Archive for the ‘Questions to Ponder’ Category

Quick Add On

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

napowrimo (Photo credit: sbpoet)

My absolute late entry for today’s Poem-A-Day Challenge to the prompt “Visitor” reads like this:

Uninvited Guest

I’ve not seen you

Since I was young,

Tender, vulnerable,

Unaware of the world’s hazards.

You insinuated

Your selfish desires

Under nubile skin, without

Regard for consequences.

Now you return.

I cannot bear to touch you,

Or to have you touch me.

The look of you frightens me.

Have you no one else to victimize?

A wail of need rises in my throat,

To escape as a siren does. “Tick! Tick!

“Get it off. Get it off!”



© Claudette J. Young 2012

Mounting Month’s Challenges

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Is it a matter of scheduling, I ask myself. Does it matter in what order I work within the framework of the challenges I’ve accepted for this month? By the looks of today’s desk load, order has little to do with writing this month.

Yesterday I played with PA’s poetry prompt challenge: communication. When I left there, I moved over to Poetic Bloomings to see what havoc I could wreak in that venue. The Apr. 1 prompt there was “Superheroes and Capes.”

Still feeling a bit on the obstreperous side, I posted this specially written offering to the world of superheroes. Remember, definition is a matter of perspective.

A Sigh of Sound

Susurration slides past those unintended,

Targeting sweet young ears with soft meaning,

Teasing, taunting, telling of bliss to come.

Whispers waft on a tongue’s breeze, seeking

Vulnerable minds to influence with knowledge

Untrue, compelling a change of heart with power.

Soon his soft whispers would secure those within reach,

Taking control where none was needed, rousing

Testaments to his wisdom, while groveling for pats.

Whispers waft on a tongue’s breeze, seeking

Power from those without special gifts or

An invisibility cloak to shield one’s presence from view.

After an hour’s respite from verse, I took up the third challenge for the day: Robert Brewer’s Author Platform Development Task-A-Day Challenge. I know, I’m a glutton for these things. In this case, though, I will heap praise and appreciation on Robert  in coming months for doing me such a great favor.

For the first time, after four years, I’m settling down to doing this major task for my future’s sake. I’m being given the tools to do it—for free. How much better does it get than that?

I’ve managed to complete the first two days’ worth of tasks. They weren’t onerous, by any means, but they did need thought and honesty with myself about goals, aspirations, skills developed, etc. It’s one thing to tell yourself and others that you can do something. You’re corralling a different animal when you ask yourself how confident you are about each of the items on your list.

I got through it, and along the way I discovered forgotten skills that I haven’t used in a years, but which I can still draw on for future needs. That reaffirmation was definitely worth the time and effort that went into the definitions and lists I created yesterday and this morning.

When I finished with the platform challenge for the day, poetry claimed my attention. The PA Poem-A-Day Challenge for today was the prompt: Visitor.

The aspect of prompt writing that I thoroughly enjoy is that the writer/poet can approach the writing from whatever perspective lies within the body of the prompt. If detailed restrictions aren’t given, the prompt is completely open to interpretation. That’s when the fun roars through the mind, taking the writer with it.

Since “Visitor” has so many possibilities, from so many perspectives, I decided to begin small and work my way up. Here’s what I did this morning. Later today, I’ll add another.

Simply Natural 

Nature surges behind

Walls assigned to ads,

A silent lure to the viewer,

Without words, without money,

Always available to see,

To experience, to awaken

Dulled senses to the world.

I hope you enjoy these prompt responses. To change out the mix of poems, here is another, though not written to prompt other than my own urgings.

Jesus Loves

I came upon this phrase I loved,

That appeared at ease,

Poised, a silhouette on the page,

Etched against the white,

Waiting for my adoration,

Innocent of guile.

Its voice called to me,

A siren song heard within breath

Expelled softly, slow

As time upon Earth’s diurnal

Turning, face to sun,

Willing life into creatures here.

Would that allusion came to me

As effortlessly,

To capture the mind’s attention,

To create a vision

Powerful, subtle, within notes

Built of supreme joy.

Have a marvelous week, everyone. Please stop by each day to see what I’ve  added to the collection being created here.

Whether Granted or Not

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

How many writers get grants each year? According to 2007 statistics, of the 2,628 grants awarded that year 1,169 went to literary artists. That means over 44% of artists’ grants awarded went to writers.

What does that figure mean for the average writer? It tells the writer who wants to do a project requiring more than seat-of-the-pants activity and subject research that she has close to a 50% chance of getting financial/material help with her project. To take that chance, the writer must give a well-planned and executed grant proposal.

If you’ve never dealt with grants before, don’t despair. Right now there’s close to a 50-50 chance of getting a much-needed boost for a project. Those are the best odds that anyone can have for anything.

Gigi Rosenberg, in her book “The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing,” gives the newbie a great walk through the entire process, including a look at her own history with the subject. Gigi explains that: “A grant is money that an organization gives away to fund a project its founders believe in. …landing a grant… usually involves writing a proposal or grant application. In your proposal, you have to support your project, and how you intend to spend the funds. You are expected to include a detailed budget and samples of your work. Your application is judged by a panel of your peers—that means other artists—in a competitive process.”

Grants come in all sizes and types, according to project and artist needs. Few funders will bankroll the total project. What the applicant needs to keep in mind is the funding can come from several sources and needn’t rely on only one grant. A series of small awards add up to substantial help.

How you prepare for writing the proposal is as important as to whom the proposal is sent. You have research to do before making your bid for a grant. As with writing a killer novel, preparation is nine-tenths of the work.

Rosenberg and other experts such as Caroll Michels, Jackie Battenfield, and Heather Darcy Bhandari with Jonathan Melber recommend beginning by putting together a support team to help you. This team effort has several purposes. From brainstorming with artist friends who know and can honestly evaluate your work to community members/businesses that might provide assistance in-kind for your proposed project, this team can make or break your ability to pinpoint what you need to concentrate on for our grant proposal.


Art/Work (Photo credit: atduskgreg)

Once you have that information, you can begin sifting through the hundreds of funding agencies to find ones that will fit your needs and your project. It would do little good to write a proposal for a poetry book proposal with CD of readings and then send it to a funder who deals exclusively with visual artists in oils. You want to choose the tightest fits you can before sending for one of funding applications.

If you believe, wholeheartedly, in your project, the research process will also help define that project to the nth degree. Take that time and don’t rush it. Come to terms with your own desires and your expectations for the project before trying to sell it to a funder.

Also, if you can produce one proposal, you can produce more. The only things that change between granting organization proposals are guidelines, forms, and details. Since you’ve done the proper research on your project and those resources already available to you, you can apply for several grants at the same time.

Do you need financial help to travel to gather the information you’ll use for your project—perhaps on site research? Apply for that help. Do you need more education to become the writer you really believe you can be? There are grants out there for that specific purpose. How about your need to get a writer’s website built by a professional? You guessed it. You can get help for that, too.

These are the types of details that you can include in a grant proposal. These are also the kinds of things you need to discover while putting your team together and looking at the long-range project. Only then can you fill in all the pertinent details on those applications.

The grant process takes time. Getting your entire flotilla headed in the right direction requires patience, with yourself and the process. Once you get to the point of sending off your application proposal–making sure to follow the funder’s guidelines to the letter–you get to wait for results.

That waiting time depends on the organization that receives the proposal and what you’re requesting. It could last as long as a few months. When you realize how many funders there are looking for artists to give money to, getting an early rejection for a proposal doesn’t carry much weight. Regroup, apply to another funder and keep believing.

If this path interests you, you can get much-needed help by reading the following books on the subject.

Each of these books has fabulous information, tips, and practical solutions for the artist, regardless of discipline. Take an opportunity to begin reading up on what could keep you writing for a long time. Remember that some grants are specific to fellowships, residences, and retreats. Wouldn’t you like to get away for a couple of weeks to a quiet spot to commune with Muse on that expanding career of yours?

Whether to Finish or Not

March 25, 2012 2 comments

I was sorting through my TBF (to be finished) files this morning and came across a little ditty that I’d like to share. I have many files like this one; bits of story ideas, entire chapters that sounded good at the time but fell by the wayside when a more exciting project came along, or things that I never finished researching for one reason or another. 

This is only the first page or so of a story’s first draft. There is much more at home that follows this. What I’ve decided to do is ask you if you think I should spend valuable time to finish it. Do you think it could spark enough interest to encourage a reader to turn pages? Can you easily envision possible scenarios for the events hinted at by the writer? Would you be curious enough to turn pages?

I’m taking this step because I have so little invested in this wee sample. I could easily finish it, or, I could ignore it and let it fade into the distance of the past. You tell me how I should treat this prospective story.

As I’ve said, I have little invested in it. I’d much rather have honest opinions than sugar-coated rhetoric that means nothing.


          Ever wonder if other people’s lives were punctuated by oddities like yours? Let me tell you; you’re not alone. Take it from the Queen of Weirdness, everyone’s had their lives polka-dotted by those little quirks that have little or no explanation.

          During my life I’ve experienced so many oddities that flamed across my reality that many times I felt like I was living an episode of the Twilight Zone. I suppose that’s why I knew I just had to write this small, focused catalog of incidents. I wanted to assure others that just because they’d never seen anything like what had suddenly flipped through their lives didn’t mean it wasn’t possible.

          After all, just because someone’s paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone out to get them, and that’s my motto about weirdness. The Creator put a lot of stuff out there in the heavens and on Earth. You or I could be a little slow on the uptake and missed something along the way. And occasionally that something drops by to introduce itself.

          I doubt there’s much in the way of weirdness that I’ve not seen. Take ball lightning, for instance. I was twelve the first time I saw it. Goosebumps coursed down my spine, leaving entire meadows of their offspring on my arms. The thing that caused me the most fright was that it moved when it was observed, took a fancy to certain people in the room, and then gradually faded from sight without emitting a sound.

Now that you’ve had a chance to go through the beginning, what do you think? Please let me know. Is there enough here to create a worthy story or not. Give me your comments with opinions. Don’t be shy.

Whether You Get Paid or Not

March 23, 2012 7 comments


There are tons of books on the market that instruct us on how to make more money, spend less of it, and where to stash what we haven’t spent. Like many, spending and saving has more than one meaning for me. We all must decide how much, where and when money comes into the picture and what we mean by money.

Monetary worth is often measured by $ saved in bank accounts. There are other measures as well, and other types of banks. A person can save herself from a variety of situations, circumstances, and disasters. She can save her energies for special occasions, and so on. Euphemisms abound regarding saving.

In today’s catch-as-catch-can world of finance, saving money in banks is getting harder to do. The meaning of “saving money” has shifted to refer as much to buying for less as is does “squirrelling away cash.” For those who’re trying to make it in the publishing business, demands on the wallet is as constant as those for any other self-employed entrepreneur. Most of us have a “day” job to make it through.

Ingenious writers and other artists work smarter to make gains. Payment for a job doesn’t have to go in the bank. For many beginners, and those who have a few sales under their belts, barter has become a mainstay of payment.

An artist, in one example, has her eye on a specific gallery to display her work. Such displays cost the artist money. The gallery has no Facebook account. She offers to trade her knowledge of the web for display space in the gallery. Each side gets rewarded for the deal.

At the same time, she can offer to advertise the gallery on her own website, FB account, and other outlets, for framing her work in the gallery. The gallery owner spends nothing for the advertising and minimal cost for the framing he performs already. The artist gets everything she wants: exposure in a smaller, but good gallery and free framing.

The same type of arrangement can be used by a writer. The writer goes to a small company that has something she wants. She offers to do some work for them in exchange for whatever product the company provides. They strike a bargain and do a short contract for the job; she will write two professional short (form) business letters for the company; they give her the product—let’s say wheel alignment on her car.

Use the cashless jobs to build your resume. If you know of an organization that has decided to create a newsletter for its members and friends, offer to assist or to do it for them. The project gives you practice in something you might not have done before. It could also land you a job writing the newsletter on a regular basis. At that point you could talk compensation. If you don’t get paid, you still have another skill credit and client on your resume.

What if your child’s school needs help creating a small play for the fourth graders? Are you able to stretch your abilities to help with that project? Have you ever tried to write a children’s play? You might be very good at it, and there are opportunities for sales of such plays on the market. Practice on the school’s project, grab a resume credit and see what the future holds later.

How about developing the types of puzzles, mazes, and games that fascinate and confound the players? Can you create crossword puzzles? Some of the most creative school tests are in that form.

What about Sudoku puzzles, word searches, and the like? Many people augment their income, putting together brain teasers. Practice on your family and friends, offer to supply a local newspaper—that doesn’t normally have puzzles—or a local newsletter, or play with the idea on your blog or website. At least on the net, you’d get noticed.

Whichever direction the writer takes for credits without cash, the result is experience. If the writer uses the excuse that she’s “never done that before,” she’s losing out. She’s fooling herself with a false excuse. No one’s ever done it, until they do.

Stretching one skill set comes with experience. Practicing on things that you aren’t being paid for is a surefire way to get paid for later jobs that take those skills. Nurses don’t get paid for graduating from school. They have to get a job first for the money to come in. Writing is no different, really.

The savvy writer makes her own opportunities, creates her own expertise which builds her niche in the market, and gets paid for the jobs she does after she’s established a bit of a track record. Smash deals in the writing business happen for a rare few. The rest of the runners have to appear on the track circuit often enough to know something about the meets.

The savvy writer also knows that whether you get paid or not, the performance you render reveals more about you and your skills than advertising. The professional attitude you bring to the job counts. The writer’s enthusiasm that tackles the opportunity gets remembered. Client lists are built with these writer’s traits.


Whether to Outline or Not

March 22, 2012 4 comments


Every writer has her own process for writing. Some outline at the very beginning, some begin the outline at the mid-point, others go through the manuscript when the first draft is finished just to see if the story doubles back on itself or wanders too far afield. Still others never write an outline on paper, but rather, keep a running outline in mind.

There are different types of outlines for different writers and projects. If a student is fortunate during her school days, she’s taught how to outline a chapter in a book, for instance, as a way to study effectively. She learns about themes and topic sentences; about beginning, middles, and ends; and about writing conclusions that tie up all the loose ends.

This type of outline for story, essay, memoir, etc., can create an extensive piece of work. Detail is fantastic, if you have the time for it. Often a writer doesn’t have such a luxury as time and must develop the quick and dirty outline template for specific types of manuscript.

A template is a format, pre-staged, which allows the writer to plug in the information for use in the article or story. For instance, with travel writing there are a possible seven types of templates, each dictated by a specific type of travel article.

Once the template is ready, the writer has only to fill in the blanks provided by the template. Oddly enough, this type of template needn’t be a physical one. It could, just as easily, occupy a page in a notebook used for writing specs. The critical issue is to have specs for use in a particular type of article, such as a destination article.

Mysteries, westerns, romances, and fantasies can all use templates, albeit short ones, to get particulars in place so that the writer knows the direction intended, people involved, and final results. Any kind of genre is able to use a template; because, in fiction, there are a finite number of plots; in non-fiction, criteria follow particular channels of information presentation to be effective.

“Organic” writers—those who sit down and start writing without planning anything beforehand—often never use an outline; at least, consciously. Instead, they allow their subconscious to drive the story to its conclusion. The process can seem chaotic to the wordsmith who is meticulous in planning a story.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge for all writers, but those who work from an organic perspective do well with it. For them, revision is the time for taking the story apart, moving sections, rebuilding point connectors, and devising a smooth road for their words.

Allow preliminary scenes to build the story outline. Tagging along behind the organic writers are those who create individual scenes that stand alone while developing the story. Scenes sometimes erupt in the writer’s mind, demanding to be put down on paper. These scenes may have nothing to do with what’s gone before and have no obvious relationship with the mental plotline the writer is using.

Many of these writers create an outline with these scenes. This type of outline allows the writer to see the story in broader scope than a simple line draft. A scene outline shows the writer big chunks of action, dialogue, character development, etc. Writers who think in pictures can get great satisfaction out of this type of planning, since it encourages an intimacy with the story that is often lacking in other types of outline structure; it requires real writing, not just a listing of points.

Character outlines can help build subplots that work effectively with the overall story. Any character has depth if the writer looks for it. Taking the time to explore principle characters through this process can help find both flaws and virtues in each character. In order to be perceived as real by the reader, depth of character is necessary.

Flaws, attitudes, deep moral beliefs also help steer the character into subplots if the writer allows for it. Asking the character pertinent questions about the whys, wherefores, how’s, and all the rest of her life can find answers that take the story to interesting places with exciting results.

Outlines can be as elaborate or skimpy as the writer chooses to make them. If you talk to epic fantasy writers, you’ll probably hear about all of the different types of outlines each uses to keep their overall story straight. You’ll also hear about how many times those outlines are revised to take into account unexpected changes that come up during the story writing process.

Fluidity is the name of the game when using these devices to help the writer stay on point. Each outline will change to some degree after it’s written, just as every story changes during revisions. The importance of this listing of targets to hit with your writing, whether kept as mental notes or in a notebook the size of Kansas, shows itself when the story is finished, polished, and submitted to the editor.

Whether Maimed or Not

March 21, 2012 2 comments


Okay, so you’ve got your main character into a situation that has no recourse, outlet, or salvation in sight. She’s somehow maimed and in desperate need of direction. You’re not sure how she came to fall into such distress; you hadn’t planned it. What are you going to do?

Don’t panic. You’ve been there before. You know that there’s always a way out of any situation, even if the only action possible to have the character sit on the floor, leaning against the wall, and cry. That is still emotive action that sets up a change of scene.

Now what? Pause. Regroup your thoughts. That is something your character can do while wallowing in emotional release on the floor.

Regardless of the circumstance that trapped your character in this situation, focus on logical solutions. If the movement forward isn’t logical, the reader won’t buy it. You’ve heard that before. This is the time to implement that thought process.

If the problem is a relationship, think of the options available to the character. Is the relationship viable, retrievable, and healthy for the character? Make a decision based on your gut response and earlier content. If dumping this relationship creates more conflict down the road—conflicts that will ultimately create a stronger plot line or twist—you might want to consider this new strand of plotline.

If this is a physical threat situation—character is trapped in a house, cave, castle, etc. you must decide her most logical action to help herself or to gain help from another character, perhaps a walk-on character written specifically for this purpose. Unless the place is deserted, there will be someone around, even if it’s only a rat. Hmm, there’s a thought. What if that rat is someone who has, up to this point in the story, been a candidate for villain?

Think about it. Why would this character have followed your heroine to the place? What does that question bring to mind to add plot, suspense, backstory, etc. to this new situation? Are ulterior motives in play and if so, what kind? Perhaps, this is the true hero for your heroine and the one that was designated previously is actually the villain. It’s your story to develop as you see fit.

Once you have a new direction, fill in the blanks. Think of your story as a fill-in puzzle. That’s really what it is. You have key points to consider. You need paths to connect these key points. Here’s an example of questions to help develop the story.

Heroine is running away

  •  Why is she running?
  •  Is her life in danger?
  •  What is the truth she’s looking for?
  •  How far does she have to run?
  •  Is she alone?
  •  What is her reward for finding this truth?

Heroine’s only hope of finding out the truth is to find a specific character

  •  Who is this person who holds the truth?
  •  Is there a connection—out of the past—between these characters?
  •  Is this character willing to dispense the truth she’s looking for?
  •  What’s in it for the truth-bearer?
  •  Will the truth-bearer travel with her to the end?

Heroine falls for villain’s trap and has nowhere to run

  •  Can she come up with a plan of escape that doesn’t get her killed?
  •  What are the resources at her disposal to use for escape?
  •  What does she hear, smell, taste, see, feel?
  •  Does she hear something/one outside her confinement area?
  •  Will this new entity help her escape?
  •  Is it a villain or the good guy or is it another female?
  •  What reward is there for someone to help her?

Heroine escapes to continue her search and now has traveling companion

  •  What does she talk about with this companion?
  •  How much time does she have left to find the truth she seeks?
  •  Can this companion continue to aid her in her quest?
  •  What kind of relationship develops between these two travelers?
  •  What is the next obstacle in heroine’s way to delay her travels?

This type of thinking keeps the storyline moving, but it also fills in the blanks in a way that doesn’t require so much backstory that the reader drowns in it. If you have to redefine along the path to this stage of plotting, so be it. This questioning procedure does more than define—it moves the story.

Whether your character has been maimed or stalled, or you’ve written yourself into the proverbial corner, you can do painless surgery by allowing yourself the right to speculate, deviate, or anticipate within your plotline.

You have questions that you need to ask about your story. Take the time to bring them out into the light and spend time with them. You won’t regret the digression. Enjoy this lovely process of getting to know your character and her life complete with pitfalls. That’s what adventure is all about.

Whether Planned or Spontaneous

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment


How does your main character arrive? Does she pop into the mind, complete with secrets, aspirations, and whimsy? Or, do you have to sit down and get out your character building blocks to begin construction on the kind of character you want to deal with for however long it takes you to write an entire story?

Each type of character has possibilities for the writer. Think of the yourself as a casting director. A movie is being planned inside your mind and needs a cast to people the sets that are built to show/tell the story.

Cast of Characters: Primary figures

  • Heroine—late twenties, had to leave college during junior year due to family crisis, didn’t finished education, works at local veterinarian’s office as a vet tech rather than the physician she wanted to be.
  • Male lead—perhaps late twenties/early thirties, civil engineer, rugged and cocky in looks and attitude, considers heroine interesting but not worth the trouble of getting to know better—he has secrets hiding behind his eyes.
  • Female support character—high school classmate, Miss Popularity, divorced socialite in town, waging intimacy war with male lead, has always looked down on heroine.
  • Villain—possible murderer, keeping police baffled and jumping through hoops as she/he kills off various townspeople for no apparent reason, leaves too many conflicting clues as if playing cat and mouse with cops.
  • Police detective—has known heroine all her life, used to date her in high school, pallbearer at her father’s funeral, struggling to stay in control of murder case even when he knows he’s over his head on this one, rethinking his career choice.
  • Setting—rural town, population 12,000, Midwest locale, farming and college town.

With this list of pivotal characters, you can begin to build both plot and character studies. You must decide which to pursue first. For our purposes here, concentrate on characters.

Building a character takes planning. How would you tackle the heroine? When you close your eyes and think about this character, what do you see? How tall is she? What kind of clothing does she typically wear? What color is her hair? Keep thinking about her. Write down what you envision about this person. Listen to her voice, her speech patterns, and her quirks of expression. Have you learned her name yet?

Take a moment to meet her. Shake her hand. Is it callused, soft, long and lean, or square and pudgy? Do you join her at a table at the local diner?

What kind of people are in the diner and what is their behavior like? Is there a feeling of camaraderie among the locals, one of friendship or tension? Do you feel comfortable within this group? If so, describe what you feel as you sit at the table with the heroine.

Do this ceremonial meet and greet with each of your new characters. Find your place among them. Develop a rapport with these people that you’ll be working with for a while in the future.

The story’s setting is a character as well. You noticed it on the casting list. Setting is the biggest and can be the most complex of your characters. Take the time to get familiar with it. Learn so much about it that you can taste the dust kicked up by the pick-up speeding down the county road on its way south. Close your eyes and feel the soft summer breeze on your bare arm as it slides by on a moist July night. Is that thunder in the west?

Spontaneity is a terrific starting place. If you wake up in the middle of the night with an image in your mind and a glimpse of a story behind it, you’re on your way to writing a story. The same type of vision can happen anywhere, at any time.

The construction work that follows that spontaneous burst of mental creation fleshes out the initial character image, takes it to a new depth and richness that brings the character to life for the reader. You can have the loveliest character in the literary world, but without the tiny flaws, the midnight kitchen sessions, or the mental confessions, indecision and questions, the character is, at most, only two-dimensional.

Without placing your characters in a place that feels real, they remain merely players on a stage with recognizable sets. Spontaneity gets the juices flowing, creates the spark that draws your interest, and emblazons the images for your use. The time you spend and construction work you do with those images, those feelings, are what carry you, the writer, through to a complete story; one that will hold the reader’s interest and cause them to catch her breath in anticipation.

Whether spontaneous sparks get you started at the keyboard or a planned and executed list of possible characters puts your butt in the chair, each mode has its place in writing. You can plan and build tight studies and scenarios all you want. When you get to the revision stage of the process, spontaneity will become your best friend.

The minute details that have been missing so far will pop out to explain the motives of a character in chapter five. A flash of insight will inform you how something happened so quickly in your plot. These are as important to the overall health of a story as your casting couch. Make good use of both planning and seat-of-your-pants writing techniques.


Whether You’re Warmed Up or Not

March 14, 2012 1 comment


Today’s entrée is a set of exercises meant to help the writer shift perspective and get those creative muscles flexed and toned.

These small forays into new territory will, hopefully, help you gain in your battle with daily wordsmithing. Are you ready? Here goes.

Circumvent the cliché. While Little Johnny can’t read, does that mean that Little Jill has educational challenges as well? If all of your eggs are in one basket, will they all break when that basket is dropped?

We live with hackneyed and cliché phrases every day. They speak to the simplistic and real metaphors of our lives. That’s the reason they still hang around our necks like a broad-winged bird descended from a pterodactyl.

Take each of the following adages/sayings/clichés and devise three ways of saying the same thing, with the same semantics. Make each new “saying” as fresh as possible.

  1. Rolling stones gather no moss.
  2. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
  3. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

Recast old characters in new roles. Most people can hear a line of dialogue or see one frame of a favorite movie and give you the name of the characters involved. Like favorite books, the stories that flow across a screen at the theaters make a place for themselves in our mental storage lockers, waiting for future review.

The following exercise is meant to help the writer change well-worn paths carved out by characters we know well and as an exploration of possibilities for such characters that wouldn’t otherwise be tackled.

  1. Most adults over the age of 35 will probably remember the character name “Maverick” as Tom Cruise’s character from Top Gun. The exercise is to recast this character as a “Cowboy,” complete with name. If it helps, picture TC when you’re putting together an action scene in the old/new west. Only one scene is necessary to write, but if a full story evolves from this exercise, so much the better.
  2. C. S. Lewis’s character of Lucy in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” presents us with a sweet child of remarkable resolve and steel spine when faced with adversity. Yet her complex personality allows for uncommon loyalty, self-doubt, and approval-seeking behavior.

Recast Lucy’s character, complete with name, as an adult. Place her in a           romance where finding her soul mate and an unforeseen future is the goal           of the scene. This will be a toughy, I think.

Make your practice work for you. When you’ve completed your exercises, take a good look at them. Evaluate them as you would anything you’d written for possible publication. Do an edit if you feel the piece needs it. You have been writing, after all.

Once you feel that you’ve done all you could with these little teasers, look at each one as an editor would. Is there a spark present that could build into a good story, article, poem, essay, etc.? Could you pitch any of these ideas? Do you see anything in any of them that that you hadn’t expected; a depth or challenge that startles you?

If you can answer yet to any of the above questions, perhaps, you’ve stumbled onto a new story for expansion. Take advantage of that possibility. Practice in all forms always helps a writer.

Put the exercises away when you’ve finished with them. Don’t throw them out. They can be used at later for prompts or more practice.

Also, if you’d like to share your efforts here, please do so in a comment. I’d be interested to see what you come up with. I might even be persuaded to add my own in an additional post.

Most of all have fun with this. Yes, it’s a useful exercise, but it can be hilarious, too, if given the right treatment. See you all back here soon.

Whether You Need It Now or Not

March 11, 2012 9 comments


Many years ago, while at university, one of my professors required that his students write their own obituary. He told us that by writing our obits, we would begin to truly appreciate ourselves and others as individual human beings with innate worth and lasting value. He also said that until we stood back and looked at ourselves as a stranger would see us, we could never really know who we are.

Like most college students, we went along with the program as outlined and did as we’d been instructed. The lesson had interesting consequences for me along the way. I doubt any of us ever forgot what we learned from it.

Trying to look at your image in the mirror, as a stranger would, isn’t an easy task. Self-perception is always influenced by experience and what others have told you of their observations and expectations for you. The physical aspects that have always seemed flawed, or perfect, or questionable are your first impressions.

When you go past the physical to past experience, deeds, and failures with their requisite successes, you dwell on those bits that were less than perfect, less than desirable. Accepting the flawed episodes from a past that can’t be changed is a timely process. Without that acceptance, the successes ring as hollow and lifeless. Small indiscretions overpower small kindnesses. Praise is mitigated by remembered slights. And the cycle continues.

The act of writing one’s personal obituary allows for reflection on the overall picture of a person’s life—yours. The fact is that an obituary is merely a personal profile. It places the person within the framework of their own history.

Family and friends come to the foreground, along with major accomplishments within the person’s life. It’s not concerned with failures, but with successes, relationships, and contributions. It concentrates on those areas of one’s life that reflect the spirit and philosophy of the person.

The amount of detail held within the paragraphs that encompass a person’s life story depends on the purpose of the writer. Make no mistake; the obituary is a telling of a person’s profile or life story in miniature. It can celebrate that life, magnify it, examine it, whatever the writer wishes to convey. It can also bring to light the otherwise unknown deeds of a person, secrets held by those who knew her best.

By the time I finished my assignment, I’d reaffirmed several key points about myself. I’d come away with an acknowledgement of those relationships which mattered the most to me and knew why they did so. My failures up to that point had been assessed and laid to rest. I’d owned all of them, some for the first time, and they could no longer haunt me.

Successes, some of them never properly acknowledged, came to the foreground. I’d never before thought of those times I’d been in a rescue situation as successes. My actions had been necessary to keep another from greater harm. I’d not categorized them as anything other than being in the right place at the right time.

The exercise became a kind of “It’s a Wonderful Life” scenario. When approached that way, failures meant nothing, had no value. Only successes counted, and few, if any, of those for me had anything to do with money or personal gain.

I’ll always thank that professor for that assignment. The lesson stuck. I’ve decided, in lieu of an annual goals listing, I’ll write a new obit each January as an evaluation of the previous year. I’ll think of it as a laying to rest of the past and a celebration of my life during that time.

I challenge each reader to take on the task of writing their personal obituary, not as something morbid and unwholesome, but as a personal profile and life story in miniature. I can’t guarantee that you’ll come away with the same type of positive reaction I did. I can only tell you that you won’t look at your life the same afterwards.

Let me know how your experience of this exercise goes. I’m interested to know if you found it as illuminating and cleansing as I did.