Tag Archives: Something to Write Home About

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

Writing in Rhyme for Children

The Bible says God gives us specific talents. Do you remember being a kid and discovering something you were really good at? God planted that seed in you and it started to grow. As you grew you learned to make what you’re good at work for you.

I’m good at making rhymes. When I was little, I drove people crazy singing silly made-up songs. My mother enjoyed reminding me of my first rhyme, made up at age three, Pepsi cola hits the pot . . . but, I digress. As a freelance writer, I’ve written more than a dozen rhyming books.

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Editors often reject manuscripts written in rhyme. The truth is, writing in rhyme is hard. It requires more than counting syllables, matching stressed and unstressed beats and careful placement of multi-syllable words. A good rhyme has to flow and also move the story forward. It’s not about finding a word that rhymes to fit a rhyming pattern, but finding the best word. That means playing with words, turning them inside out and upside down, until they work. Rhymes can’t be forced. The words need to flow smoothly one line melting into the next.

When writing in rhyme, here are three tips to remember:

1. What’s most important is the story. The words need to create pictures in the reader’s mind.

My brother’s bug was green and plump,
It did not run, it could not jump,
It had no fur for it to shed,
It slept all night beneath his bed.
Jack Prelutsky

2. Next, think about meter, the pattern of the beat. Count syllables. Make sure they flow. Read your rhyme aloud. Have someone read it back to you. (I find it helpful to have my computer’s speech function read it back.) Keep rewriting until the meter flows smoothly.

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-grumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain’t been there before.
Shel Silverstein

3. Finally, and this is the trickiest part, check the rhyming words and decide if they are the best words or if you’ve chosen them just because they rhyme. Sometimes, using a stronger word can set your story or main idea in a whole new, and better, direction.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss

The words Theodore Geisel  chose: “feet”, “shoes”, “steer”, “direction” all work together to create an image that implies motion. Imagine if he had written instead:

“You have brains in your head. You have nothing to lose. You can take yourself to any place that you choose.” 

The idea falls flat.

Online rhyming dictionaries can be a great help. I like RhymeZone. It allows you to organize results by syllables, words and phrases. For inspiration you can also search for a word to see how it was used in published song lyrics and poems.

If you plan to write in rhyme, learn by reading classics by authors like Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Margaret Wise Brown . . . Check out Anna Dewdney’s “Llama, Llama” books,  Julia Donaldson’s rhyming books (“The Gruffalo” and others), and Jane Yolen’s “What Rhymes With Moon?”  Study the meter, the story structure, the way the words flow. Using their rhymes as models, try writing your own.

Writing in rhyme takes practice. It’s not as easy as you think.

If you find your task is hard,
Try, try again.
Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again.
All that other folk can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view,
Try, try again.
William Edward Hickson

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Filed under Poetry, Uncategorized, writing rhymes