The life and words of Ashley, Erin, and Michelle

Writing Prompt November 9, 2009

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 1:58 pm
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I’ve been participating (sporadically) in the November poem a day chapbook challenge on Poetic Asides with Robert Lee Brewer. I wanted to share my favorite prompt from this week.

I want you to take the phrase “Maybe (blank),” replace the (blank) with a word or phrase, and write a poem using that new phrase as your title. Some example titles: “Maybe we really did need a bigger boat,” “Maybe next time you’ll listen to me,” “Maybe never,” “Maybe baby,” and so on.

Here’s what I came up with:

Maybe Someone Else Should Cut His Hair

As the cat bats dirty-blonde tufts across the floor
soft tumbleweeds
My brother rubs his scalp
surveying the damage
Mom stands with her hands on her hips,
“That was not what I had in mind.”

I’d love to see what you come up with! What do you think of this writing prompt and writing prompts in general?


Writing Gems from Annie Dillard October 27, 2009

Filed under: Writing — michellehuegel @ 3:02 pm
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Novelist Alexander Chee recently wrote a beautiful, thoughtful essay about the time he studied writing under Annie Dillard. The essay is sprinkled with Dillard’s insightful little gems about the art and craft of writing, like this one:

  • Don’t worry about being original … Yes, everything’s been written, but also, the thing you want to write, before you wrote it, was impossible to write. Otherwise it would already exist. You writing it makes it possible.

Okay, so they’re the sort of gems that make you scratch your head, lose yourself in confused contemplation for several minutes, and still think that maybe the idea is too advanced for a lowly mortal to comprehend. But still, the essay is certainly worth some head-scratching.

Apart from the writing insights he learned from Dillard, Alexander Chee offers yummy descriptive sentences all his own, like this one about revising:

  • You could think that your voice as a writer would just emerge naturally, all on its own, with no help whatsoever, but you’d be wrong. What I saw on the page was that the voice is in fact trapped, nervous, lazy. Even, and in my case, most especially, amnesiac. And that it had to be cut free.

To me, this says that just writing a lot isn’t enough to find my voice. I must write consistently, with discipline, then cut out the bad bits, the lazy, nervous, and “trapped” bits, and what is left over after I’ve filled in these now-empty spaces may be my “voice.”

I’ll leave you with a final quote from the essay, something Annie Dillard said in her class:

  • Talent isn’t enough … Writing is work. Anyone can do this, anyone can learn to do this. It’s not rocket science, it’s habits of mind and habits of work.

Mind Mapping July 29, 2009

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 10:19 am
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Last week, I talked about different things you can do to persuade yourself to take a creative leap. I actually took my own advice. The markers idea sounded fun but all the paper that I had would bleed through. So I found some colored pens and have taken up journaling by hand again using purple (my favorite), orange, blue, green and pink ink. I think it’s good to get away from the computer screen sometimes. Creating something tangible is immensely satisfying.

Trying something new  is always a good way to get your brain to do something new. I did that too. While waiting for my husband at work I saw his the mind mapping software he had been telling me about.

Mind maps are also called, brain webs, webs and a bunch of different things. I remember them as “brainstorms” and whenever we were assigned to brainstorm in school, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh good. Another one of these dumb things.” (Aren’t you glad you weren’t my teacher?) I once read an article in Writer’s Digest that suggested making a mind map of your writing career and using mind maps to plot novels and work your way out of writer’s block. I tried it with limited success. I kept changing things and running out of room and trying to squeeze bubbles with multiple words in a centimeter of space. That’s what annoyed me in school. I couldn’t move anything around to make more room. I modified the traditional pen and paper mind maps and had more success using color coded sticky notes on my closet door.

But my mindmapping luck changed at a poetry workshop.  When the instructor said “We were going to use a mind map and create a poem.” I involuntarily rolled my eyes. He said to put one word in the middle and to try to keep your pen moving the whole time. After spending the first forty-five seconds panicking about my topic, I looked at the pen in my hand and wrote, “Pens” in the middle of my paper and circled it.  After that, my pen moved pretty much the whole time and my thoughts snapped onto the paper. Much to my surprise, when the instructor told us to pick out the concrete words and images at the end of the exercise, I had a poem about pens. Whodathought.

So I thought I’d give Joel’s software a whirl with an idea for a short story. I reminded myself that I’m just, “playing around” with this story and the software. (Instead of the usual “Remember Ashley, that if this is bad your whole writing career is ruined. It has to be full of profound truth and expertly written or you’re a wash.”)

The program made me pick out a picture to put in the central square. I typed the character’s name and before I knew it I had a sprawling mind map complete with arrows.

Throughout creating the mindmap, my brain knew what it wanted the program to do, how long the branches should be and exactly where the arrows should point. I wanted the lines to bend in just the right direction, the text size mattered and I wanted to highlight certain words without knowing why. I also knew what tempo and volume of music I wanted to listen too. When I couldn’t figure out how to move things exactly where I wanted them I felt frustrated.

Best overall, I had a pretty good time “just playing around.” Although I still don’t have any of the narrative written, I feel like this idea is now a lot more developed. And I felt the satisfaction of producing something colorful and intricate.  I’ll admit it wasn’t as satisfying as making a beautiful tactile mindmap but for someone who often wants to go back and change things (me) it was great.

Here’s a video from the maker of the overpriced software that I used. At the beginning of the video, Tony says mindmaps are a critical part to thinking, which I’m pretty sure I’ve been able to do successfully for 24 years despite making less than five mindmaps. According to Tony, I did several things wrong with my mindmap. He emphasizes only using one word per branch while I used words, phrases and sentences. He encourages the use of images, which I didn’t use.

I find the beautiful mindmaps people are drawing in throughout the video baggling. They must just be copying mindmaps they’ve already created.

Have you ever tried mind mapping? How did it work for you?