Monday, March 30, 2015

Two Things Necessary For A Picture Prompt Exercise (A Repeat Post)


Why are picture prompts such a good exercise for writers? One of the best reasons I can think of is that they help to develop our imagination and creativity. If I were teaching a class filled with twenty writers of all stages--newbies, intermediate and top pros--and I assigned the picture above for a writing exercise, I would receive twenty different stories. There is no doubt of that. Two main things enter into what comes of an exercise like this.

Experience: Each writer who studies this picture will see something different. A lot of what we see is based on our own experiences, or our dreams perhaps. If the writer had lived in a place where snow in winter was the norm, the many experiences taking place on snowy days would spark their writing. But if the writer had lived in southern Florida, a snowy day like this one is only a dream. Maybe a nightmare as it doesn't appeal at all to many of these people to be cold. They can only imagine the crunch of snow under a pair of warm boots. They don't know what it feels like to have the snow land flake by flake on already-chilled cheeks. Nor do they know the joy of making a snowball or building a snowman. So, yes, experiences do play a part in what we see in a picture prompt.

Imagination:  Let's face it. Some people have more vivid imaginations than others. Walk through a museum of contemporary art with 5 people, stop before a colorful abstract painting and ask each one what they see in it. You'd get widely diverse interpretations depending on the imagination quotient of each person. Can you develop a higher degree of imeagination? Yes, I think it's quite possible. As stated above, doing these picture prompts is one good way to increase your imagination. We're all familiar with stories about small children who live with a pretend friend or pet. My youngest brother kept 5 baby fire dragons and a mama fire dragon with him for a long time, blamed many of his misdeeds on them, and cautioned the rest of the family not to step on them. He's not a writer today, but I have a feeling that he'd have a good result with a picture prompt as he had that imaginative spark from early on. Doing the picture prompt exercise on a regular basis should help develop your imagination to a higher degree. 

So how about it? Give this picture a good look. Take time to study it top to bottom, side to side. Then start writing. Ask yourself where it is and what time of day it might be. Who is going to come to one of the boats? Add sensory details to let the reader know what it feels like to be in this place.I wish I really was teaching a class and giving this assignment. I'd love to see what the twenty people would write about.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Something New From Annette Gendler


What you see above is the banner of the very first issue of Annette Gendler latest project--a newsletter. Read it here. Annette also has a blog. She is a Writer-in-Residence at the Ernest Hemingway House in Oak Park, IL. Annette has also been a guest blogger here. Read her posts here and here.

Annette teaches Memoir Writing at StoryStudio in Chicago and has recently taught an 'mini-memoir' class at The Ernest Hemingway House. Now she is offering this same course online so that people anywhere can participate.

This first issue of the newsletter has details about the class for anyone who is intersted. The thought behind writing a mini-memoir rather than tackle an entire memoir book is that it's easier to write about a small slice of one's life and it's also much easier to achieve publication for a short piece than a book length memoir.

Annette is a former member of my online writing group. She'll be at our conference in mid-April and I'm looking forward to seeing her there. She's a fine writer and excellent teacher.

I was especially pleased when Annette was awarded the Writer-in-Residence at The Ernest Hemingway House because the famed author went to the same high school that I did--but at an earlier time. Every English teacher in that school mentioned that fact as well as ine other. It seems that Mr. Hemingway failed English in high school. Maybe it's true or it could be an Oak Park-River Forest High School legend. I've always wanted it to be true.

Take a look at the links I've provided above. It might prove to be some interesting reading this weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Can Anyone Learn To Write?

Another taste of spring

Last evening, I was looking through the Wall Street Journal, when I spied an interesting half-page ad. The Great Courses was trolling for people to sign on for a course in writing fiction. Click on the link to get all the details of what they are selling.

What stopped me was what they said in one section. They tell the reader that writing great fiction isn't a gift reserved for the talented few. There is a craft to storytelling that can be learned,... They go on to describe what they term 'a master class in storytelling.' The course is taught via video, audio, DVD method.

I know nothing about this course, nor the professor who is teaching this 24 lecture course so I cannot tell you to run as fast as you can and sign up. Neither can I say run the other way. Looking at the lecture titles gives me reason to think that it is probably a course filled with good information for anyone wanting to learn the art of writing fiction. When you sign up for a course like this, you go on blind faith unless you have the endorsement of someone else who has taken the course already. 

I got my start writing by signing up for a correspondence course that taught people how to write for children. It served as the srpingboard to begin my writing journey. I had known no one who took the course. I went on that 'blind faith' and, for me, it worked out very well. My instructor wrote one final letter to me. In it, she said that she wished she could take credit for the writing ability I had after the 18 month course, but she told me that all she did was help me bring forth what was already there. A nice compliment indeed.

I do believe thst the craft of writing can be learned. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I frequently urge new writers to take classes and read books on writing. I also believe that some people have an inherent gift for storytelling. Put both together and you've got something grand.

I know a writer who writes great stories with wonderful messages and is able to bring out the reader's emotions. She also shuns reading books about writing, taking a class or anything remotely connected. She is the exception to the rule, I think. I sometimes wonder if her writing might be even better if she did some of the learning the craft end but she's happy with the road she's on. Isn't that the important thing? 

A noble experiment would be for 10 people to take the same writing course, then follow their writing progress over a five year period. I am guessing that they will all be at different stages on the writing path. Those who learn the technicalities of the our craft but also have that special gift for storytelling will probably be much farther along. 

Whether we must be born with the gift of being able to write or we can learn it as a craft has been a debatable question for a very long time. I don't think there is a totally clear answer. Anyone care to comment? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gift The World With Words

Have you ever given thought to how many writers there are in this world? Check out all the items in your home that require reading. It's a lengthy list:

Directions on foods to prepare
Church Bulletins
Newsletters from various organizations
Children's Books and magazines
Telephone Directory
Other organization directories
Directions on medicine and supplement bottles

I'm sure there are some I've overlooked. The point is that someone had to write all those things we read.

Consider the daily newspaper you read (if you read one). Estimate the number of writers it takes to produce the daily paper, then multiply that by the number of daily papers there are in our country alone. An astounding number of writers.

Go to your local library or bookstore. Guesstimate the number of books on the shelves. An amazing number of people wrote those books. Not every bookstore or library has the same books, so the number keep climbing as you determine the number of writers who produce books for us to read.

What about people who write advertising copy? Or who write all those directions we read. Or the ones who assemble directories for our use. That's a form of writing, too. As well as newsletters and yearbooks for groups. Then, there are playwrights, screenplay writers, writers who put the news reports together for TV anchors.

Add them up and there are thousands of writers in the USA. Add the ones around the world and it would be a number meant to make you dizzy.

You and I are writers but we're only a tiny dew drop in the rainstorm of numbers of people who write. Some earn their living writing. Some, like me, are hobbyist writers. It makes one wonder if one little writer in a group that big can make a difference to anyone who reads. I vote yes on that. We all give something to others through our writing, whether we have thousands of readers or a dozen. Each and every one is important.

Writers gift the world with words. Be proud to be a part of that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Can Everyone Write Humorous Stories?

This picture made me laugh. Doesn't this little guy look like he's having the time of his life? Joy is written all over his furry little face. 

Laughter is good for us, or so say the many articles in women's magazines and newspapers. Laughter releases physical tension and stress, if even only momentarily. Read the health benefits of laughter in this article from Web MD.

Writing humor is a gift that not all of us have. One of the women in my online writing group is masterful when it comes to getting a laugh out of the printed word. Others try and try and just fall flat. 

Once again, showing what is funny seems to work better than telling. Also, sublte remarks can come across as humorous. People don't need to be hit over the head with a cooking pot to see the humor in what is written on the page. 

I recently read a novel where the author tosses in quip after quip. Somehow, it worked in this book. I found myself smiling or snickering at many of the tiny little remarks she made. 

There are varying kinds of humor from the purely slapstick stuff to the subtle little quips. You don't have to evoke a deep down belly laugh from the humor you write. A little laugh or a wide smile or a 'I feel good" kind of thing all work. 

Erma Bombeck made a career out of writing humorous essays about life and her own family. There are others who have walked on her path. Many magazines feature a humorous look at life on one page. 

Dahlynn and Ken McKowen started an anthology series that features a lot of humor. Their Not Your Mother's Book on... books have many very funny stories. Check out their website and see what titles they have already done and others that are to come. Their books are fun, not risque. 

If you enjoy reading humorous stories, why not give writing one a try? Before you do, google 'writing with humor' and do some reading. When I googled, a lot of articles popped up. Sift through and choose 3 or 4 to read. It just might inspire you.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Don't Stay With the Same Old, Same Old

Spring Flower Garden

I used this picture today because it made me feel happy when I first saw it. If you've still got snow on the ground, it should do your heart good, as well. Even if you already have some of these spring flowers blooming in your yard, I bet you'll still smile when you see them. The picture has nothing to do with today's post. I just wanted to share this.

Maybe the picture does illustrate today's topic. Notice that there are different kinds and colors in this flower garden. They all seem to thrive quite well side by side. You can do the same if you try different types of writing. It's not necessary to stay with only one. 

What if you've had some success in writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers? Should you stay with what has worked well for you? Or should you venture into the field of short fiction? Or perhaps a short memoir piece? Maybe you could try your hand at poetry. 

If you attempt any of the other types of writing, it doesn't mean that you'll need to abandon the feature article writing at all. You can still make that your main type but experiment with some of the others now and then. You might find that you love writing memoir pieces or adore the process of creating a poem. 

If you write novels, it could be difficult to find the time to try shorter fiction or poetry or personal essays. But maybe it would be fun. You won't know unless you give it a try. 

If you're a poet who writes nothing but sonnets, try another form of poetry. There are several to choose from. 

I'm the kind of writer who would get bored writing nothing but creative nonfiction. I know that is where my greatest strength lies and I've had the most success in this kind of writing. Even so, I love to write occasional fiction, especially fiction for children of the 8-12 year old group. I also enjoy writing a poem now and then.Writing this blog five days a week is pure pleasure for me as it's a totally different kind of writing than I normally do.. Like the garden in the photo, I prefer variety. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Some Bloom Later Than Others

Spring Daffodils

My neighbor across the street has a bed of daffodils next to her front steps. We have dozens of daffodils at the base of a group of trees in ourfront yard. The neighbor's daffodils are in full bloom announcing that spring is here. 

Ours are nowhere near ready to bloom as we face north. My neighbor gets more sun with the south exposure. Lucky her. Poor us. On the other hand, whenever I look out the window, I get the pleasure of seeing her yellow daffodils. She's also put two pots of pansies on the porch steps. Glorious!

Writers are much the same--some bloom much sooner than others. We can't blame the sun for being the reason some writers make rapid jumps in their writing career while others move at a slower pace..

It's possible that those who have more success and more quickly are the ones who work the hardest. They are the writers who spend time researching markets that fit their kind of writing. They're the ones reading the reference books about writing. They're the ones that attend conferences, subscribe to writer's newsletters and join critique groups. They create that south exposure so theyll bloom sooner.

The writers who face north and are the last to bloom are the ones who isolate themselves from other writers. They're the ones who avoid social media to spread the word about their writing. The ones who never read a book about writing, don't attend conferences and shun writing groups. They prefer to do it all on their own. That's admirable in some respects but maybe they progress at a slower pace in their writing journey. 

The direction you choose as a writer is a personal decision. Some of the decision comes about because of the many differences in personality as well as the amount of passion you have for writing. There is no completely right method or all wrong method of approaching your writing path. I can give you tips and encouragement but it's you who much choose which kind of writer you will be.