Category Archives: Writing Exercises

All that matters – a 50 word photostory

All that matters – a 50 word photostory

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We’re falling apart and there’s no-one left to put us back together. We just let things drop where they will. My finger on the stairs, your leg in the bathroom. We hold each other so gently, secretly measuring what’s left. Soon we’ll just be lips kissing our love to oblivion.

(I used to do 50 word photostories all the time. I’d take an interesting photograph and write a 50 word – no more no less – story to go with them, but somehow along the way I stopped. I was still taking the photos but forgetting to do anything with them. But recently I’ve been thinking about them again, and then I had a lovely coincidence when I went to a sparkly poetry tea where the guests included Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos who talked about his wonderful Picpoetry.

My old ones have disappeared now but I love how when I went looking for them today, I found traces on other writers websites… where they’d been left like small blurry footprints.

Which fits in nicely with the photograph above, really! )

 

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)

visual verse

  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.

52 Artists Dates for 2018

52 Artists Dates for 2018

You are probably aware of the concept of the Artist Date. It was named and made famous by Julia Cameron in her book The Artists Way as a way creative people can fill up their well once a week.

The Artist Date is 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.

The Artist is, of course, YOU and as it’s you and your artist self going out on a date, it’s a rather joyous way of spending time on your own. I do this regularly now, and have got over completely the indecision of what I should do. I’m completely selfish in not allowing anyone to come along with me – this is just for me and artist-me!

Here are my list of 52 possible weekly dates for this year ahead (plus a couple more for good luck). I’d love to know what has worked for you, and what you might add to my list.

1. Write a list of 100 things that would terrify me to do (eg do a stand up comedy act)
2. Have a fancy cocktail in a bar on my own. This one is good!
3. Pick a letter – any letter – and go for a walk to take photographs of things beginning with that letter.
4. Bake bread
5. Swim in a river
6. Swim in a lido – this one?
7. Make a herb garden
8. Take my yoga mat to a park and practise under a tree
9. Buy five books from a charity shop, write a note in each and leave them for others to find
10. Go to a new café and enjoy an excellent breakfast
11. Pack a yummy picnic and a good book to go to a new park, roll out a rug and enjoy
12. Visit the RFL poetry library and choose five books at random to read
13. Make a list of London libraries – go to one I’ve never visited
14. Join in on a life-drawing class
15. Make the kind of dressing up box I wanted as a child
16. Take a selfie dressed as the main character of a book I’m reading
17. Make biscuits and give to friends
18. Go to a public lecture about a subject I know nothing about (not hard!)
19. Visit a cemetery I haven’t been to before and make notes
20. Write a fan letter. Send
21. Enjoy an afternoon watching TED talks
22. Go to a concert of a completely new music to me
23. Take a boat trip
24. Paint or draw a self portrait
25. Write a letter to someone I haven’t seen for ten years
26. Make a playlist of music I haven’t listened to for ten years
27. Plan a road trip round childhood haunts
28. Make a list of 100 things that make me happy
29. Make a miniature garden
30. Go to a candlelit concert at St Martins
31. Learn a poem by heart
32. Record myself reading poetry
33. Go on a guided walk
34. Go to a café and plot out a novel I’ll never write
35. Dance
36. Go foraging
37. Make a list of at least five strangers I speak to today
38. Plant seeds
39. Buy seeds (or visit a seed swap) and make beautiful seed packets to send to friends
40. Got to a chocolate shop and spend a long time choosing just five chocolates to buy
41. Have my own indoor fireworks show
42. Make a photo book of the photographs that make me happy
43. Get a tattoo
44. Go to a matinee
45. Create a vision board on Pinterest for me when I’m 80
46. Create a playlist to give to a friend
47. Buy a second hand book and create a Blackout poem
48. Go to 5 Rhythms dance
49. Go to a park and identify five trees – make a zine
50. Try on an outfit I’d never be able to afford
51. Sit in on a jury trial
52. Go to the opera – research fully beforehand
53. Go to a lunchtime talk at the National Gallery
54. Go to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
55. Find the perfect red lipstick
56. Go to Strawberry Hill
57. Take note of, and research, the statues I walk past every day
58. Go to a market – choose interesting looking items, make a still life. Photograph it.

Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?

Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?
Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?

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I always use freewrites in my writing classes. They help at the beginning of a class to get us in the mood, to move from the everyday to the writing journal, to help settle us as writers in the energy of the group. Often, to be honest, I find that those six minutes of giving yourself over to the page and not trying to pre-empt or control your writing is valuable enough in itself, but I can also understand the interest in doing something, anything, with this writing.

So here are some of the things we have been working with recently in my regular group. I’d love to know what you do with your freewrites too? There are some recent prompts at the bottom of this post too. I normally set the timer for six minutes, pick one and let my pen move!

Five things to do with freewrites:

1. Go through your writing and underline or circle any phrases or words that have energy for you. Now write one at the top of a new page, and start another six minutes of writing with this as your prompt. The advantage is that this will take you far away from what you normally write about.

2. As above, but this time you’ll use one of your underlined phrases as a title for a new piece. Every time we have done this in my group, we have come up with extraordinary, surprising and often moving titles that we would never have found otherwise. Often the piece they inspire will be surprising too.

3. Read back and reflect on what you have written. Be interested, not judgemental. Kathleen Adams calls this the ‘reflective write’, and suggests taking the phrase ‘When I read this, I am interested in…’ or ‘When I read this, I am surprised by…’ as your starting prompt. The reason for doing this is that you start to mentor your own writing self, noticing what works for you and what doesn’t. It often helps you to pull out the centre, or the heart, of the piece too.

4. For this one you need someone else, but put your freewrite to one side, and in pairs, just talk to one another in turn about what came up from the original prompt. Take it in turns to listen, just that, no interrupting or affirming, while the other one talks. Then you have two options. You can write from what they have told you – a kind of writing/speaking Chinese Whispers, or go back to the page and look at what you originally wrote. It’s fascinating to see a) what sticks from our writing, and b) the differences in how we ‘speak something’ and how we write it.

5. If you are in the middle of a large piece of fiction, a novel or a short story, then use the prompt to freewrite as if you were one of your own fictional characters. Get into their heads and use first person and follow the freewrite rules – don’t let your pen stop, don’t censor yourself, don’t read back as you’re writing. It may be that you won’t use anything you’ve written, but you’ll get to know your characters so much better. It’s particularly useful for minor characters who still need to be three-dimensional, and helps in getting their voice correct but also mining those small details that bring your writing to life.
 

Twenty-Five Freewrite Prompts

*          A collection of…
*          In a year’s time…
*          My first home…
*          My favourite smell is…
*          I want…
*          Liar liar, pants on fire
*          When I was twelve…
*          I want to explore…
*          These things I have loved (Rupert Brooke)
*          The first time I…
*          I read because
*          My life in numbers…
*          It’s been along time since…
*          If I had longer, I would write about…
*          Shut your eyes and think of shapes, now pick the one that keeps
coming to you – oblong, square, round, and freewrite from that…
*          The language of home…
*          I hate it when…
*          Ten things I will not think about in my last seconds of life…
*          You don’t know me but we could be friends…
*          If I could change anything in the world, I would…
*          The last time I danced…
*          Things to do today
*          The things I carry (physical or beliefs)
* My brush with fame
* Ten snapshots from yesterday