Category Archives: Writing prompts and exercises

Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation
Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Here’s a little invitation to come to sit at my table and join my weekly writing group for a session – without leaving your computer.  I thought I might share what I do in the two hours I run the group and perhaps you’ll want to join in with us all…. you may be on a train, you may be at home, or a cafe. You’re welcome wherever, whenever!

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We have been looking at form this term. Last week, we explored Tanka with mixed enthusiasm. This week, I wanted to look at how we write in form naturally, with our own language and unique experience and ability to get our message across.

So the first exercise was to write a list of all the forms of writing each person uses without necessarily thinking about on a day to day basis. This could include thank you letters, health and safety reports, evaluations, tweets, advertising copy etc etc.

Then each writer picked up one of the photographs and postcards I collect and had scattered round the table – obviously you can’t do that, so I suggest you google ‘surreal images’ and pick one.  Don’t try to think too hard, the best results come when you think ‘oh my god, I can’t make this work. I really can’t, this is hopeless…’ until, click, something slips into place.

Because…. you are now going to use one of your written forms and link it to the image. We had some wonderful surprising results – an advert to win an afternoon of someone’s happy childhood, a thank you letter expressing what someone really thinks, a health and safety report for a cow with wings etc etc etc.

Set your timer for eight minutes and go….

Then we read out – with these first draft readings we just listen and admire, rather than comment. It’s always one of my favourite parts.

Following this we read and discussed this piece on actively getting 100 rejections by Deb Wain in Tulpa Magazine, and looked at what it meant – not just shifting the emphasis from product to process but also discipline. It’s part of the writing circle. Too often we can get stuck in freewriting, coming up with the ideas but not finishing them off which uses a different part of the writing brain.

Then we had coffee, filled up our drinks, caught up with other writers for five minutes. It’s not all hard work!

Coming back to the table, I handed out a sheet with these five current (as I’m writing this) submission calls. The writers had to pick one and come up with something then and there. Before they started writing, I discussed how some of my best work has come from commissions – because I often had to work hard to find out how I connected with the subject, where my heart was, why this often random subject could become mine.

So here you go…. good luck! If you need another way into these subjects, I offered that they might go back to the original list of writing forms they wrote at the beginning and use one of them to approach their chosen prompts…

Do let me know if you follow any of these, perhaps send a link if you get one published, and I hope you find this mini writing session helpful! 

 

PICK ONE OF THESE FIVE WRITING PROMPTS TO WORK WITH….

  1. Write inspired by this picture… anything, anyhow… (visualverse.org)

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  1. Write a piece NO MORE than 300 words using as many of these seven words as you can… (http://newflashfiction.com/)

On December 15th, 2017, we learned through reliable news sources such as the Washington Post that the Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the Center for Disease Control from using seven words in their official documents: The words are as follows: “evidence-based”, “science-based” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.” This isn’t dystopian fiction. This is real.

  1. Write a non-fiction piece on something beautiful in your every day. It should be 250 words or less. (http://www.riverteethjournal.com/)

Glimpses, glimmers, meditations, moments, reflections, refractions, interrupted shadows, river shimmers, darkened mirrors, keyholes, kaleidoscopes, earring hoops, slabs of cracked granite, cracks where the light gets in. Beautiful things.

  1. Write a poem based on the theme of women’s suffrage – 100 years anniversary… (paperswans.co.uk)
  2. Use ‘contagion’ as your theme…. (http://abridgedonline.com/)

We are intimate with the end of things. Infection comes from close contact. Out of control, it makes us crazy. Suspicion plants its roots deep and spores. Trust nobody. This is the threat. It is enormous but made of tiny things that are everywhere. We speak for it with our words that aren’t ours. Nothing is ours. The threat is panic. What sneaks in will eat us up whole. It is getting too close, it is sticky on our fingertips. Are you afraid of other people? How they touch you, love you, need you, change you? How they look like you and can rearrange you? We come together in touch. This is contagion. Don’t be touched if you want to survive. And you want to survive. With plague comes suspicion, comes isolation, comes hysteria, comes total destruction.

An Inbetween Literary Quiz

An Inbetween Literary Quiz
An Inbetween Literary Quiz

It’s the inbetween week, I always think. Getting rid of most of the Christmas decorations but not quite ready for spring – where robins and tulips share mantlepieces.

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So if you have a few minutes spare, here are a few questions (book themed) from our New Year quiz… no prizes (the coveted bag of brussel sprout shaped chocolates has already been taken) but if you email me, I’ll send you the answers!

1.Top Ten Bestsellers for 2017??? PICK THE REAL FIVE….

  • The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton
  • How to Clean Up Your Life by Kirstie Allsop
  • 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver
  • Bad Dad by David Walliams
  • The Avocado Diet by Jane Kanes
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
  • Fashion Tips from the Handmaids Tale by Gloria Lines
  • Guinness World Records 2018
  • Urban Streetlight Bathing by Plum Lawrence
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

 

2. Name the book that has this first line…

  1. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
  1. You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”
  1. “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”
  1. “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
  1. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

3. Which author has had his/her name on franked envelopes this year?

4. What have these five books below got in common?

* “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty
* “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
* “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
* “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
* “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis

5. According to PLR figures, which of these three authors was NOT in the top ten most borrowed in UK libraries. Was it a) Harper Lee b) Lee Child or c) Jeffrey Archer?

ENJOY!

Creative writing course – 25th July

Creative writing course – 25th July

Just a quick note to confirm this is now sold out. Thanks for all the interest. Do let me know – sarah@sarahsalway.co.uk – if you would like to be on my mailing list for future courses though. 

 

There are just a few places left for my one day creative writing course on Tuesday 25th July, 11-4pm in Tunbridge Wells.

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Come and write with me in my home, with supportive like-minded people – both beginners and published writers. You may have come to one of my courses before, or just looking to try something different, but this is a day of brand new inspiration for both poetry and prose writers using journal techniques and external prompts. We’ll write together, reading out only if you want, and you’ll leave with new ideas in your notebook, some new writers to find out more about and some new exercises to try out on your own.

The cost is £60 including lunch. Do let me know if you’d like a place by emailing me at sarah@sarahsalway.co.uk.

Once I hear from you, I’ll send you venue details etc – we are a five minute walk from the train station in Tunbridge Wells, and close to all the shops, cafes etc if you need before or after inspiration!

If you can’t make it, don’t despair! I made a star chart (definitely not just for children) together with daily writing prompts for my regular writing group which finished last week. Email me to be put on my mailing list (sarah@sarahsalway.co.uk) and I’ll send you a copy to get some at-home inspiration!

 

A writing exercise for International Women’s Day

A writing exercise for International Women’s Day

Here’s what we’re doing in my writing class tonight to celebrate International Women’s Day. You’re very welcome to join along with us!

First, a freewrite… to pick one of the glorious women from my postcard pack (below) and write for six minutes on the smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and touches they would experience in the environment they are in right now (in the right now of the postcard obviously)…. Just that. We’re not going into character yet, we’re walking into the postcard, as it were.

 

Then we’re reading two wonderful poems. First up, Lucille Clifton with one of my favourite poems of all time, Won’t You Celebrate with Me. You can hear her reading it here :

Then, Kim Addonizio’s What do Women Want. 

I think we should have an interesting discussion about these two!

The second writing exercise is to go back to our woman in the postcard. Now we’ve established the sensory aspects of her setting (in the freewrite), what about her? What does she want to celebrate, what does she want? We’ll be writing monologues from the imagined woman’s perspective – so in the first person – and with the one thing both poems have in common for me: a woman taking back and owning her power.

It should be interesting. A first line suggestion might be ‘I want a…’ or ‘Let’s celebrate how I…’

And the going-home gift? Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus. Not exactly a celebration but for me, one of the finest monologues, and another example of a woman in a poem who won’t be silenced. It gives me goosebumps every time.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

A year of artists dates

A year of artists dates
A year of artists dates

Last year I put up a post about artists dates, and listing 52 possible ‘dates’. It was based on Julia Cameron’s definition:

“a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

I was so pleased the post hit a nerve, and to hear what other people have been doing over the year. BUT I’ve just had possibly the best artists date of the year for me – going through my photos to see my own dates. Not least because it’s a reminder that what is fun for me may very well be your own personal hell, and that just doesn’t matter. It certainly has helped me focus on what spikes my attention as a creative person. So what have I done…

I’ve been to exhibitions I wouldn’t have gone to without this impetus – on my own, wandering round and spending hours in certain corners, often ignoring the publicised ‘greatest hits’ and finding new artists for myself.

 

I’ve made small corners of comfort – to daydream, hide books I love away in, DVDs that make happy.

Done quite a lot of this…

Laughed with beautiful new friends…

Played with flowers…

Walked…

Learnt new ways to tie scarves (a surprisingly popular artists date!)

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Made lots of discoveries…

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Mucked around outside and in nature (A LOT)…

 

Had my own perfume blended just for me…

Made visual images of favourite poems (here’s Edwin Morgan’s Strawberries)..

 

Pondered the important questions in life..

Written a bit and drank a bit….

The funny thing is I wouldn’t have remembered half of these things if I hadn’t have written this post, and looked out all these photographs. When I started my blog – WAY BACK IN 2004! – I saw it as my own writing journal, a place I could keep all the things I wanted to remember and work out for myself through writing what my world was like. And it still feels like this. Today I’ve realised all over again that I keep this blog because I really love doing it – finding out new techniques like the collage editor I’ve gone a bit overboard with, and other ways of getting information across. But then I’ve always been the one in the corner, sorting out how the latest gadget works. That’s the way I can really get my artist excited.

And for this year, I’ve been given a new resolution by someone I respect – so I hope I keep it up. It’s to record a weekly encounter with a stranger – a different one each week, I’m not going to start stalking… so here’s one from last year. Being challenged to table tennis in a gallery in Colchester…

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to get a writing group buzzing

How to get a writing group buzzing

I’m so lucky with my writing groups – and the mix of people who come. One term, I did an exercise on getting them to share what they knew: we had talks on the different kinds of silence (from a psychotherapist), on volcanoes (geography teacher), photo journalism (a photo editor), mughal architecture (journalist), continuity in TV shows (ex-BBC producer) and much more. I suspect that only in a writing group would you get this variety of expertise, and complete equality round the table (I’m including me in that) – when we face the blank page , everyone is forced to go back to the beginning.

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And last night, one of our group – step up graphic novelist and beekeeper, Ellen Montelius – was doing a talk about Bees in Winter as part of the artist based Cross Pollination project, so given that it was a Wednesday night and that’s writing night, we held the writing session directly after her lecture. That’s Ellen above, organising a ‘Great British Bake Off’ demonstration on how to make a sugar and water solution to bring exhausted bumblebees back to life. There was a magic moment after this when a woman in the audience demonstrated how she often picked up bees she found on the ground and held them in her hand – her hand was cupped in the air as she showed us, her finger gently stroking an imaginary bee – until the warmth and the sugar she fed them revived what she described as little ‘flying motors’ she could feel whirring against her skin and – she opened her hand then, palm upwards – she could let it fly away.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping to find an exhausted bee on the ground after this, just so I could help bring it back to flight.

So what did we do in the writing session? There was certainly enough material in the talk to generate a hundred stories, but we began by making a word pool. Writing down as many words as we could remember from the talk. Then we went round and shared one of our words, until we had a list of twelve – CLUSTER, WINTER, COTONEASTER, NECTAR, HIBERNATE, SURPLUS, SOLUTION, CHAMBER, TERRACOTTA, STINGING, SOLITARY, DRONE. Good words, eh?

From this we freewrote for six minutes using all the words above but with one rule – we weren’t allowed to write about bees. As a penalty, at the end of the time, I made everyone use all the words they had left from the list in one line of dialogue they had to insert into their piece.

It’s interesting what  happens when we change our own dictionaries. Too often we get stuck on using the same words in our writing, and it can feel stale to us. An exercise like this helps to shake it up, particularly if you take words from one discipline or interest and use them in a new way.

Our final exercise was to take Virginia Woolf’s short story, Kew Gardens, and write from the perspective of the bee – using the words and material we had all gained from Ellen’s talk. One of the things we discussed was how, in Woolf’s story, it is the momentum of the snail throughout the story that allows the reader to keep grounded in what is happening.

We also enjoyed a honey cake Ellen made for us… it’s important to remember all senses when writing…

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Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….

Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….

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I ran a workshop at the Physic Garden at Westgate Gardens in Canterbury today. That’s the garden above. And the sun shone, and the cake came. Look!

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But more importantly poets came too to write with me, some new poets, some already established, some drawn by the plants, others by the words. It’s the joy of the mix always, you can do the same exercise daily with different groups of people and get new results. First off, we mixed body parts with emotions with surprising and beautiful results – Blood is care for others -Fear is red, the moving life force of the body – A heart is a feeling that something good is going to happen… 

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Then inspired by Basho, Jack Kerouac and winners of the Iafor Vladimir Devide Haiku Award, we wrote haikus. ‘Walk round the garden now and write ten!’ I demanded. And they did. Sometimes it’s better to write like that, rather than trying to craft something perfect. We concentrated not on the 5-7-5 rule, but catching a moment, conveying an emotion:

Poets
on toadstools
read Basho… 

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Then after reading them to each other, we wrote our favourites out, turned them into Haiku bunting, which we left behind for others to enjoy and for the wind to blow our words this way and that…

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Next we talked about list poems, and hey, we made a group list poem:

We’d like to be kind,
to counteract disunity,
cure the common cold.
We’d like to find a way
to stop people being so angry,
make a remedy for greed,
and living with uncertainty,
in fact we’d want to stop all disease
and then please, to have a peaceful sleep.

Talking of curing things, round the garden, I’d put buckets of poems as remedies. Please pick one, I wrote…

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and lots of different people did as the workshop was going on… often stopping to unwind one, read it to each other and then take another. That was beautiful to watch.

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For the last exercise, I’d copied Geoffrey Grigson’s descriptions of plants, with their common names. Oh the joy – a poem in the words here alone…

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And what we did was to turn the plants into characters – wondering if they wanted to stay where they were planted – examining whether they might want another life – what their secrets might be. What if … what if…

And did I mention we had cake?

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Try your hand at a herb haiku, a basil ballad and some parsley poetry…

Try your hand at a herb haiku, a basil ballad and some parsley poetry…

Come and indulge your senses with a Herbal Infused Poetry Workshop at the beautiful Physic Garden at Westgate Gardens, Canterbury

Saturday 24th September – 11-1pm

Costs £4 (including tea and cake)

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How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned, but in herbs and flowers?

Andrew Marvell

I’m running a workshop in Canterbury designed around herbs – their history, their myths and all the remedies – sensible and gloriously silly – associated with them. Enjoy a morning writing and reading poetry with me, inspired by the Physic Garden. We’ll look at myths, make up new remedies, explore the senses and have fun through a series of practical exercises – all you will need to bring is a pen and paper. This workshop is suitable for all levels of writers, and is a chance to play on the page in the beautiful surroundings of Canterbury’s historic Westgate Gardens.

Because numbers are limited, booking is strongly advised, please visit http://www.westgateparks.co.uk/events/ or telephone the Canterbury Ticket shop on: 01227 787787. There may be some spaces available on the day.

Contact Sarah Salway, sarahsalway@gmail, for more information.

This event is funded through Canterbury City Council’s Westgate Parks ‘Parks for People’ HLF Project

To book your place , click here