimented a stranger.  Maybe you felt more patient during a stressful situation, knowing someone cared.  It's possible that you paid it forward with another random act of gratitude.

Now, think of someone you know who really deserves a simple thank you.  It could be a parent or a spouse, a coworker, a sibling, a friend, the barista down at the coffee shop who knows your order by heart - anyone who you see put a little extra effort into each and every day.  Let them know you appreciate it.

writing exercise:  Send a letter, text or e-mail to someone you appreciate just to say "thanks for being great."

(Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response.)


Next Word - writercize #10

Hello writercizers!  I'm coming off a busy writing day, and I'd love to do some simple word association to just relax the brain.

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.

  • short
  • hollow
  • shady
  • ring
  • pool

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


Fairy Tale Rewrite - writercize #9

Witches, goblins, fair maidens, horses, magic spells, evil stepmothers, glorious kings ...

Fairy tales are a lovely way to pass stories and lessons from one generation to the next, bridging age gaps and cultural differences.   Through fairy tales we learn about romance and love, heroism, fear, honesty, danger, the innocence of youth, all within a framework allowing magic and imagination to permeate the story.  One high school English teacher used to call accepting that magic the "willing suspension of disbelief."

Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers are probably the best known fairy tale authors, but much of what they wrote for children was simply writing down and publishing a version of the stories handed down around a kitchen fire for centuries before.

Most fairy tales focus on one character and build a supporting cast around the lead.  Today's writercize shifts the focus onto one of the supporting characters (i.e. Cinderella's stepmother, one of the Seven Dwarfs, Prince Charming, the Big Bad Wolf from The Three Little Pigs).

writing exercise:  Pick a well-known fairy tale and retell it from the perspective of a supporting character.  You may choose to write in either the first or third person and you have full creative control over how closely you follow the original storyline.

PS - If you're looking for a fun, interactive retelling of classic fairy tales per Grimm, check out Grimms' Fairy Tales on the National Geographic website.  Very fun!

(To see the writercizer sample response based on the story of The Princess and The Pea, click "read more.")


Caption This! - writercize #8

A picture may speak a thousand words, but the right caption complements a photo with considerably less verbiage.

Let's end this week with a little fun.  

writing exercise:  Write a caption for the photo below.

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


Make Your Own Hybord - writercize #7

Modern language is teeming with words that I like to think of as hybords or worbrids, from word hybrids.  (To the best of my knowledge, neither hybord or worbrid is recognized by any dictionary or person other than myself, so don't worry if you're not familiar with the term.)

Some examples you're likely familiar with: frenemy (friend / enemy), skort (skirt / shorts), spork (spoon / fork), brunch (does that need an explanation?) ... you get the drift.

It almost seems the more green we become as a society, buying hybrid cars, the more we seek to combine words to create newer, sleeker, language-efficient words.

Gossip magazines have fueled the trend by turning celebrity couples into hybords: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are affectionately referred to as TomKat, Ben Affleck has been a member of two Bennifers, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie morphed into Brangelina.

Turns out, the term "hybrid word" does exist, but the examples listed above are not hybrid words.  According to Wikipedia's definition a hybrid word is defined as:  "is a word which etymologically has one part derived from one language and another part derived from a different language."  Since spork combines two English words, it is therefore not a hybrid word.

Rather, spork is a prime example of a very fancy term called "portmanteau."  It's a very long definition, so I'll let you read what Wikipedia has to say about it on their portmanteau page, but the jist of it is a blend of two or more words.  There is no limitation to the native language of each word.  

Technical terminology aside, let's proceed with today's writercize (my favorite portmanteau these days!).

writing exercise:  Create your own portmanteau from two or more words that you feel belong together.  Provide the new word, the original words, the definition and use it in a sample sentence.

(Click "read more" to see sample response.)


Newsworthy in the Neighborhood - writercize #6

I have a confession to make.

I am not as informed as I should be.  These days most of my news comes from friends, family, and (blush) Facebook status updates.  There is really no excuse - between magazines, newspapers, cable news and the internet, it is virtually impossible not to follow the news, but somehow I've managed to (not) do it.  

Major crises usually manage to bleep across my radar, so if there's a new American President or a natural disaster or a noteworthy rescue mission, chances are I've heard something about it.  My radio is tuned to NPR, so if I have a long drive that coincides with their news hours, I feel pretty good about staying current.  Most days, I don't drive beyond a five mile radius around my house so even my radio updates are spotty at best.

Today's challenge deals with summarizing the news.  Since any major news outlet is probably covering the earthquake in Japan, which is highly important but by no means the only news happening today, I want to know what is happening where you live.

writing exercise:  Go to Google News (or your favorite local news source).  "Search" the name of your local city or state.  Find an article that appeals to you, click on it, read and summarize in 50-100 words.  

You may click on additional articles if you need more background information and give your story a title.  If you post a comment here, please link to the original news story and remember to use your own words in your summary!

(Click "read more" for writercizer response.)


Face the Fear - writercize #5

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." -Franklin D. Roosevelt

At some point in life, every human feels fear.  

As toddlers, our gift of imagination and make-believe creates characters all around that we must fear -  monsters, the dark, being chased, losing our parents.  During adolescence while we fight to find the balance between independence from our parents and acceptance from our friends, we fear inadequacy, loneliness.  As adults, we fret over whether we are making the best career decisions for ourselves and our families and fear the mistakes we make will never be forgiven.  As the years slip away, we may fear death, or in the face of death, we may fear that our legacy will not survive the generations and we will be forgotten.

One common thread of these fears is that they exist in our mind.  A toddler does not fear monsters after falling victim to an Elmo-led hi-jacking; we can not know that whatever may or may not exist after death is frightening.  This type of fear preys on the unknown with our vivid imaginations and has the power to stifle decisions.

As humans seeking to function in regular society, it is important that we face these fears and quiet them as best we can.  However, as writers, it is equally important that we face these fears and feel them with every molecule of our being, for it is precisely these fears that will allow us to create a character who is worth getting to know.  

I admittedly seek a certain level of stability in my friends; I like a little crazy and value vulnerability, but constant self-criticism and I may run for the hills.  However, if I'm reading a novel, I want nothing more than to peel back the layers and feel what frightens the man or woman I'm on the fast-track to understanding; I want to know the struggle and craziness and conflict and all that juicy stuff.  

Give your character the gift of fear, and you give them the gift of humanity.

writing exercise:  Think back to a personal fear, not fed by any specific (frightening) external event.  Write an account about yourself in that situation - what was going through your mind?  How did the world appear to you at that time?  Walk yourself through the fear.

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


Alliterative Animals - writercize #4

After a few intense writercizes, let's finish off the first week with some simple word play.  

For those unfamiliar with the term alliteration, here's how the trusted Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it: the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables (as wild and woolly, threatening throngs) —called also head rhyme, initial rhyme

writing exercise: Pick five animals (real ones, extinct ok, but no Dr. Seuss creations) and match them with at least two accurate alliterative adjectives and verbs.  Feel free to use a thesaurus...

If you need a little help thinking of animals, here's a list of a few animals you may see at your local zoo or aquarium to get you started.
tiger    bear    lion    elephant    giraffe    seal    penguin    crab    lobster   dog    cat     mouse    rat    cockroach     gerbil    pig    horse     goat      peacock      parrot      seagull      starfish     snake     gazelle    llama    camel     pony     salmon     tuna      urchin     quail     flamingo    rabbit     frog     toad    turtle     dolphin     shark     lizard     buzzard      dinosaur    cheetah      jaguar    cow    buffalo    ox    crocodile    alligator    zebra    hyena    ibex    stork   bull   eagle

See y'all Monday!  (Click "read more" to see the writercizer sample response.)


Review Local - writercize #3

If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the global slump can be recognized in the number of small, local shops and restaurants that have closed down in recent months and years.  No matter how much news coverage I hear about economic recovery, I can't help but notice the "For Lease" signs lining the sidewalks in cute boutique-y shopping destination previously bustling with commerce.  

My husband and I joke that every time we go on vacation, we'll return to see another of our favorite places has vanished.  Two weeks with the in-laws?  Favorite local pharmacy - gone.  Thanksgiving break?  Favorite coffee shop with kids' play area and free book exchange - lights out.  The joke is not funny.  We laugh to avoid the truth of what we feel - the heartache for those local families who lost a bit of their dream.

No doubt you've heard the phrases "Shop Local" or "Think Globally, Act Locally," reminders that your little corner of the world counts for something in the bigger picture of it all.

writing exercise:  Help out your favorite local spot with a positive online review on a review board such as Yelp or Yahoo! Local or foursquare.  While word of mouth is the best publicity, virtual word of mouth may be second best.  So, get to it: write local!

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


Feeling Blue - writercize #2

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 BLUE.  For today's writercize, you may: 
  • evaluate your feelings towards and associations with the color blue, 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: Blue

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


Why Write? - writercize #1

Every writer has a purpose, a reason hurtling them towards the pen, pencil, paper, typewriter, unfinished paragraphs floating in their brain.  

Could it be a method of communication when other methods leave you silent or tongue-tied?  An escape into a fantasy world, or simply from reality?  An attempt to bring tears to a reader's eyes or evoke an "LOL" response?  To leave a lasting impression of your beliefs, feelings, fears, praise, thoughts?  A method of self-reflection?  A way to initiate dialogue between yourself and those of like- or different-minds?  An avenue to sell a product or an idea? 

writing exercise: What is your purpose?  Why do you write?

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


Let's Get Writercizing!

Welcome to the WRITERCIZE blog, dedicated to writers at all ages and stages who need a little help putting the pen to the paper.  Whether you are a student, an amateur, a published author, a freelancer or a teacher, I sincerely hope you are able to find some inspiration here, and pass a little my way as well!

Here's the plan - I post an idea or writing exercise daily Monday through Thursday.  Exercises will be relatively quick, think (generally) in the range of 5-20 minutes of your time.  My intent is to plant ideas and work on the difficult but necessary practice of choosing words wisely (pruning, perhaps).  The main idea is - repetition breeds expertise.

I ask you to break out the jersey and writercize alongside me.  I would love to see your comments - share the outcome of the exercise, coach me with feedback on what would make it even better, or tell me about your experience.  Share the ideas with a friend or with your students and pass the site forward.

So, sharpen your pencil, dust off your keyboard and join me on this linguistic journey.