The life and words of Ashley, Erin, and Michelle

Writing Prompt: Write a poem about a hobby May 3, 2010

Hi everyone!

Some of you may know that it’s the beginning of garage sale season. I’m a particularly big fan of garage sales this year because I need things for my house, but I also need to eat and pay my electric bill. Already, I’ve found some great deals and I’ve seen some interesting items and people.

After returning home one day I realized that browsing garage sales is a very concrete sensory experience and so I though I’d try to capture some of those details in a poem. So here it is:

Browsing through Garage Sales on a Friday Morning

The sunlight glints off the asphalt

and people wearing sneakers and sunglasses,

some with plastic car seats at the crook of their elbow,

walk into the shaded garage, or stand in the driveway,

peering into plastic totes.

Some breathe heavily and push with their elbows,

but most make polite conversation and examine bowls and stuffed animals with a smile turning at the corners of their mouth.

So here’s your prompt: Write a poem about a hobby or any activity you do that has some concrete sensory details, especially if it’s an everyday activity like shopping, doing dishes, or yard work.

Then, if you feel inclined, share your work here!


Writing Prompt March 22, 2010

Filed under: Journaling,Writing — ashleybarrett @ 11:04 am
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Hi everyone!

I’m still doing the Spring Cleaning Challenge at Nourishing Gourmet but for me, the challenge this week did not merit a post.

So here’s a new writing prompt. This prompt is somewhat adapted from From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Robert Olen Butler. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the book and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write excellent fiction.

Take some brief anecdote from your life and write it the exact way you would narrate it to a friend. Let it sit for two weeks. Then pick it up again and try to make everything as concrete as possible, don’t name emotions, show them. Ruthlessly edit generalizations. Wait another two weeks, do it again.

Here’s my first-time results:

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 18 and I probably still wouldn’t have a driver’s license if  various members hadn’t taught/forced me to drive. One night in the summer, I was hanging out with a two of my cousins and a group of family friends around midnight, everyone decided that I needed a driving lesson and we went to the parking lot of a nearby middle school. My cousin, Amber* had her car, a Chevy Impala and her friend Lucy, had a blue Saturn. I started off with Amber in the Impala. She showed me stuff like how to change gears and how to put my foot on the pedals and stuff. I was puttering around the parking lot at about ten miles an hour, things were going pretty well, but I was still terrified. My other cousin Tim*, was driving Lucy’s Saturn. He was two years younger than me and had just gotten his license. He was showing off by driving circles around me, honking and flashing the lights.

Amber yelled at him out her window, “Stop it, jerkface, you’re scaring her!”

After a few more minutes of puttering, Amber thought I might do better if we switched cars, the Saturn was a lot smaller.

Riding in the Saturn felt much safer. The car was smaller and less powerful, so I felt less likely to crash into something. I could even accelerate to twenty miles an hour. After puttering around for a little bit Lucy said, “Ok let’s graduate from the parking lot. Turn onto this dirt road up here.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she was talking about, but I turned onto what looked like a dirt road.

Suddenly, the car thudded and the front end dropped several inches. I thought Lucy was going to yell at me but she didn’t. Her and our other friend, Sarah just busted out laughing at the same time.

Kelly said, “Lesson Three: How to back out of a ditch.”

So I got out of the ditch and drove around a little more, I did eventually venture onto the road. As I was confidently circling the middle school, we passed Amber and Tim who were stopped and standing beside the Impala.

The Impala was stuck. It had been a long, wet summer and the car sat up to it’s bumper in mud.

At first we all cheerily tried to help. Some pushed from the back, others pulled from the front and visa versa. The mud was slick and thick. It sucked out shoes off our feet as we tried to push the car. Then we tried digging it out, it took forever and our moods turned sour. We were all covered in mud, except for Amber who wouldn’t help us dig because she had worn her flip-flops with the big red flower. I wasn’t allowed to help dig, my cousins said if I came home with filthy clothes my mom might not ever let me see my cousins again. So I stood by a tree and tried to boost morale by commenting on the irony of the two licensed drivers getting the car stuck. Few were amused and Tim threw mud at me.

We called multiple people for back up. Amber’s brother came with a pull chain but no one had a hitch on the back of their vehicle. Sarah went back to her parents house and got a van which had a hitch, but the Impala was in too deep. Finally, it was like two in the morning by now, Amber called her friend Chelsea who had a big yellow F150 and rescued the Impala.

We were relieved, but tired and dirty. Amber took her car to an automated car wash. One of the ones with the hoses and washed her car again and again. Underneath and everything. Tim and I were quiet while we helped her. Then we went back to the apartment and everyone cleaned up. Stephanie’s bathroom was filthy by the time we were done, but no one cared. We were all happy to be clean and dry and we fell asleep eating Cheez-It’s and watching infomercials.

*Names changed to protect the guilty, but you know who you are. 🙂

Your turn, feel free to share your early drafts and how they progress!


The Most Important Writer’s Resource February 22, 2010

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 1:05 pm
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In a recent blog post, Chip MacGregor discusses the purpose and value of critique groups. As usual, he makes some excellent points.

  • The purpose of a critique group is to improve the writing of it’s members. Think of the proverb, “iron sharpens iron.”
  • Critique groups require vulnerability. It’s scary to send someone work that you know is “unfinished.” But it’s important to get feedback in the early stages when you can’t decide which direction to take a piece of writing.
  • Along with vulnerability, critique groups require a good dose of humility. I can’t tell you how many times I bristled at something an edit but most of the time, the remarks that hit the hardest had the most truth. You can’t take everything, everyone says to heart. But you can and should ask yourself, “Are they right?”
  • Make sure your critique group members are people you trust trust to be honest with you and have your writing’s best interest at heart.

I can’t imagine where my writing would be without my critique group. They are by far my greatest writing resource, they are knowledgeable and patient enough to tell me the same things over and over (like the correct usage of sense vs. since).

But even if no other writers live near you (which I’m sure isn’t true if you look hard enough). You can still be part of a thriving critique group. The group that I’m part of runs under a different model than Chip described in his post. Instead of meeting once a week, we communicate via e-mail (although I have met most of them after writing together for six years). Although humans definitely need face-to-face connection, there are some advantages to having a critique group that meets online.

  • You’re not restricted by location. We have group members in different states.
  • You can give and receive edits with short deadlines.
  • Meeting online makes it easier for some people (like me) to be honest.
  • With no meeting time, you don’t have to coordinate schedules.
  • You can encourage each other throughout the week, even on a daily basis.

If you’re a Christian, I would definitely recommend including believers in your critique group. I know the prayers of my critique group partners have carried me through many rough patches times and they have often given the encouragement that I needed to keep going.

If you’re a writer and haven’t yet joined or started a critique group, what’s holding you back?


My current writing playlist February 16, 2010

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 7:47 am
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Every time I hear or see people doing the Macarena, I’m transported back to a campground dance in the summer of 1996 and to my sixth grade classroom (where I lost a class-wide Macarena contest).

Why? Because music has a powerful effect on our subconscious mind and songs are linked to memories.

You can use the power of music to enhance your writing. For me, listening to the right music makes writing a first draft much more fun. If I take the time to select a few songs that capture the feel of what I’m shooting for with my writing, the words flow a lot easier.

Although I have been doing this on and off since college, I read an article in Writer’s Digest that makes it an official technique. The article included some useful tips for me to engage my subconscious mind even more, like only listening to that music when I’m writing.

I have to make sure selecting a playlist doesn’t become a mode of procrastination. I don’t need two-hundred songs that feel like a windy day. In fact, the fewer the better so my mind beings to recognize those songs and kicks into writing mode.

Earlier this week, I wanted to write something that felt like summer, since we had a huge snowstorm on Tuesday, my imagination needed all the help it could get. So I created my “Summer” playlist. Feel free to listen to it if you’re writing any summer scenes yourself, or if you need a mental escape from winter.

1. Kodachrome by Simon and Garfunkel

2. Good Vibrations by The Beachboys

3. Green Eyes by Coldplay

4. In My Life as performed by Johnny Cash

5. I’m a Believer as performed by Smash Mouth

6. Honey by Moby

Another good option would be to pick an artist, that has a similar feel to what you’re writing and only listen to that artist when you’re writing.

What songs transport you to different times and places?


Writing Prompt January 25, 2010

Filed under: Writing — ashleybarrett @ 10:35 am
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Hi everyone!

I found a writing prompt that was so fun, I had to share!

This one is in The Pocket Muse published by Writer’s Digest Books.

Finish the following sentence in the voice of someone ten years older or ten years younger than you: The only thing I ever wanted was …

Here’s what I came up with:

The only thing I ever wanted was for someone to pay attention to me, to give me more than a passing glance. You know what I mean, the way people look at the ring pops and roses preserved in glass tubes displayed by a gas station checkout. No one ever takes me seriously because of my blonde curly hair and pink cheeks. How seriously would people take you if you looked like an overgrown four-year-old?

Looking back, setting Carol’s bug experiment on fire was probably a little much.

Happy Writing!


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.