Category Archives: Writing prompts and exercises

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 

Friday Writing Seed, No 1

Friday Writing Seed, No 1
Friday Writing Seed, No 1

Every Friday (or most, try as I might I’m not a machine), I’m going to offer a writing ‘seed’ for you here. Put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and set your alarm for ten minutes. Don’t worry too much, just see where your writing takes you. And if you’d like to leave a link to your writing in the comments here, please do. Here’s the first prompt…

 

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What happens in a writing workshop?

What happens in a writing workshop?

An hour ago we were strangers; now we sit here, a new group of writers.

I ran a writing practice group at Freestyle Yoga Studio on Saturday – the first of hopefully many. It was one of those serendipitous mixes of people, prompts, and the beautiful space created by Anna and Mark above the magic carpet shop in the High Street that made its own little bit of magic. Here’s where we were – right up on the top floor!

Tanya called it “a bit like a spa,” I felt the same too.  And here’s a piece by another participant, Nicola Duffy, which sums up to me perfectly exactly what it feels like to be part of a writing workshop. Many thanks to her for letting me share it here:

A Saturday afternoon writing group in Tunbridge Wells

Some might say we’re a strange lot. Sitting in a circle on oblong-shaped purple cushions. With a pile of herbs next to us, tied together with a piece of multi-coloured string. Talking one minute about spring, swans, woodpeckers and mud. Then pausing to think about what it all means to us. A Saturday afternoon in a yoga studio, but not doing any yoga. Tucked away for a couple of hours to explore our creativity. To let the words flow, from our minds, our hearts, through pens and onto the page. Creating new poems and prose. An hour ago we were strangers; now we sit here, a new group of writers.

Soon we shall say goodbye. Leave the calm and and peaceful environment of this room and once more step out into the street to join the Saturday afternoon shoppers, and all the people rushing to the next place they are going. I bet no-one has stopped and looked up, and seen this circle of writers, with their herbs and their purple cushions. A world that only exists for us, blocked out by the frosted glass on the bottom window.