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 4

Consider what are your optimal conditions for writing well. Consider this from Legendary Author Toni Morrison: “I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best creatively. They need to ask themselves, ‘What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”

 

If you suffer from writer’s block, ask these questions of yourself: Where do you write well? During what time of the day are you most creative? Then adjust your surroundings in a way that best suits your imagination.

 

(from the book, “Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas to Jump Start Your Imagination”)

Creative Writing – Week 3

Have fun. Take out a couple sheets of paper – or go to your computer – and do this: Trace a five dollar bill through five the lives of five different owners.

What was exchanged in the transaction? How much – or how little – did each transaction mean to the owner involved? Give yourself only 15 minutes for this exercise. It’s just for fun.

If the bill doesn’t make it through five people in 15 minutes, that’s fine. If you had fun with this you’re a success! (from the book: “The Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas to Jump Start Your Imagination” by Jason Rekulak)

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)

What’s in Your Hand?

What’s In Your Hand?

Yesterday, out the blue, Adam Clayton Powell’s famous, “What’s in Your Hand Speech” came to mind. I remembered happening upon his speech about 15 years ago, during one of what would become a series of my mini-retirements (more on that another time).

I had been in line at a library when I noticed a documentary on him on a shelf nearby. I grabbed it, and when I watched it, I was so blown away by the clip of his speech at the end, I rewound it over and over again. I jotted it down verbatim in my diary and memorized it. I loved it so much. It was a call to political action, an attempt to jolt people from apathy.  But I imagined it could be an inspiring call to personal and professional action, as well as a call to celebrate the gifts that we have.

I imagined using it in a speech I would give someday, encouraging beauticians to realize they held in their hands the gift of making others beautiful, calling teachers to realize they have the gift of guidance and instruction. Everybody’s got a gift and often we don’t fully appreciate what we are giving right where we are.

I once envied a friend who made six figures as a personnel specialist. He lamented that he had no special gift. Money isn’t everything, he said. He prayed for God to show him his special gift.

“Are you kidding?”I asked. “Not only are you making money, adding value to your own life and by extension the lives of others you give presents to, causes you donate cash to, your church, which is sustained partly by your tithes and offerings. You have the gift of modeling a level of success that is possible. Plus, in your job you help match people with the right opportunities. That’s a gift!”

Of course, he was thinking of an artistic gift. He admired my gift of – and passion for – writing. He said he envied that I could be content in a corner anywhere with a pen and a notepad or journal. Of course, I did not see what I had as a gift because as much as I love journaling – and now blogging – there’s no money attached to it – yet.  

It can’t be a gift without monetary value, right? Never mind the peace of mind, and what we now call “psychological income.” That doesn’t pay the mortgage, right? At some point it will.  (I have complied trunks full of journals, that I am now considering a gold mine of material for novels.) That’s a gift to be shared, right? 

This morning I tuned in to hear Steve Harvey’s morning testimony, something I’ve enjoyed off and on for at least two years now. I like “witnessing” him share his love of God with his audience of millions. At the end of his 12-minutes of testifying this morning, he talked about gifts God gives us all.

“He gives a lot of people a gift. Some are not using it, now they’re life ain’t what they want. But, guess what? You made that call,” he said in all his sassiness. “You know how to cook, but you won’t bake a pie. You’re funny, but you ain’t on stage. You can sing, but you ain’t got a record deal. You can counsel, but you ain’t took up social work. What you want God to do? You the best painter, but you ain’t got your art displayed no where…That’s crazy.”

I considered the coincidence of recalling Adam Clayton Powell’s speech on using God’s gifts last night and hearing a similar message from Steve Harvey this morning an interesting enough coincidence to follow it somewhere. I googled Adam Clayton Powell and found a clip of him giving his speech on YouTube. I listened and not only felt inspired all over again, I felt compelled to share the inspiration.

Here is the text of Powell’s famous “What’s In Your Hand” speech:  

“As far as I know, here, you’re in trouble. It says you’ve got about 30 percent unemployment. That’s why I’m working hard to get this surplus food here. Some of you say to me, ‘well, I’m not like you. I’m not a congressman. I haven’t got education. I haven’t got work. But you’re a human being. And you know what you’ve got? You’ve got in your hand the power to use your vote and to use even those few cents you get from welfare to spend them only where you want to spend them.” The crowd applauded and cheered. “A young slave boy stood one day before the greatest ruler of his day. And God said to Moses, what’s in your hand? And Moses said, ‘I’ve got this stick, that’s all.’ He said, well let me use what’s in your hand. And God used that slave boy with a stick in his hand to divide the Red Seas, march through a wilderness, bring water out of rocks, manna from heaven, and bring his people to freedom land. What’s in your hand?”

“What’s in your hand! George Washington Carver, who was so frail that he was traded for a broken down horse as a slave boy, and George Washington Carver sitting in the science laboratory at Tuskegee told me, he said, ‘Dr. Powell, I just go out into the fields each morning at 5 o’clock, and I let God guide me, and I bring back these little things and I work them over in my laboratory.’ And that man did more to revolutionize the agricultural science of peanuts, and of cotton, and of sweet potatoes than any other human being in the field of agricultural science.”

“What’s in your hand? Just let God use you that’s all. What’s in your hand!!!!!!!” he boomed. “I’ve got a string in my hand, that’s all, and I’m flying a kite, and way up in the heaven’s lightening strikes, and I Benjamin Franklin, discover for the first time, the possibilities of electricity – with a string in my hand. What’s in your hand!!!!! Little hunch-back sitting in a Roman jail. ‘I haven’t got anything in my hand but an old quill pen. But God says, ‘Write what I tell ya to write!’ And Paul wrote, I have run my race with patience. I’ve finished my course. I’ve kept the faith. What’s in your hand little boy!!!!” ‘All I’ve got is this slingshot, but the enemies of my people are great and big and more numerous than we are.’ Well Little David, go down to the brook and pick out a few stones and bring them back, and put them in the sling shot and close your eyes if you want to and let them go. And David killed the enemies of his people, and his people became free, just letting God guide a stone in his hand. And a few years pass, and David is King. And God says, ‘What’s in your hand?’ And David says I’ve got a harp. And God said then play on your harp. And he played, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. What’s in your hand!!!!!”

Now here was my favorite part.

“A man hanging on a cross with two nails in his hands said ‘Father I stretch my hands to thee. No other help I know. If Thou withdraw thy hand from me, whither will I go. And that man with two nails in his hands split history in half, B.C. and A.D. What’s in your hand tonight? You’ve got God in your hand, and with God in your hand, He’ll let you win because he’s on your side, and one with God is always in the majority. So, walk with Him and talk with Him. And work with Him and fight with Him. And with God’s hand in your hand, the victory will be accomplished, sooner than you dreamed, sooner than you hoped for, sooner than you prayed for, sooner than you imagined. Good night and God bless.”

 Click here for link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuZjcd7t-sE&feature=related