Free Wrii--iiiting - writercize #193

It's hard for me not to hear Tom Petty "Free Falling" in my head when I think of free writing, hence the extra i's. Just imagine the long drawn-out melody as you read it.

Recently, the fabulous local writing group, Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles, aka CBW-LA, revamped our website. As the publications editor, I am responsible for spearheading a quarterly newsletter (tick tock, tick tock) as well as populating the website with writing prompts. They are a tad more sterile than my twisting and turning writercize set-ups, but the gist is essentially the same. In order to succeed at writing, one must ... write. Anything at all. Even frequent e-mail can hone your skills as long as you don't take too many short-cuts.

When it comes to my work, I spend most of my writing time in my head, composing the outline and constructing a lead, editing fluff, tapping into the voice I want in my piece. That way, when I sit down to write, it pours out rather quickly and with nothing more than a quick edit or two the piece is ready to leave my hands and visit my trustworthy editor. Often, I find the story takes an unexpected turn or two as I clickity-clack on my keyboard, but that just means my subconscious is doing its job of finding the story's flow.

When it comes to my blog, there are days when an entire post has appeared in my mind ahead of time, but oftentimes, especially as it pertains to my sample writercize, what you see is what you get. Raw and unedited. Sometimes a little awkward, but generally, hopefully, worth getting to know.

Today's writercize is sheer instinctual writing. There is absolutely no editing, punctuation, capitalization, thought. It will be messy. But it will speak truth. And that is more important than precise construction, for without a heart, no story will pump life. That is true for every genre, at every age group. A great story speaks to the mind and emotion of your reader.

I borrowed and slightly adapted this writercize from a CBW-LA writing workshop I attended last Spring, and a highly truncated version of this post is available over at the CBW-LA website under writing prompts. (Visible to the public! Only members can comment, but anyone can find great writing prompts, events, challenges, lessons and more.) It calls for a timer and a pencil and paper or a keyboard.

writercize: Before you dive into your current manuscript, put yourself in the right mindset and allow your mind to free fall. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write - without punctuation or capitalization. Coherent and connected thoughts are not even necessary. 

This is your time to free write, within some guidelines. Find one theme or topic within your manuscript and use that as your free write title. From there, write any thoughts on the theme or topic. (Do not use this time to relate any free writing to the book or devise an outline.) 

If you are stuck even getting to a manuscript, try one of these free writes:
  • Want to write for children? Free write about your favorite games and toys to play as a child.
  • Want to write for teens? Recall the names of friends, activities you enjoyed, clubs and sports, even mistakes you made.
  • Want to write poetry? Pick one element - earth, water, wind, fire.
  • Thinking of nonfiction? Free write newsworthy events in the past year.

I love reading your comments and especially your writercize results, so please, drop me a line to let me know if this worked for you! Better yet, share it with the world. :)

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response - all about some of my favorite things to do as a child. So much fun to reminisce and get back to childhood!


Caption It! Contest at How is Bradley?

Long-time followers know I love a good writercize accompanied by an image. Pictures are not only powerful communication tools - they are great fun to inspire captions and stories!

Today I ran across a post by a true to life friend that I wanted to share with all of you. He is starting up a weekly "Caption It" contest on his "How is Bradley?" blog. 

The blog in general is an invaluable resource for anyone struggling with bipolar disorder or weight loss - he is an honest and perceptive voice - but, the Caption It contest is all about humor. Brad is a really funny guy, and I always appreciate his unique ability to laugh in the face of adversity. 

I am fortunate to not face bipolar disorder or weight loss in my own life, but I certainly have family and friends whom I love and adore who deal with one or the other, and that portion of his blog helps me gain a deeper understanding of what they are dealing with.

Beyond that, I hope you will join me every Wednesday for a little humor with Brad as we find out what in the world he may ask us to caption. I won't totally give this week's photo away, because I want you to see it for yourself, but let's just say there is booty shaking and grumpy old men. Now, go. Have fun with it! I can't wait to see what you come up with!


Writer Seeking: Genre to Compliment My Every Thought

Heads up: I recently decided to allow myself a little more flexibility within writercize. I often find inspiration strikes for a blog post, but it doesn't quite fit in with the writercize theme, so I paralyze both the thought and the blog. Therefore, I hereby allow myself to post the occasional opinion and/or reflection on the writing life as I see fit to indulge. I have updated my 'writercize in a nutshell' description accordingly through one additional paragraph.

Here you are: "The site will also be peppered with a few opinions here and there as well as insight on the growing pains and highlights associated with a burgeoning writing career. Please bear with me. It's my blog, so I get to indulge my ego every once in a while. Right?"

(See it along the right hand side there? Man, I love the power of sidebar.)

Now, onto the topic at hand. Genres. Without a writercize at the end. (Eek. Can I really do this?)

Here's the thing about genres. They kind of freak me out. They're like labels. Sticky little labels that tell the world who we are and what we are meant to write. She writes romance. He writes horror. She writes board books. Sure, they help land an agent and define a readership, but they also feel a little like shackles - or unspoken glass ceilings.

I will be perfectly honest - I don't especially like labels for myself. I find them sort of, well, confining. And I don't much like to be confined. Look at my Facebook labels - I chose "independent" for political views and "an amalgam of sorts" for religious views. I do quite enjoy the label "writer" to be honest. That is one label I'll be happy to hang on to for a bit. And I love "Mom." But should anyone begin to pigeonhole me by a label and attempt to relegate me to the land of the like-minded, I shall break away screaming my little head off.

I get why they are important. I get why they may be comfortable to some. Once a genre is selected, the mind can focus on the most appropriate story lines, and networking can occur within a familiar zone. Agents and publishers can follow established routines and marketing campaigns to get books into the hands of the most likely readers. It all makes sense. It truly does. But it still gives me chills.

Nutschell, my good friend over at The Writing Nut, tells a story of how she decided to write a memoir a few years ago. Memoirs were hot, and she felt like she could tell the story of her life. She sat, and sat, and sat. For more than a year. And she had nothing on the page to show for it. She had backed herself into a corner with the wrong genre. A memoir was not living in her soul. Finally, one day, she looked at her shelf, and saw it was filled with YA and fantasy. That was what she loved to read, and that was what she was meant to write. She found her genre, which she now states proudly as she works on her second manuscript and leads the non-profit children's writing group, Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles.  

I joined CBW-LA a few years ago, as a stay-at-home mom tired of reading drab stories to my kids, and longing for a chance to harness my first dream career in life and write. I felt that I had the responsibility to give myself that chance. Since I didn't have the time as an SAHM (those labels again!) to twin toddlers, I thought I could join and start writing picture books. I really like picture books - they were one of my first loves growing up. I admired the authors who would visit my school and sign my books. I would really like to publish a picture book. But, I am not a naturally born story-teller with visions of characters and plots dancing in my head shouting for a turn on the page. And from that standpoint, picture books are hard. They need inspiration. I need inspiration. As I wade through manuscripts and half finished stories, I see that my inspiration is education. I will never be able to create a story that is whimsical and just for fun. My stories will always serve a purpose - to teach a child about a love of writing or a topic that may be slightly uncomfortable or nebulous to teach without a book. I am coming to understand that, and I am pleased with that distinction in my mind.

Most of the time, when I write, it is for our local weekly newspaper. I work as a freelance journalist and cover city government, school news and features. It is far and away the best way to get to know a city in the world. (My humble opinion.) I do not opine in the newspaper. I simply tell facts. I conduct interviews. And do a ton of research. And in the end, I attempt to tell the facts as a story, a riveting account that draws a reader into the subject and educates the reader as fully as possible within an 800-word limit.

Looking forward, first and foremost, I want to continue my life as a journalist. Because, hey, that's my connection to local life and that's my consistent bread and butter. And I do want to write for children. And I do want to write for adults. And I do want to tell real stories in a fresh, new way. And I think I finally found my label, my genre, that will allow me to do this.

My label, my genre, is called "creative nonfiction."

Creative nonfiction is defined by Lee Gutkind, founder of Creative Nonfiction magazine, as "true stories, well told." He writes: "The words “creative” and “nonfiction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy."

This is my genre. This is my purpose as a writer. This fits me like a glove. Creative nonfiction. I'm so happy to have finally found you.