Category Archives: Creativity

2 Writing Challenges to Start the New Year

My last blog post was in October. As with most of us, 2020 got in the way of my productivity. The pandemic, politics, riots, wildfires . . . each day, it seemed, there was something new to think about. Add to that a steady stream of freelance writing assignments, and blogging slipped to the bottom of my to-do list—

Did you know there’s a web site that features nothing but lists? Listverse will keep you occupied for hours. And check out Paula Rizzo’s book, Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You, where she’ll teach you how to tap into your own productivity style to get things done. Lists help us remember and to stay organized. Authors use lists. They keep journals in which they list new or unusual words, potential character names, mental images, sensory descriptions . . . Lists are like sticky post-it notes used to remind a writer of little things she or he might otherwise forget.

As we transition from 2020 to a new year, I have two writing exercises for you. Will you take the challenge?

First, think about 2020 (I know, you don’t want to!) and make some lists. Think about your strongest mental images and jot them down. What new words come to mind? Write those down, too. See if you can come up with ten lists about this past year. Then save those lists. Twenty-twenty was a year like no other in recent history. What you felt and observed in 2020, those strong emotions and images, will, one day, find their ways into your works of fiction. You’ll be glad you jotted them down.

Some of the world’s best authors use lists when writing descriptive prose. Here’s an example from an essay by John Updike:

Henry’s Variety Store
A few housefronts farther on, what had been Henry’s Variety Store in the 1940s was still a variety store, with the same narrow flight of cement steps going up to the door beside a big display window. Did children still marvel within as the holidays wheeled past in a slow pinwheel galaxy of altering candies, cards and artifacts, of back-to-school tablets, footballs, Halloween masks, pumpkins, turkeys, pine trees, tinsel, wrappings reindeer, Santas, and stars, and then the noisemakers and conical hats of New Year’s celebration, and Valentines and cherries as the days of short February brightened, and then shamrocks, painted eggs, baseballs, flags and firecrackers? There were cases of such bygone candy as coconut strips striped like bacon and belts of licorice with punch-out animals and imitation watermelon slices and chewy gumdrop sombreros. I loved the orderliness with which these things for sale were all arranged. Stacked squarish things excited me—magazines, and Big Little Books tucked in, fat spines up, beneath the skinny paper-doll coloring books, and box-shaped art erasers with a faint silky powder on them almost like Turkish delight. I was a devotee of packaging, and bought for the four grownups of my family (my parents, my mother’s parents) one Depression or wartime Christmas a little squarish silver-papered book of Life Savers, ten flavors packaged in two thick pages of cylinders labeled Butter Rum, Wild Cherry, Wint-O-Green . . . a book you could suck and eat! A fat book for all to share, like the Bible. In Henry’s Variety Store life’s full promise and extent were indicated: a single omnipresent manufacturer—God seemed to be showing us a fraction of His face, His plenty, leading us with our little purchases up the spiral staircase of years.

Self-Consciousness, Updike, John, (Knopf, 1989), “A Soft Spring Night in Shillington”

Your second challenge is to create one descriptive paragraph using lists. You can describe a place, an event, a group of people, an experience, an object, a memory . . . the list of themes is almost endless! Work on that paragraph, edit it, refine it, polish it until it represents your very best writing. Then save it. You might need it as a writing sample someday.

These two exercises are a fantastic way to give your writing skills a workout and getting your creative juices flowing as you enter 2021.

Happy new year!

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Filed under Creativity, descriptive writing, New Year, Uncategorized, Writing Exercises

How Has Social Distancing and Solitude Affected Your Writing?

“’I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”
—J.R.R. Tolkein

I haven’t posted here since June. Truthfully, I haven’t felt motivated to write, and I’m not alone. I’ve heard from many writer friends that they just don’t feel like writing or doing much else. The Coronavirus, politics, civil unrest, all of it has our brains filled to capacity leaving little room for creativity.

One of my clients, an editor at a publishing company, told me that next week, September 8, her team will finally be in the office together after almost six months. They’ve been combining working from home with skeleton staff onsite. I’m sure being together will be welcome, but different. Social distancing, hand sanitizer, masks . . .

Everything is different now. We’ve had to change how we navigate the world and how we interact.

When the pandemic began, as a freelancer working from home I thought not much would change. Solitude and some social distancing were my normal. But after a month or so, I started longing for mornings at the coffee shop, sipping a white chocolate raspberry latte, watching people come and go and listening to the chatter around me. I missed breaking from my work-in-progress to run errands midday and taking my laptop to the lake, writing there, watching the dog walkers and children playing in the park. Summer evenings were eerily quiet without distant sounds from local festivals and concerts in the park.

I’ve realized how much the world around me has a positive effect on my writing. All of the little normal things feed my creativity. A conversation overheard in the coffee shop, a new product on a store shelf, a game children play on the beach, sights, sounds—all of them wove their way into my writing without me even being aware. Now I struggle to write what is happy and bright. I find myself searching for ideas in my imagination or from my memories.

The controversial French author, Collette, wrote: “There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.” 

How has solitude affected your writing?
I hope you will comment.

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Filed under CoVid-19, Creativity, Observation, Uncategorized

What Is Big Enough for a Dolomphious Duck to Catch a Frog In?

Christy_NaMee_Eriksen_-_All_These_Words_are_Made_Up_01a_1024x1024Answer: a runcible spoon! Just one of many made-up words and phrases coined by Edward Lear. “Higher-cynths” and “Lower-cynths” are two others.

Made-up words (nouns, verbs, modifiers) used sparingly can add speculation, surprise, poetry and humor to your writing. They work best in children’s books. Just be sure to use them in ways that provide readers with a sense of what they mean.

You can make up nonsense words:

“And oh, what a terrible country it is! Nothing but thick jungles infested by the most dangerous beasts in the entire world — hornswogglers and snozzwangers and those terrible wicked whangdoodles. A whangdoodle would eat ten Oompa-Loompas for breakfast and come galloping back for a second helping.” (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—Roald Dahl)

Combine existing words:

Lewis Carroll created what he called “portmanteau words” (The blending of preexisting words. The word “brunch” and “tween” are examples). Carroll explained:

“For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious”. Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards “fuming”, you will say “fuming-furious”; if they turn, by even a hair’s breadth, towards “furious”, you will say “furious-fuming”; but if you have that rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious.”

Turn nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, adverbs or adjectives:

verbing_weirds_language(Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, 1993)

Examples: Google it; “Let’s do lunch”; Supposably 

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You can add humor to character dialogue by using malaprops:

Malapropism was one of Stan Laurel’s comic mannerisms. In “Sons Of The Desert”, for example, he says that Oliver Hardy is suffering a nervous “shakedown” (rather than “breakdown”), and calls the exalted ruler of their group the “exhausted ruler”; in “The Music Box”, he inadvertently asked a policeman, “Don’t you think you’re bounding over your steps?” meaning “stepping over your bounds”

Remember: Always have a motive for using made-up words and phrases. Use them cautiously and in moderation to add flavor to your writing and evoke a specific feeling from your readers.

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*NOTE: Any ads appearing in this post were not put there by me nor do I endorse them. WordPress sometimes posts ads in exchange for hosting this free blog.

 

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Filed under Creativity, descriptive writing, fun with words, neologisms, Uncategorized, unusual words, words