Saturday, June 30, 2012

Writing Practice

The Japanese tea ceremony honors four guiding principles of discipline: to seek harmony (wa) with nature and other human beings; to show respect (kei) for all things and people; to revere the purity (sei) of a clean and orderly environment; and to enter a state of tranquility (jau) amid the chaotic world in which we live.

In the environment of the tearoom, the splendor of natural materials reveals itself in utensils and furnishings.  Within a calm and orderly atmosphere, guests show respect for their host and objects used to prepare and serve the tea.

Careful attention paid to the craftsmanship in the objects creates appreciation.  A poetic message inscribed on a hanging scroll sets the theme and refers to the season.

The host pays attention to the needs of his guests.  Nothing extraneous is present in the room nor in the conversation.  No unkind words are spoken.  Tragedies and turmoil of the outside world are left outside the garden gates.

For the moment, host and guest reflect upon the time given together - ichigo, ichie - each moment only once.

Creative Write:  Consider how the above ceremony might apply to your daily writing practice.

Do you seek harmony with nature and other human beings in your choice of subject matter?  In what ways does your writing show respect?  How will you bring order to your writing environment?

When you write, what helps to bring you a state of tranquility so you leave the chaotic world behind? As author, how do you pay attention to the needs of your audience of readers?  Will you make the most of each moment the pen flows on paper or fingers push keys?

Write your own principles of writing practice.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Write a Letter

Few individuals send letters and cards via the United States Postal Service.  For many who feel time-strapped, an e-mail or e-card celebrates Birthdays, Graduations, Weddings and even takes the place of sympathy cards.

Corresponding with a few friends and family by card and letter keeps my fountain pens exercised.  Stationery stores attract me into their scent of paper and stimulate the joy of penning a letter.

I do not welcome the day that postage increases prohibit the process.

The epistolary story has a history in literature. Consisting of letters written from one character to another, it moves between characters.  The convention of the story may also include a monologue spoken aloud by one character to another.

The variations include the narrator speaking in intimate confessional to a friend or lover.  Or, he may present his case to a jury or a mob.  The narrator could pour out his heart in a love letter that he knows (and we know) he will never send.

This style is the opposite of what's employed in a story told to the reader.  The listener as well as the teller becomes involved in the action.  Readers become eavesdroppers with all the ambiguous intimacy that position entails.

Many novels have used the epistolary form. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner reveals the benefits.

Creative write:

Write a sketch based on the epistolary form.  Choose either monologue or a series of letters between friends.

Choose one or create your own.

 l.  The narrator is concerned about the choice he made to sell property that had been in the family for  years.  He exchanges letters with a distant relative.

2.  Develop four letters among friends attempting to settle an argument.  First letter details the problem. The second responds to it. The third attempts reconciliation. The last letter puts it to rest or leaves it unresolved.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Redesign Words in Menus

I edit menus, shaking my head at "fresh" to modify eggs and "freshly brewed" to define coffee.  Do they need to tell us it's not stale or old?  A sign reads, "Great bread for everybody."  What is great bread?   If you wanted an item "homemade" why go to a restaurant?  Food should sparkle with taste. Why add "tasty" to an item?

Stacked modifiers confuse readers.  So many added unnecessary modified words get in the way of the message.  Whew, breathe. Can you hold your breath long enough for: a roasted turkey Fuji apple salad.  But wait . . . The wording continues - Tossed with white balsamic Fuji apple vinagrette.

What if Fuji apples danced with turkey twirled in vinagrette?

If adjectives appear on the menu, they must excite or astonish the noun.  Let them add spice.

Another menu item I've seen: artisan bread baked fresh.  What does that mean?  Bread with designs on the crust?   "Simply delicious" adds nothing.  What's the meaning of baked fresh? Fruitcakes are the only breads that age with grace.

Creative Write:  Just for fun, choose a menu in need of enchantment.  Discover ways to revitalize it with nouns and verbs. Add imagery with scents and tastes.  Describe the swish of celery when chewed. Cinnamon and nutmeg your sentences.  Unroll a sauce or pudding like satin to the palate. Show how the texture tingles the tongue bumps.

Omit the obvious: fresh, tasty, homemade, just baked.  Go outrageous with description to tempt the reader's appetite. Revel in outrageous to make the reader salivate.

How would you energize:

Almond chicken salad on sesame semolina with all natural antiobiotic free chicken, diced celery, grapes almonds and secret sauce.  Let these ingredients out to play!

Grab the taste buds with a chicken dizzied by dijon with a dapple of almonds.  

Tempt with mozzarella and tomato on focaccia bread.  Do they melt in a tango?

Soup in a bread bowl definitely needs attention. Let the peas sail among potato clouds.

Go ahead. Play with your food.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hook your Readers from the Beginning

"Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tagline." -- Paul O'Neil

l.   Begin with dialogue and action. "Gaby, what’s going on down there?” Gaby set aside his sandwich, put on his glasses and looked for his wife. He followed as she ran down the cliff to the rocks.  This sentence puts the main characters into the setting.
2. Intrigue the Reader. Seduce the reader with curiosity.  Set up intrigue and mystery.  Refer to a secret. Curiosity will make the readers want to know: Who is this person? Why is s/he in this situation? Will s/he get out of it?  If you capture the readers’ attention at first they will stick with you.  Make them want to find out what’s going to happen.
3.  Start with a question. “What do George Washington, Madonna and Martha Stewart share in common?  The reader will want to read on.
4. Lead with action and sound.  A.A. Milne’s first line, “Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.”  We can hear and see a boy dragging his teddy bear behind him.
4.  Evoke empathy. Start with a story about real people, or about fictional character readers can identify with. Present an emotional experience to grab attention with shock value. Refer to #3.
6.  Write something strange.  Franz Kafka wrote a good one, “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.” Make readers want to stick around to see what strange thing you do next.
7.  Provide information quickly. Herman Melville began, “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.”  Here we have the character, the setting and insight into story in only two sentences.
8.   Set up your conflict in the first sentence.  Rosalind Bentley writes, “Cruising at a good clip, he figures the bus has to be doing 70. No brake lights. Still no brake lights. There’s a wall at the top of the exit, not a through lane.  Is the bus going to stop?”  Begin your building process of tension and suspense.
9.  Begin in the middle of something. Tell the meat of the story first. Or begin with the turning point in your drama. Examples of starting sentences:  Now, the robbery fits no serial cases. He fights to become a walking miracle. Regulations specify that only charcoal, clean wood and paper products…. Also try gaps in conversation.  Readers will want to know how it began.
10. Tickle the funny bones of your reader. Don’t open with a joke. It might fall flat. Try a story or quote that has momentary entertainment value. The professor lectured his writing class:  “In the English language a double negative forms a positive.  In some languages such as Russian, a double negative is still negative.  In no language do you find a double positive that forms a negative.”  From the back of the class he hears, “Yeah, right.”

Write Endings

Take a look at the endings of three stories or poems you have written.  Rewrite the endings in five different ways listed below. Begin the stories or poems again from those perspectives.

Twist the last paragraph into a surprise.

Have an abrupt end with no reason.

Let the story ravel out.

End with a question.

Leave it to the reader to decide.

Have fun and amuse yourself with new possibilities.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Minding the Middles

Once upon a time . . . and they lived happily ever after.   What happens in the middle?

Think about a roller coaster ride when creating the middle of a story, essay or poem.  Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland provides a variety of twists, turns, and the intrigue of sights and sounds to hold the traveler's attention.  Write that experience for your reader.

Keep the action going to avoid a sag in the middle of your writing.  Hold onto the reader's attention from beginning to end by gathering speed, surging up and down hills. Race around corners and into tunnels. Develop surprises and darkness.  Add sensory imagery in sounds, scents, and textures to gain momentum.

Let characters cause dilemmas and struggle their way out.

Maintain tension and mystery in poetry to keep the reader curious.

If you feel stuck, consider adding another element or two. Choose a danger, a discovery, a surprise, a new character,  another location, an argument, an accident, a chase, a secret revealed.

Continue the pace without telling the reader what to expect.

Go for the release of tension in the ending after your readers' heart rates shoot up.

Creative Write: Make a list of five favorite stories, essays or poems.
How did their middles hold your attention?
Did they drag in one section?
How would you rewrite a dippy middle?

Take a look at the middles of your own writing.  
Prop them up with intensity in action. 
Color with nouns and verbs.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What if . . .

What's on your list?

Try a few what ifs . . .

What if you try writing out of your comfort zone?  If you only feel comfortable with prose, write ten lines of a poem.  Relax and let yourself emote.

What if you sent out your work to three markets?  Take a breath, polish a piece and send at least to one publication or online site you have never considered.

What if you start a Blog?  Go to and create your site and write your first entry.

What if you wrote about an unpleasant experience you've avoided?  Write for fifteen minutes and save it on your computer or in a drawer for retrieval in the future.

What if you wrote about the monsters that frighten you when you write?

What if you start in the middle of an idea and write to the beginning or ending?

What if you smile and applaud yourself for writing?

Start your list and let writing lead you into new territory beyond the fear and into the fierce.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Collate Nouns and Verbs

Silversmith      Flee            Wilderness    Peridot    

Gravel           Tromp          Tendril          Parka

Vagabond     Gaze             Leopard      Sprinkle

Arabesque    Trellis            Topple       Triumph

Baroque        Warp            Rattle          Jasmine

Wasp            Guess           Yearn          Maroon        

Marionette     Hunger         Appeal        Monsoon    

Feelers          Ratchet         Jingle           Locks

Fire               Rust             Shuffle         Trapeze     

Leotard        Smoke          Traipse        Sapphire

Make lists of nouns and verbs to use when you feel the temptation to add adjectives or adverbs to your sentences.  Add to it when you come across words with rhythm or sensation.

When you do freewrites, play with nouns that can serve as verbs.  Add raspberries and gleam with truffles.

Creative Write:  Write for ten minutes using the words above. Try drawing vertical linesto connect them. Look for words in crosses. Circle words and let your eyes decide.  Bump and drive them across the page.  Go beyond!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How's Your Write Habit?

You have made plans to write and even established a writing ritual for an extended period of time.  You feel so proud.  

The words flow until a beast creeps up behind or jumps down on your shoulders. You miss a deadline or stop in the middle of a writing project.

Does this sound familiar?

You may feel trapped like the creature below.

This behavior is part of the writing game. Don't let your broken promises and frustrations get you down. Play with them to boost your creativity and determination.

All writers need a Write Habit with a written plan. To establish one, develop a system of strategies to refer to when you slip into behaviors that betray your writing skills.


Write a contract for your Write Life.  Begin with what you do Best in writing. Include behaviors that get in the way and how you will overcome them.  Name your Beast and write to it. 

Set up your writing dreams with deadlines.  Indicate that at a 11 a.m. you will write  . . . no matter what arises. Set a time limit for how long and then stick with it even if you begin to write what does not please you.

Include a contract between you and an imaginary writing mentor.  Give him or her a name.  When you feel like you're about to fall off the writing wagon, write a letter to your mentor and include a response.

Create a dialogue between You and your Beast. Make it funny.

Just Write. Write for 15 minutes on the project. Then stop before frustration sets in. Always stop when you feel you could write forever.

Take a walk and write as you go.  Add humor.

Read several paragraphs from a variety of books, magazines or read poetry aloud.  Distraction engages the judgment nerves and stimulates creativity muscles.  Return to do a freewrite about why you do not want to write today.

Remember, writers are human beings with fluctuations in moods and needs.  Use your moods to your advantage. If you feel cranky, respond to that mood.  If you feel despondent, write what the opposite mood would feel like. Name these as characters and have them interact.

The more you set up a structure for your Write Life, the more familiar you will become with your writing temperament. Use your creativity to trick your way into a flow of words.

Ponds of Possibility

- Rene Magritte

We need enchantment, fun and wonder in life and in our poetry. Why not incorporate elements that mix illusion with the every day life? Let unlikely images collide. Weave dreams with logic. We can get our imaginative motors going by reading science fiction or fantasy and observing the elements in surreal painting.

Andre Breton felt dreams can open us to a “superior reality.” His ideas created a definition of surreal. Or what he termed, “psychic automation.” He encouraged free writing to discover the connections.

Rene Magritte created a variety of subjects this way. He painted a rock suspended over the sea, fish people on a rock, a locomotive coming out of the chimney under a clock. How did he make these ideas work to test our curiosity? View his website and write to his paintings.

Leap into ponds of possibility by trying out new muscles in your writing. Search for untouched areas you have never explored.  Move beyond the regular, expected and known imagery.  Shift your probabilities.  Color an alternative reality.

The Color Blue

What if
midmorning sky
sneaks into café tableware
tricked by the color blue.
Clouds dance on plates
grazing the toast and jelly
like newborn lovers
whose toes never
touch the earth
until familiarity
vacuums the crumbs
sending clouds back
to where
they are supposed
to belong.
                 - Penny Wilkes 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Dragon

The sea dragon
for words.

Visitors arrive in pairs or threes,
their smiles eager for capture.

The sea performs in blue satin.

Waves whoosh to shore,
crackle into caves.

On torrey pine branches,
cormorants pose like banners.

Grass crisped by summer sun
mingles with musk of daisy
on trails of sandstone dust.

Ask to borrow
wings for one day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Observation Skills

Capture nature in all its sensory details.  Take a walk and make notes of edges, shapes, connections.  Look into flowers for faces and figures.

Listen for sounds. What scents arrive on the breeze?

Observe what birds do with their feet when they launch, fly, or land.  What types of wing manoeuvres occur?

Choose nouns and verbs to describe scenes you pass. Avoid adjectives and adverbs.

Write action: crash, roll, fly, scamper, flitter, ramble, scuff.

If you wander near the sea notice: squirrels, sea birds, waves, rust, bubbles, sand, and tints of spray.

Find a variety of words to describe blue.  Where does it go and what does it do?

Add color like scarlet, aubergine, and apricot.

Squint and make up names: marenglow, silvaroon, glurple.

Use imagery instead of a condition to communicate: solitude, tranquility, harmony, or disruption.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Moodle

Serotonin, the brain's feel-good chemical, interacts with receptors to spread happiness, satisfaction and relaxation. How do we wrestle with shades of experience? We have the ability to move from intense moments then glide into realms of ease. At other times we just struggle, stuck in the middle of funk. The complexity of the human endocrine system toys with our balance.

All the advances in medicine and technology cannot provide a life of satisfaction. Only we can access the center of Wisdom above our necks and do what needs doing. We must engage with our highs, lows and middles by discovering ways to dislodge discomfort and energize the interactions in the brain for positive results.

With writing we have the ability to alter our moods or, at least, write about and through them.

Creative Write: Get several sheets of paper and a pen that flows across the page. Find a location where you can write undisturbed for an hour. Write your current mood across the top of the page. Begin writing and do not cross out or feel concern about the words that flow. Let one drop, then another.

See where your mind takes you until the end of the page. Has your mood changed? Write the replacement mood across the top of the next page and begin again. Follow your moods for an hour.

Try writing with a variety of colors. To dislodge cranky, use green. If tired, write with red or magenta. If restless, try blue for its tranquil qualities.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Celebrate the Memories

Write your memories to celebrate Father's Day.

Tie the Memories
I let go of a yellow balloon
my father puffed to life
then linked to my wrist.

When I untied it
the balloon wriggled
and my fingers clutched air.

We watched it float above
the limbs of sycamores
into circus animal clouds.

“Why?”  I asked.
He smiled at
yet another question
and explained gravity.

We found merry-go-rounds
in Paris and Kyoto.
Laughed atop Ferris wheel
stuck in Brighton beach.

“Why?” I asked
When I burned the lamb chops
in adolescent heart break.
He suggested more mint jelly.

No answers in corridors
gray as shrouds
when his twilight spread.
I let go the string,
this tug more desperate
than his breath.
            - From FLYNG LESSONS by Penny Wilkes

Wisdom Statements

What five statements will you make about your life's wisdom?  How will you expand them with examples?

Here's a nudge:

1.   Give more to projects and people than expected.
2.  Don't make excuses.  Make efforts for results.
3.  Know when to say - NO!  Don't compromise your values.
4.  Courage comes in cans rather than in cannots.
5.  Believe in yourself.  Don't put yourself down, ever.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


June twilight shivers, 
spindrift speckles the breeze,
shimmies droplets to shore.

quilt of foam,
a golden snuggle.

Day's work done
pelicans and peregrines.

What do they search for in dreams?

Try on a Character

Wallace Stegner felt writers need to try on others' skins. He encouraged writing about a variety of characters with some feeling of identity.

Just for today become a movie star of your choice.  Try on a wild animal trainer.

How about living a day as the animal itself?

Imagine yourself as your best friend, parent, or child.  Develop traits of someone you would never want to become.

For the characters selected, make a detailed list of clothing, personality traits, and reactions. Then develop a situation.

See where writing leads in your chose of characters.  Does a story or poem result?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Show Your Emotions

What does it mean to feel alone?

Using abstract words such as alone, angry, or in love,  inhibits the reader's connection with the intensity of your communication.  If you wish to write about the dangers of love, show an example with details that will make the reader think, "Aha, I know that feeling." Or, "Wow, what a feeling."  Stimulate the reader through the use of concrete imagery and details.

Produce a fresh connection to meaning with metaphors and similies. Capture the reader's attention and emotions.

Rage - Milk boiling on a stove
Resentment - Buried fire inside a volcano
Fear - A turtle existence
Determination - She had the power of rust.

Create word portraits for the following: Grief - Joy - Worry - Anguish - Passion - Despair - Wisdom - Courage - Loyalty - Revenge - Nostalgia Dismay - Trust - Bewilderment - Sorrow - Greed - Destruction - Amusement - Monotony - Boredom

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Take Time to Play with Words

Write 25 questions or random thoughts each day to stimulate your creativity. Begin, "Today, it occurs to me . . . I wonder . . ." Don't stop writing until you reach 25. Let those wild fingers go.

l. Today the sounds of water and tapping keys make me consider
   how laughter affects the weather.

2. I wonder why coffee brewing arouses my sense of smell
    more than when I taste it.

3. Flying geese make sounds like rusty hinges when
    they fly overhead.

4. I wonder what happened the first time someone looked up at the stars.

5. Will we overpopulate the other universes and trash them also?

6. Does the sun hold his breathe when he dips behind the sea?

7. Are people naturally negative and need to hold vertical poles to make pluses out of their flat lines?

8   Maybe the earth is twirling faster than our brains.

9. I wonder how many writers made words from alphabet soup?

10. The moon looked like someone had taken a bite out of it but it still splashed light on my wall.

11. The lizards are everywhere in all sizes. How do they run faster than I do?

12. I advised students to take their characters to the zoo and it helped.

13. The cantalope loped down my throat.

14. Everyone needs to take a partial day of "fallow."

15. It takes discipline to become playful.

16. Why must we give up our childlike engagements with life?

17. Good habits need more encouragement. They work hard too.

18. Imagine taking a train for several hours and writing until your fingers cramp.

19. Do trees snicker when we pass?

20. Do seahorses think about racing or pulling chariots?

21. Who invented how to eat artichokes?

22. I'd like to chat with my parents for a day about what they miss most about life.

23. Oh for a thick, butterscotch malt with chunks of coconut in it.

24. Do pigeons get dizzy from their heads jiggling when they walk?

25. What causes bubbles?

Creative Write:
 How many poems or story starts can you generate from your one-liners? What if you combine three and see where they go? Circle three, then three more. Really play with your daily notions.