I like using the tag line “pondering poetry” because pondering is often how a poem forms: I sit (or walk or swim or run), asking myself questions about something or another (or sometimes both something and another). When I answer the question, I try to think my answers in images. In other words, if I as myself, “What is a cat?” Instead of thinking “Grey, fur, small…” and so on, I try to picture a grey-furred, small cat sitting next to my desk. I then write out the image by describing it as well as I can using metaphors, sensory description, and other figurative language. It’s a basic process, and maybe I’m slow but it’s one that took me some time to arrive at after through years of trying to think my answers in words that created an image, not the other way around.
Sometimes a poem results from one of the images right away. Most of the time it does not, and I play around with the images, placing them next to each other and on top of one another in different ways, ways that interest me or make me sit up straighter. I then keep pondering those images and brainstorming and riffing off them, often using stream of conscious-like writing, until the poem forms. It always does. It isn’t always amazing, but those less-than poems I set aside for a day when I want to work from old exercises.
I recommend giving it a try – if it works, you may end up with poem; if not, at least you tried and completed your writing/writing warm-up for the day!
- Freewrite a list of at least 10 questions. Don’t think too hard, just write some questions. Here are a few examples: What are cats? Why do people marry? When will I die? How are flip-flops made? You get the idea. Just write the first questions that come to mind until you have at least 10 but no more than 15.
- Choose one of the questions. You can choose at random, closing an eye and tossing a paperclip and going with the question on which it lands, or you can go with the one that tugs at you the hardest.
- Now start answering the question in images. Don’t question the pictures that pop into your head, don’t worry if they’re weird/creepy/sexy/scary – just focus on them one at a time (it’s okay to tell a pushy one to wait or to skip right to it – this is your exercise!). Start with the obvious, and keep going following the images that come. For example, if when you think of an answer to “What is a Cat?”, you see a small, grey kitten sitting by your desk – write about that. Then follow the cat if it decides to move. If it doesn’t, think about what else a cat is, and let an image come to you. Write it out, then follow where it leads. And so on.
- When one answer leads somewhere really interesting, see if there’s a poem in it and write it! Write the first draft and let it sit before rewriting it. See if you can keep thinking in images even during the revision process.
Good luck and happy writing!
Habits of the Creative Mind (HCM) is written to be used as a college textbook, however it is not a typical college-level writing textbook by any stretch of the imagination and can (and should) be used by a wider audience.
This new book (published in 2016) is based on five core principles: (1) writing is a technology for thinking thoughts that are new to the writer; (2) the habits of mind that support good writing are teachable and learnable; (3) creativity takes practice, lots and lots of practice; (4) the essay is the ideal form for practicing the habits of the creative mind; and (5) writing is a way of paying attention. It is organized by essays/short readings and writing activities under specific themes relevant to the writing life. More specifically, each essay or short reading is followed by several “practice sessions” with exercises and recommendations for further exploration. Instead of focusing on rhetorical or mechanical principles, the text focuses on building the types of thinking skills that characterize writers which the authors perceive as including, but not limited to, observation, curiosity, openness, creativity, flexibility, responsibility, persistence, composition (in the sense of how things appear together), metacognition, and engagement.
This book made its way onto my bookshelf earlier this year when the publisher (Bedford/St. Martin’s) sent a box of evaluation copies of various English books to my department. The title caught my eye, and I snagged it from the stack along with a few other books and promptly forgot about it entirely until about two weeks ago. As I looked over and reviewed titles to shift a few books around on my bookcase to make room for new arrivals, this book again caught my eye.
I started reading it as I stood and didn’t stop until I was about a quarter of the way in.
The materials and exercises presented in HCM break from convention and encourage highly-divergent thinking. The text encourages readers to be curious about both the materials they read as well as the world around them. The assignments include non-writing tasks like picture drawing, listening to music, podcasts, visual mapping, photography, as well as writing assignments such as keeping a writer’s notebook with observations on your surroundings, overheard conversations, and so on; conducting an interview for a biography profile; and tracking/recording questions you encounter when reading. The text also emphasizes synthesis: seeking and finding connections between the real world, your thoughts and reflections, and the essays/books/articles you read.
At the same time, the book’s strength in being nonconformist is also its weakness as there is a lack of explanation and examples in the text. For more advanced readers and writers this will not present an issue, but for readers and writers new to the craft, it may be challenging. While the authors’ aim is to encourage readers to break away from formulaic, recipe-like writing, many readers and writers can benefit from some of the more traditional (and possibly formulaic) techniques to help them master the basics. As such, I think for those readers this book is best used in conjunction with another text or websites that will help readers see how to go about implementing the excellent good exercises offered by the authors.
Overall, I think this book is simply awesome. I am excited to try the activities and “practice sessions” as I restart my own writing practice. Moreover, the essays and readings are manageable and engaging, and I find myself going back to the book as I contemplate the different topics and styles of writing. I recommend this book for writers, writing students, and writing teachers looking to build their abilities and writing repertoire.
When your work involves being creative, it can be hard to come up with new ideas day after day, hour after hour. To maintain a creative life, you need to feed your creativity. Visit new places, look at new works of art, eavesdrop on new conversations, read new
books/articles/posts, try your hand at a new kind of project … the list is endless.
But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we get stuck. We need a little help to keep that creative fire burning. I use three million and ten different tricks to help myself out of
sticky situations. Okay, that might not be the exact number. But as I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. In fact, I stuff them into every pocket, hat, bag, and even undergarment that I own! The one I’m about to share may seem strange at first. You might wonder how what results will possibly work with your particular project. That’s okay. Let it sit and simmer for a while. Keep it on the back burner because I promise that at some point when you’re stuck (which happens to the best of us) it’ll be ready and waiting for you to turn up the heat.
So what is this different little trick? It’s called “On This Day…” and its inception came from my many years of homeschooling and teaching writing to children. When my girls were in grade school, I made it a habit of having them start each day with a journal entry. Young children almost always benefit from a prompt to help focus their wide-ranging thoughts. Heck, many adults do, too. During school hours, at least once per week I used the “On This Day”-prompt where I took an event (or offered a list of events and let them choose one) and asked the girls to use it to write creatively in their journals. Being a writer, I always joined in during journal time and wrote my own entry. I found that sometimes the historical event filled in a blank spot in a story or essay I was writing. I didn’t necessarily use the event itself, but rather the idea it sparked.
Because it was so helpful, I’ve returned to this trick whenever I’m stuck in a story and need a little help lighting the creative fires again. During NaNoWriMo last year, I used my “On This Day”-technique when considering what might be going on in the world around my characters. It helps me to have a picture of possible events in their lives, even if they don’t all make it into the story. I also use it to spark questions and thoughts for my characters – where might this or that lead? And, I’ve used this trick to inspire drawings and encaustic paintings. For example, reading about an event in history during Prohibition led to a wax painting involving wine and dancing.
Finding information for “On This Day” is extremely fast and easy. I have several daily journal books I used when homeschooling that had interesting and different kinds of information for the day (e.g., Today Hershey produced its first chocolate bar!), and sometimes I still pull them out. But more often, I use the internet because it is simple to gather additional information on a topic if it strikes a chord. I can see this being especially helpful for historical fiction writers who might want specific historical details.
- This Day in History (from History.com) – categorical (e.g., Art, Hollywood, War); contains links to more information
- This Day in History (from InfoPlease.com) – chronological (short list)
- Today in History (from HistoryNet.com) – chronological (short list); includes a “born on this date” list
- On This Day (from the NY Times) – choose a date; includes more recent history than many other sites
- This Day in History (from the International World History Project) – chronological; no hyperlinks except for selected topics; includes lesser-known historical events
Once you have the list, how does it work? Let’s take today. October 10th. Many things happened on this day throughout human history. I like to look at a long list of possible events because usually something strikes me and my brain is off and running. Today, the event that jumps off the page at me is that on October 10, 1935 Porgy and Bess, “the first great American opera,” premiered on Broadway.
Whoa. I love this opera. I used to sing songs from this opera in middle school concert choir. How did I forget that today was the day it premiered? Okay, I probably never actually knew what day it premiered, but nonetheless… reading about this event triggers a host of thoughts and creative avenues for me – even though on the surface it is not at all related to my current writing project.
As I follow the thoughts, I jot notes to myself. Many don’t get used, but I write down – without judgment or too much thought – everything that comes to mind for 5-10 minutes. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote for today:
- In middle school, I learned “Summertime” (song from P&B) for concert choir – I then got into the opera and insisted on seeing it in person; led to trip to the city where we got lost – what if the main character does similar… what happens when she’s lost?
- What if the main character wants to play Bess in the high school production but she isn’t black? Or maybe it’s not P&B but some other show … What happens? How does she go about getting the part? How do others react?
- What if the main character is trying to write an American opera and uses P&B as the basis/inspiration – what could this be about? What is relevant today from P&B? What has changed? How can I change the opera to be new? How does impact the M.C.’s life?
You get the idea.
I think everyone can benefit from trying this technique at least once. It may not find its way into your story or art the first time, but the brainstorming process that results from looking at “On This Day” forces your brain into creative mode. And in creative mode is always a good place be.
If you try this technique, let me know how it goes! And if you do something similar, please share! I’d love to read about it in the comments so I can tuck it up my sleeve or into a pocket when I need another trick!
One of the best things about being writers is that we get to play with reality. When we craft fiction, poetry, and even creative nonfiction, we can bend and twist the boundaries of our identity, the identities of our speakers and characters, and even the world around us.
Of course, there are varying degrees of reality contorting. One could tell the first-person account of the life of a three-winged dragon in the fictional land of Ingatek, or one could write a poem that relays a factual account of an observation but simply tell it from the perspective of a different person.
“Playing” like this can be fun, exciting, and it works the creative muscle in our writers’ brains that makes us stronger writers. Even hardcore nonfiction writers can benefit from the cross training taking on different perspectives provides. Being able to see the world and events from another’s point of view forces us to notice different details, make different interpretations of events and relationships, and possibly reconsider our own place in the scheme of things.
So today I offer a simple writing exercise in perspective. Use it as a quick warm-up for the day’s writing, or take it and run with it as far as your imagination (and time) will allow.
Exercise: Consider a locale you frequently visit – it could be the library, a bar or restaurant, a park, or even a neighbor’s house. Create a list of at least twenty-five descriptive words associated with that particular place. Write fast and try to complete your list in 3 minutes or less. Using your list, write a short story or poem about being in the place from the perspective of a young child. Keep in mind appropriate vocabulary, how children relate to adults and other children, how a child’s breadth of experience (or lack thereof) might impact what/how he or she experiences in the same place as adult. And have fun with it! You never know where a writing exercise might lead…
Do you often write from different perspectives? Is there a specific process you use when “getting into character” that helps your writing feel more authentic? I’d love to hear about your method in the comments! And if you try the writing exercise, let me know how it goes!
I’m not currently looking for an agent, but merely thinking about the process makes me break out in a cold sweat. Finding a good match, writing a stellar query, knowing how to spot a fake… Never mind actually having a polished manuscript to submit!
Fortunately, there are many great resources to help writers along. Websites galore, how-to articles, Facebook groups, manuals, agencies … And every year, Writer’s Digest puts out a new guidebook to help connect writers and agents.
So if you’re in the market for an agent, check out Chuck Sambuchino‘s blog post, which includes a giveaway for the new 2017 Guide to Literary Agents! Entering is easy – simply comment on his blog. And if you are on Twitter, you can tweet about the giveaway for an extra entry.
Are you looking for an agent? If you’d care to share about the process, let us know in the comment section below!
This year, November for me means not only all of the usual busyness of Thanksgiving, family, and work because in addition there is a 100% chance of (FINALLY) moving into our new house. It’s been delayed and delayed and delayed, and we’ve been moving from temporary housing to temporary housing. But finally – in November – it will be done. And right smack in the middle of it all? NaNoWriMo.
So with these immense tasks looming large, I need all the motivation I can get. Little things can get me pumped when I’m feeling intimidated, so this morning instead of focusing on the writing, I thought I’d focus on something easier:
Creating a book cover for NaNoWriMo.
I have no plan when it comes to NaNo. I don’t plot – as much as I want to be the writer with the outline, character sketches, and full-blown plan for novel writing, I am a pantser through and through. In fact, I don’t have a clue as to what this year’s NaNo book will be about. Or at least I didn’t until I started making a cover. It’s one of my tricks up my very tricksy sleeves. I force myself to complete the first step, and the rest follows. Eventually. And if I change my mind or the Muses gift me with another story? I’ll change the cover. Easy as pie.
So for anyone who would like a nudge in the pants(er), here is a quick and painless way to create a NaNoWriMo book cover to display with pride (or any other emotion you choose) on your dashboard…
(1) Log in to Canva.
Canva is a free, online site that comes fully loaded with easy-to-use tools that make it possible for everyone (well, maybe not my mother but she still can’t figure out her email) to design graphics, presentations, social media bling, headers, buttons, and yes, NaNo book covers. For free. Just register with your email address and you’re good to go!
(2) From your Canva dashboard, click “Use custom dimensions” and enter 230 x 300 pixels. It will look something like this:
You’ll then end up on the layout page with a blank slate, like this:
(3) From here, you can get as creative as you’d like OR keep it as simple as you like.
Simple cover – For a crisp, clean cover, simply add a background color and lettering, like so:
All I did here was select existing text from the left sidebar and edit it. For the author’s name, I used “Add a little bit of body text.” You can change the colors, size, etc., by simply selecting the element. Playing around and experimenting is the best way to find what you like.
Fancier cover – Or add photos (choose from free stock photos, pay $1 to use protected images, or upload your own photos), graphics, fancy fonts from your personal library, and other elements. Here’s an example using a free stock photo:
I selected “Elements” from the left menu bar, picked “Free photos,” then entered “train” in the search box. To make the photo fit the cover, I dragged the corners until the image filled the 230 x 300 pixel template. Then I added text as above.
(4) After you’ve played around and are happy with the cover, click “Download” from the top menu bar and save the file as a JPG or PNG, the forms compatible with NaNo.
(5) Finally, all that’s left is to visit your author dashboard over at NaNoWriMo and upload the cover!
I promise this is a very easy process and was actually faster than the time it took to write this post! I created my 2016 NaNoWriMo cover this morning after deciding to take the plunge. And while I didn’t know going in what my book would be about, the creative process got the juices flowing and an idea sparked. Now let’s hope it catches!
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Let me know if you create a NaNoWriMo cover! And if you have a different technique or use different software please feel free to share in the comment section – it’s always good to learn different ways to accomplish the same task since you never know what you’ll like best until you try it!
If you’re anything like me, you start writing because a character (or an interesting situation) comes to visit your brain. And you write and write and write and begin to bring to life the story. You start to get excited about your wonderful writing so you share bits and pieces of the project with your friends and/or fellow writers. And then, inevitably the question arises:
“So … what’s the title?”
And you pause for a never-ending-moment before answering, “Uh … n-n-nothing yet.”
You say this even if it is titled because you only have a working title and no one in their right mind ever wants to share a working title because it is usually embarrassing or silly or unimaginative or anything but the perfect title you know your masterpiece deserves.
Speaking from experience, I can say this traumatic title trouble also happens with poems, flash pieces, works of nonfiction both long and short, essays, research papers, academic works … and yes, even blog posts.
So what’s a writer to do?
Well, I wish I could give you a one-sentence magic answer … but sadly, I have yet to master that mystical power. However, I can give you a list of some pretty nifty websites that have helped me tack title trouble in the past. Here they are in no particular order:
- Of course, the folks over at Writer’s Digest offer some insightful tips. Be sure to check out Chuck Sambuchino’s post, How to Choose Your Novel’s Title: Let Me Count Five Ways.
- Don’t forget the value of old-fashioned brain picking – friends, family, even strangers in the supermarket might have the perfect title on the tips of their tongues. My husband was instrumental in helping me figure out the title to a nonfiction piece I recently wrote for a workshop and the first thing everyone commented on was the amazing title.
- And when all else fails, keep in mind that if you decide to publish your baby via a publishing house, the editor and marketing peeps may make the decision for you! So sit back, relax, and keep writing. The title will appear, one way or the other. At least that’s what I keep telling myself!
Do you have any tips for title choosing? I’d love to read them and add your wisdom to my writing arsenal! So please – share away in the comments section!