Creative Writing – Week 10

J. California Cooper (one of my favorite storytellers!) tells Marita Golden she loved telling stories with – and to – her paper dolls growing up.

 

M.G.: I read in an article that you played with paper dolls.

C.C.: Until I was 18.

 

M.G.: What did you like about paper dolls?

 

CC: You could tell a story. And that was that. The fact is, they were paper, so they couldn’t do it without you. It was the fact that you had somebody who could stand there and say, “Oh Howard, don’t do that.” My mother said you could put me in a room by myself and shut the door and you’d think a crowd of people were in there if you didn’t know I was in there by myself, because I talked to myself.

 

M.G.: And you were never alone when you were in your world of imagination.

 

C.C.: Right. That’s why when I was 18, my mother got scared and thought I was retarded or something….

 

I loved this book because it affirmed so much of what I knew, experienced, and felt as a writer, and because reading it feels like being in the company of a bunch of people who “Get it!”

 

Do you have a favorite book about writing or the writing life? If so, do share. And tell us why. 

Creative Writing – Week 9

“I had a notebook. You could buy little things from the canteen, and I bought a notebook and started writing things down. Prison ain’t exactly the best place to be telling somebody your deepest feelings, talking about your pain. So, I was writing stuff down. And I realized that it made me feel better, whatever I said, whether it was a paragraph or a page….”

 

(Award-winning author Nathan McCall tells award-winning author and master writing teacher Marita Golden in her book, “The Word”)

 

Do you have a writing routine? If so, for how long have you had it and what benefits have you gained from it? Is it time to rev. up your writing, take it to the next level? I’ve been journaling more than 15 years and this year I happened upon the book, “Creative Journaling,” which is helping me “monetize” this habit. It’s giving me ways to use this journaling habit to improve my craft and discover great stories – cha-ching!

Creative Writing – Week 8

Choose one of the five prompts and write to your heart’s content – but no less then 15 minutes. If you can make time in the evening or on the weekend, give yourself an hour or two to explore this prompt on paper.

 

1)   I give most of my time to….

2)   A letter to someone no longer in your life…

3)   The values I have chosen to live by…

4)   If I dared to say what I really think….

5)   The talent I would develop if I had half a chance is…

Creative Writing – Week 7

Go to your local library before the weekend is gone and check out a book about writing or the writing life. This assignment is two-fold. It gives you a reason to support your local library staying in the business of warehousing books and keeping them available; and it engages you in the book world – in a way.

Go and check out ay book about writing or the writing life.

Creative Writing Workshop – Week Six

Write about your worst habit. Twenty-minutes non-stop. Put it down. Plan to return to this assignment tomorrow for 20 more minutes. End this assignment by completing the sentence, “Now that I realize how (disgusting/or harmless) this habit is, I can…..”

Creative Writing – Week 5

No break for the holiday. I read in Walter Mosley’s book, “Finish Your Novel This Year,” that he writes every single day – weekends and holidays are no exception. So, here’s something for you to think about this week – and something for you to do.

Ethan Canin enrolled in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the age of 22 and felt so “utterly paralyzed” by the experience that he barely completed two short stories in two years. After finishing the program, he enrolled in Harvard Medical School, where the stories began pouring out of him. While dealing with the brutal workloads that cause many medical students to drop out, Canin completed the ten stories in his first book, “Emperor of the Air,” which won a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship. That success was followed by two novels, “Blue River” and “For Kings and Planets,” as well as a book of novellas.

 

“I’ve always set assignments for myself,” Canin told The Atlantic Monthly, according to the book, “Writer’s Block,” by Jason Rekulak. “The assignment for the story ‘Emperor of the Air,’ for example, was to write a story in which an unlikable character becomes likable by the end of the story. For ‘Accountant’, it was to write a story in which a pair of socks takes on large emotional importance.”

 

Jason Rulak suggests tackling one of these assignments yourself.

Creative Writing – Week 2

Free associations and our five senses. Try this: wherever you are, something will have a distinctive smell. If not, stick your head out the window, close your eyes and take a whiff, open your refrigerator, or take a trip to a nearby coffee shop. What memories, thoughts, beliefs do the smells conjure for you? If you smell a foul body odor, for instance, you may remember your minister or Grandma saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness!” Someone’s perfume may remind you of a favorite person or a memorable experience. The smell of incense, for instance, always harkens me back to my Muslim upbringing.

1)   What do you smell?

2)   What does it remind you of or make you think about?

3)   Is it a good or bad smell? Why

4)   Ramble on about this smell and see what stories – philosophies or insights – emerge.

5)   Before you finish this exercise complete this sentence: “The most surprising association of all was…”

Of course, you may do this exercise using any one of your five senses. What did it sound like? What memory did the sound (song?) generate? Have fun with this.

 

(From the book “Creative Journal Writing” by Stephanie Dowrick)

I Believe I Can Fly – Just Not Today

I was power-walking again for exercise a couple of days ago when I decided to exercise my imagination for inspiration. 

Bundled in a red ski coat, sweat pants and tennis shoes I walked through our neighborhood where Cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom even as some trees remain naked. Purple, pink, and yellow flowers in my neighbors’ front yards already are promising spring. I noticed birds flying high or perched on trees.

“Self?” I said in my mind. “The next bird you see is you. Watch its patterns.  Note what it does. Imagine the bird is a reflection of you. The very next bird that catches your attention.”

“O.k.,” I agreed.

“You can’t look for a bird. The trick is the bird has to catch your attention.”

“Ok!” I said, emphatically.

It seemed odd that I was noticing birds until I started the internal conversation. Now I was only hearing them, none were flying in my view.

“O.k. I hear them. I don’t see them, but I know they’re all around me because I hear them,” I said to myself.

“Then just listen and realize the birds are singing even on this cold and dreary day. They’re not waiting for spring to break. Can you sing in the rain like Gene Kelly suggested?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I absolutely can. Is this little exercise over? I was just supposed to be reminded to sing in the rain?”

“No. Keep your eyes open. The next bird you see is a reflection of you.”

I noticed a tiny bird bouncing around on the ground. It was a red-breasted bird.

“Oh no!” I thought. “Get up from there! Get up! You’ve got wings. You can fly!”

The bird bounced around on the evergreen grass in an opening beyond a clump of trees.

“Fly birdie! Fly!” I thought, standing still to observe.

“There’s your bird. Now what do you think?” my invisible friend asked.

“Well, even though it is small and on the ground instead of in the air, it caught my attention. Maybe I will catch the attention of somebody – a manager  who will hire me or a publisher who will sign my book for publication and a movie.”  

A chilly wind whipped at my legs. I noticed a large bird flying above my little bird, but I remained focused on the small bird, since this was my assignment.

“O.k., So once I get their attention, I’ll keep it even though they may have bigger birds in sight. They may have high-profile authors on board, but I will keep their attention.”

Just then a flock of birds swooped down near my little bird, but quickly took flight again.

“Oh, those are all the self-published authors, touching ground (working their day jobs), but immediately taking flight again (going home to work on their dream job of self-publishing books).” They will not keep the people assigned to work with me from focusing on me and our project.”

Streaks of sunlight broke through the clouds. A smile rose from my heart.

“Little birdie, fly. Are you content to stay on the ground? You can’t be. We were made to fly,” I thought, hoping the bird could hear my thoughts.

I was reminded of a time when I was about 14-years-old and one of my favorite uncles, my greatest inspiration at the time, handed me a copy of the then-popular book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”  It was a very small hard-cover book, only 150 pages or so. I accepted the book as if he was handing me money.

“You are Jonathan,” he said. “We both are. This is our story.”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“Don’t ask me. Read it for yourself,” he said. 

I read it quickly. It was the story of a bird that dared to leave the flock of birds pecking around on the sea shores for leftover scraps of food. The bird, named Jonathan, decided that since he had wings he must have been made to fly, not waddle around on the sand for crumbs. He decided he would fly simply for the joy of flying. He would fly simply because he could.

The other birds, of course, laughed at him and swore he would starve if he did not work as they did. But Jonathan’s hunger was more than belly-deep. He hungered to do what he felt he was designed to do.

Jonathan flew high until he met other birds of like-mind. They taught him new flying skills and encouraged him to fly even higher. He did, and at each new level, he met other teachers who taught him the miraculous things they could do with their wings.

This story came back to me as I watched my little bird bouncing around on the ground. I also remembered a conversation I had with my recently departed aunt, who also had been my best friend.

“Stop worrying about some little job,” she would say. “You’re an eagle. God made you to fly high above the rest of us. Stop pecking around here like some little chicken!”

She had good-gubment job security, so she wasn’t exactly in the position to convince me I did not need the same. But her encouragement came back to me as I watched my little bird a couple of days ago.

“Fly little bird. Fly,” I mentally projected as I watched her from a distance.

I decided to stand there and watch to see how long it would take her to get off the ground, but I became impatient, and went home. Later that day I considered the bird may have been telling me it is ok to be content on the ground for a while. Even birds must rest, right?

The 23rd Psalm came to mind. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me to the paths of righteousness for His namesake.”

I considered that my little bird had been simply lying down in green pastures for a moment.  Of course she took flight again at some point. Birds fly because they can and they must. They know they can fly.  I know I can, too – when the time comes. Until then, I am becoming more grounded in many ways. Grounded, as in: being in touch with reality; gaining a secure feeling  my personal feelings.

Yes, I can, and will, fly again. Just not right this very moment – and that’s o.k.