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.
“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!
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…
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.
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…..”
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.
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)