Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Facial Expressions

William Blake wrote:

There is a smile of love,
And there is a smile of deceit;
And there is a smile of smiles,
In which these two smiles meet.

And there is a frown of hate,
And there is a frown of disdain;
And there is a frown of frowns

Creative Write: Develop four characters who reveal emotions through facial expressions: love, deceit, hate and distain. Add body language to enhance the experience.

Don't reveal the emotions in the writing. Let readers guess from your written portraits.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Shape of Personal Narrative

"We must create and find our own stories, our own myths with symbols that will bind us to the world as we see it today."  - Terry Tempest Williams

A personal narrative includes a desire, struggle and realization.  More than an accounting of events, it includes emotional, moral and psychological tones which give meaning to the events.

Story shape:

You have a desire that starts the story.

You struggle to gain it through an action or actions.

You feel challenges past interrelated events that you made happen or happened to you.

Because of what happened, you became a different person.  You realized something as a result of the struggle.  You may see things differently with resulting wisdom.  Or, you do not gain insight.

Change from an event is a moral change.  You had a realization or a series of realizations and a shift in values or perception.  Possibly you learned nothing from the life lesson and continue to make similar choices that end in negative results.

Creative write: Tell your story by describing  a desire and challenges to reach a result. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Create a Gypsy Detour

Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.
- Margaret Lee Runbeck

Take a break from your real world to travel on a writing detour. You're given a Gypsy wagon and a credit card for a month.

Describe your vehicle.  What will you pack?

Where will you drive?  Which territories speak to you that need exploring? Delve into the wild, grand, and meaningful.  Set out on an adventure with words.

Let yourself create beyond all possibilities.  Will you add wings?

Write yourself into fun and fantasy.  Share how you start your writing engine.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Be Yourself

"Be yourself.  No one can tell you you're doing it wrong." - Snoopy

Socrates focused on a process of  "know thyself." How does that differ from what it means to "be yourself"?

Socrates questioned students to lead them to arrive at the truth themselves. He challenged individuals to reconsider their own prejudices and ideas. By urging them to think for themselves, they could evaluate truth from different angles.

His method of conversation and inquiry often irritated his students as it revealed the limitations of their thinking. Yet, Socratic method never had to directly tell people their inadequacies; they realized it themselves.

Socrates questioned everything and decided independently what would become worth pursuing. Studying  issues from both perspectives; he did not allow religious, political, or social conventions to affect him. With the forces of conformity in Greek society, this independence of thought and mind became a powerful way of thinking.

What does it really mean to "be yourself?"

Creative Write: Write and respond to questions today to combine a Snoopy-Socratic way into self-discovery.  Who are you?  Why?  What talents do you have? What do you like about yourself?  What irritates you the most about you?  What would you change?  Keep probing.

Friday, April 26, 2013


On a leafless branch
A crow's settling
autumn nightfall
               - Basho

Basho's Haiku investigates the value of a singular moment. In Japanese, the word sabi describes an alloy of beauty and sadness. Sabishi expresses loneliness and solitude. 

An essence of impermanence pervades his observation.

Creative Write: Nurturing the vitality of the moment and its evanescence, write a paragraph about a solitary experience. 

What does alone feel like?  Notice if sensations of impermanence percolate.  

Define words like loneliness, freedom, or solitude without using them in your essay. 

Develop metaphor and sensory imagery.

Invite the reader into your moment of solitude.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Writing Taste Buds

The magic recipe to living out your boldest dreams: A pinch of delusion, a dash of audacity and a shot of courage. 
- Kirsty Spraggon

Similar to the comments on the cup above, writers have a variety of taste buds.  If you selected from an array of ingredients for your writing choices, what would you choose?

Here's a start down the cafeteria line.  Choose one of each or add your own.

A metaphor: The heart of an artichoke

Several action verbs: engorge, munch, swallow,  digest,

A detail: The tines of a fork flash and drip with dill sauce.

Two nouns of texture: tapioca, endive

If you must -
One adjective that astonishes the noun.

Sprinkle in a suppressed dream,  pepper with delusion,  the spice of audacity and a shot of courage.

Now, mix together, write for fifteen minutes and see where the taste buds take you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Observe Strangers

At the completion of my morning run, I looked up to notice a man walking toward me.  He smiled, bent to pick a flower and extended it to me.  At first I wondered what he wanted?  Would he ask for money or food or?  

I felt hesitant but took his offering. "Thank you. You enlivened my day," I said.  He bowed, smiled and walked on.  I followed him with my eyes until he turned the corner. 

This gentleman's offering made me think of how we judge others because of the fear generated by the media and our weary world.  If everyone picked a flower and passed in on, how brightened our days would become on both sides of the offering.

Before my benefit of the day, I had wondered about the variety of people as I passed them on my running route. What did their lives entail?  What were their avocations or professions?  What gave them joy or concern?  

As writers, we need to delve into the interactions of others to generate our own ideas for stories or poems

Creative Write:  Observe strangers while waiting in line or at a restaurant.Ask questions of their behavior. Imagine what they do they do for a living? Use your imagination and observation skills. Go wild with your curiosity and come up with uncommon notions about those you observe. Is this individual a spy? an elephant trainer? a magician? a runaway from a family vacation?  

Have fun and spark connections for a story or poem.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Celebrate Earth Week

John Muir became America's most influential naturalist, conservationist and founded the Sierra Club.Muir once described himself as a "poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist and ornithologist-naturalist, etc., etc."

He loved the wild and walked 1,000 miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico.

John Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt camping in Yosemite Valley which resulted in the national parks system: five national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests.

Muir discovered that soaking sequoia pine cones in water turned the water purple. He used it as ink and drank it, "hoping thereby to ... render myself more tree-wise and sequoical."

Celebrate Earth Week! Breathe the freshness of air, smell the trees and flowers in bloom and feel gratitude for what the earth does for you.

How will you help the natural world?  Pick up a discard. Listen to bird song and smile at another human being. Share the amazements and amusements of nature.

Share your celebration with awe and care for our planet.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Write a MacGuffin

Do you know the term, MacGuffin?  It involves a secret or device that motivates in a story. It could mean a briefcase in a crime drama or a diamond ring in a spy story. 

The term came from  a story of passengers on a train who interrogate a fellow passenger carrying an odd-looking package. The man says the package contains a MacGuffin which catches tigers in the Scottish Highlands. When the others claim there are no tigers in the Scottish Highlands, the fellow answers, "Well, then there's no MacGuffin. See, it is nothing at all."

Alfred Hitchcock used the term for a plot device. He liked the way a mysterious package builds suspense to gain the audience's attention. Hitchcock recognized that an audience anticipating a solution to a mystery will folow the story even if the intial interest-grabber turns out to be irrelevant.

For George Lucas the MacGuffin needs power. He says, "The audience should care about it as much as the fighting heroes and villains on screen.”

If one considers a MacGuffin the object of everybody's search then rosebud in Citizen Cane or the Maltesse falcon,  and brief cases in Pulp Fiction fit the definition.  It includes Ronin and the mineral unobtainium in Avatar.  In Hugo, focus on a mysterious notebook taken from the main characer and his struggle to retrieve it fits the notion of MacGuffin. 

Creative Write:  Write a story with a MacGuffin. Bring it into play at the beginning. See if it declines in importance as your character's struggles play out. Will it return at the end of the story?  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wilderness Wandering

Wilderness is not an extravagance or a luxury, it is a place of original memory where we can witness and reflect on how the world is held together by natural laws. 
--Terry Tempest Williams

Nature writing requires awareness and observation of interconnections. Often founded in science, the focus always returns to the writer's personal observations. 

The challenge of the writer involves bringing the reader into that world. Nature writing evokes all the senses and delves into the possibilities regardless of the tragedies in the world. This writing puts hope, faith and possibility into concrete words and imagery. 

For writers the unknown territory always looms. The idea or the story lurk somewhere in the desert, on the prairie, high on a mountain, or in the backyard of the mind.

How do we move into those areas of wildness and live at the edges of the mysterious? 

Where do we extend the boundaries of the self? 

Creativity and the resulting writing require the permission to be lost. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit explains, "One does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography." She continues, "That thing the nature of which is totally unknown is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost."

Awareness achieves results. 

Creative Write: Pursue Solnit's idea, "Never to get lost is not to live."  Wander in your writing without a map or compass.

Ask nature a question and write about it. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Be the Ball

"There is a force in the Universe that makes things happen.  All you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking. Let things happen and be the ball. " - Ty Webb.

"The ideal piano player is the one who wants to be the piano," says a character in Thomas Bernhard's novel, The Loser.  He continues, "I say to myself every day when I wake up, I want to be the Steinway.  I want to be the Steinway itself." 

Bernhard explores themes of artistic ambition, destructive power of genius, and the double-sided nature of friendship. Written as an unbroken, 170 page paragraph in monologue style, a fictional student of piano virtuoso Glenn Gould writes his story.

Mary Lou Retton claimed, "You get self-satisfaction from pushing yourself to the limit, knowing that all the effort is going to pay off."

How might, "Be the pen" enhance your writing or personal situation?  

Creative Write: Merge with the tool you want to master.  Immerse yourself in the skill you're working to perfect.  Disappear into this item in your imagination. Become completely united with the experience you desire. Write about it!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Into the Wilderness

Discover nature's mysteries.
Let them weave beyond skin,
twirl among bones to nurture the heart.

Watch the sea’s way.
Notice sprindrift's rise and fall.

Let twilight open its wonder,
to release you into the calm.

Stay silent as a stone,
 while you experience the wild.

Creative Write:  Move into the wilderness. Write a philosophy. Ease into poetry. Propose or persuade. Sing your own song.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Write the Whats

Probe the limits of creativity. Move to the edges that chafe. What triggers will you discover?

Respond to the whats:

What do you grasp that disappears?

What turns to tears?

What shouts with joy?

What closes the mind?

What tiptoes into silence?

What arrives in stealth?

What leaves in misunderstanding?

What stokes admiration?

What steals confusion?

                                                                What tastes of steel?

                                                                What sounds like pale?

                                                                What shadows with scent?

What clings to courage?

What shrieks into the sky?

What ends the suffering?

Creative Write:  After you respond, take a break. Think of ways to turn your whats into an essay, story or poem.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Write Alternative Realities

Enchantment, fun and wonder energize life and writing. Why not incorporate elements that mix illusion with the every day life? Let unlikely images collide. Weave dreams with logic. Get 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

Creative Write: Try an exercise that pushes logic and reason aside. Let your subconscious mind or dreams provide a playground. Connect objects and notions that you would not expect to see together. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Leave it Behind

The Rider

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell. - Naomi Shihab Nye 

Notice how Naomi Shihab Nye uses concrete imagery to present her ideas about how to leave loneliness behind. She ends the poem with an image of azaleas that lingers with the reader.

Creative Write: Use a concrete image to reveal ways to leave something behind. Sift through your petals of despair and longing.Let the tears shine to reflect a moment of renewal. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Choreograph Creativity

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 
- Leonardo da Vinci

Choreographer Twyla Tharp starts a project by collecting items that inspire her. What she calls her magpie impulses might include a toy, photograph, quotations, passages from books read, or a CD. The items placed in a cardboard file box spark her creativity.  

First she places a message with a stated goal. She's written: Keep it simple. Something Perfect or Tell a story.

Everything is raw material,” Tharp says. “Everything is relevant.  Everything is usable.  Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.”  

Tharp discovered that the more she created the more she wanted to create.

Creative Write: Let Tharp's strategies spur your creativity.  Choose five items in the categories above.  Let them spark an idea for a story or poem.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Write with Feelings

"I believe more seriously than many others that it is beneficial as an adult to preserve the childlike imaginative wonder about life.  Children have a less defined, fuzzier attitude to the divide between reality and imagination."  - Arne Naess

In his book, Life's Philosoophy, Arne Naess writes about how playful emotions drive "artists of life." These individuals always have a smile ready to break out. Naess feels one has to reflect creatively on life's opportunities.  Here a focus on feelings works rather than depending upon reason.

How do you feel about yourself and the world?  Most people will write about how they "see" the world or "understand" the world.  They don't say, "This is how I feel myself about the situation."

Creative Write: Check out feelings you encounter at various times of the day. How do you name and tame them? Return to a childlike mind to recall when you first experienced their tones.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spark Creativity

Creativity has that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition~ Max Ernst

Take a walk and observe shadows, shapes and textures. Combine the unlikely. Look up, down and around to mix and match colors, scents and sounds. 

Extrapolate and invigorate your writing with different perspectives.

Choose a scent and a shape.

Seek a magnolia's microphone for a hidden message.

Chase a dragon in a cloud. How does it alter itself?

What would a chorus of yellow sound like?

Liberate a laziness.

Wriggle from familiarity.

Jump to the horizon of ideas.

Seek your heart's desire. 

Tease a dream. Recast. Reshape.

Play! Imaginate and spark creativity.

Creative Write: Observe with one-liners. Let
juxtaposition lead to a story or poem.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Write your Spirituality

"Fate and religion he'd said, were for those who didn't want to take control of their own lives - or weren't able to.  Much easier to believe in fate or laws of Gods than to accept a universe of chaos. With a god or fate, behind you, you could place your future in someone else's hands, let them be responsible, and when it went wrong you had a convenient patsy." - Mark Pryor from The Bookseller

How do you relate to the above quotation?

Reveal your reverence for something higher and brighter that awakens your passion for life. Do you have a God-substitute that guides life? Does your self-responsibility rule? Do you have a scientific theory to explain the universe of chaos?  How do you express gratitude for life?

Creative Write:  Write about fate and religion. How do you perceive either or both? Provide examples to support your view. How do you tolerate opposing responses? Feel a response to the above quotation and write it out.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Write Your Tides and Currents

John Muir lived in and loved the California wild. As a scientist he studied it and devoted himself to what he called its mystical nature. During the course of his communion with the glaciers and peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, he came close to seeing them as living beings. He moved in the waters and streams following the currents.

The personality of the California Coast changes from south to north. It can nurture with a calm and warmth one minute and emote wild with wind the next.

Its roar and spindrift reach to the edges of expression.

How would you identify the currents and tides that have flowed for years through your own life? Think of the estuaries that gathered and nurtured growth. Acknowledge the rage of storms and their effects.

What changed because of erosion?  What remained as a fierce stream?

Does a mystical nature appear?

Creative Write: Write to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the cycles that have brought you to where you flow today.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Six Words

Respond to each question in six words.  Go for nouns and verbs. If you must use an adjective, make it startle the noun.

Where do you discover amazement in life?

How does a scent remind you of an emotion?

Where does a taste take you back in time?

Describe a favorite song.

What makes you laugh?

Show a color's effect.

Write six sound words like kableem or skeech.

Creative Write: After you create your six word responses, mix them up.  Notice where they might re-arrange themselves in a poem. Let them lead you with nuances and fun.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Gathered Pleasure

"There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. Happiness does not need to become the goal. We need a variety of experiences and moods to write about." - Robert Louis Stephenson

In the 1980’s  Martin E.P. Seligman adopted the term, “positive psychology.”  After years of studying the “learned helplessness” that characterized depression, he began to study how individuals could learn optimism. Seligman felt a search for “authentic happiness” made more sense than  relying on psychology’s one-sided focus on illness and disorders.

Consider how to gather simple pleasures. Choose to focus on optimism, courage and perseverance rooted in well-being.   The process itself will attract feelings of exultation.

When nature provides a feast, take time to savor all the flavors. Everyone needs to awaken to the positivity that explodes in blossom and sky.

Take a pleasure interlude from your busy life to revel in the marvelous around you.

Squeeze out joy and appreciation for the living, growing creatures, plants and trees.

Creative Write:  Write about  "learned helplessness," optimism or courage. Move through a variety of moods.