Tag Archives: creative writing

Read, Revise, Adapt: Why Writing Across Genres Can Benefit Your Writing

read revise adaptHey Friends,

I just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.

This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.

Here’s what I learned: 

My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony). 

She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.

I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.

In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.

illustration thumbnails

Creating my thumbnail mockup of the picture book.

Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story. 

Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along! 

giphy-downsized

The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.

Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.

Things You Can Try:

  • Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
  • Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
  • Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
  • Change the POV.
  • Change the tense of the story.
  • Change the audience you’re writing for.
  • Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.

How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?

Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.

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3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel

pencil-878695_1920This past weekend I headed to Madison, WI for the university’s continuing studies program, Weekend With Your Novel.

If you’ve never attended one of the Madison writing programs, I highly recommend them. Their spring conference is great for writers of all stages and offers tracks on structure, revision, marketing, and publishing. In addition, agent pitches and panels abound.

If you’re up for more of a retreat that’s been called a “spa for writers” check out their Write by the Lake weeklong summer class. It was crucial to me and the plotting of my book this summer.

This was my first attendance at Weekend With Your Novel, a one and a half day workshop weekend devoted to the writing process. It largely consisted of honing in your craft and offering longer classes to dissect examples and ask questions of the instructor. It provided even more clarity to my book structure and characters. I loved it.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.

3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel

1. Aim High

I was most excited for a class on publishing excerpts of your work while writing your book, which was taught by UW-Madison professor and author Christopher Chambers. His first piece of advice was “aim high.”

If you are writing to pursue publication, then make publication goals for yourself. Where do you want to see your work? Of course you should be realistic, but dream big. The worst that can happen is they don’t publish you, but you’ll never know unless you try.

2. Redefine Failure

Simply put, failure is “something that happens, and it’s good for you,” said lunch keynote, Kathy Steffen.

Sharing one of the most frustrating failures I can imagine, Kathy talked about an online app project she’d written over 100,000 words for, only to have the app fizzle out. Imagine spending that much time and energy on something and then find out it wasn’t going to work. Ugh!

But Kathy also said you should give yourself a thousand second chances. Quit and come back the next day if you need to.

3. Get a Solid Structure

Where Write by the Lake helped me figure out my ending and timeline, Christine DeSmet‘s class on structure helped me figure out how I would plan the overall layout and what I needed to fill in gaps.

One of her tips: Keep your logline and central question at the forefront. Each scene should have them included. If it helps, have them typed at the beginning of each chapter. (You can always take them out later when submitting.) 

Another tip? If you need help creating tension or figuring out what the next scene is, make a list. What are the details you want in the scene? Making a list of what stories you want in the chapter, details you want to include, or elements of danger or trouble that will occur will help trigger your brainstorming and boost tension.

****

Those were my favorite tips from the weekend. What are your most helpful tips for staying motivated and improving your writing? 

Any NaNo folks out there having fun,
or in need of a pep talk? 😉

 

8 Tips from the Madison Writers Institute

Am writingLast weekend I attended UW-Madison’s writers conference, the Writers Institute. The conference is in its 25th year and has definitely grown. It’s two and a half days long and they have so many classes, the first two days go from 8am – 8pm!

My brain is now leaking.

Honestly, I love attending writers conferences because they are so energizing. It’s the best feeling in the world to connect with your peers, learn about your craft, mingle with people who “get it,” and return home ready and raring to write!

Plus, this year I won 3rd place in the First Page Contest for nonfiction. *does Peanuts character happy dance* It’s been a long writing journey the past 4 years, and now I feel like I’m writing what I’m supposed to when I’m supposed to be writing it. So overjoyed.

I’d have been even more productive had I not forgotten where the parking ramp I parked in was and spent 45 minutes walking around downtown Madison in heels for a wind-about, nighttime stroll. Oh well, I was sitting most of the day, so the exercise was probably good.  *grins sheepishly*

Here are my favorite takeaways from the conference.

1. From Opening Keynote, Nathan Bransford:

Rule #10: Keep writing.

Cultivate your failure. Be afraid of “If I don’t publish my book…” Use that to set deadlines, talk with other writers, be heard, find success stories, and write what you love.

2. From UW-Madison Creative Writing Program Coordinator, Ron Kuka:

Go through your pages like a camera. What does the reader see?

This may easily have been the best class on deep edits I’ve ever attended. Sharing examples of one page of work during four rounds of edits was so fascinating and he really nailed the points about giving our readers both a wide and close-up view of the story through all the senses.

3. From Author and Journalist, Roy Hoffman:

There is powerful emotion in home.

Roy’s class on Writing About Place was one of the most talked about sessions at the conference. He focused on adding details when writing about place to inspire memories and feelings in our work. I had a chance to chit chat with the Kentucky gentleman one morning, and he is so kind and supportive of writers. A great teacher.

4. From Debut Author, Dale Kushner:

Things around us beg to be experiences. Learn to relax and play to overcome block.

Second keynote speaker of the conference, Dale is a fabulously intuitive and spiritual writer. She recognizes that to be creative, we mustn’t lose our sense of wonder in the world. A poet and now novelist, Dale believes in learning from your writing and embracing the emotions that go along with that. Each revision we do teaches us more about our writing.

Ken Krimstein, Michael Perry, and Dale Kushner

Ken Krimstein, Michael Perry, and Dale Kushner

5. From New Yorker Cartoonist, Ken Krimstein:

Accept that you have no idea how good your work is. You never know what will sell, just do it, and do it, and do it.

and…

Step into your artist’s pants.

One of Ken’s rules is to “knock dignity off its pedestal.” When it comes to writing comedy, you have to be willing to rework the rejections. Never try to explain a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t working. Write the draft and then color it in.

6. From Wisconsin Author and Keynote, Michael Perry:

Don’t overlook the exotic in your own backyard.

In both his keynote address and author panel at the conference, Michael Perry talked about the strength in writing what you know. He left his hometown in Wisconsin to work as a cowboy on the ranches of Wyoming, and he intended to write a book about that. As providence would have it, that book would never see print, but what would become his first book was the story about the people in his hometown, New Aubern, WI.

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael at a book reading last year, and I interviewed him on my blog as well. You can check that out here if you like. He is a delight to hear speak and a very humble man. 🙂

Michael Perry

7. From Former Writer’s Digest Publisher and Author Resource Extraordinaire, Jane Friedman:

 Seduce the agent into requesting your work. Make them feel special and say why you think your book is a good fit for them.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jane in one the conference’s new “Fireside Chats,” a small group Q & A session and got her view on trends in the publishing industry.

Me and Jane

Me and Jane

*Note to self: Check out wattpad. Have you all heard about this? It’s popular among young writers (teens-early 20’s) and allows you to post portions of your work at a time and readers can comment on the work and wait to read the next installments. Jane says it’s a more positive environment than Goodreads right now. And I LOOOOOVE Goodreads, but there are some mean folks out there leaving reviews without ever having read the books they’re reviewing. What do you guys know about this?

I also attended Jane’s class on writing queries and it was PACKED! She kept the class simple and said to lead with your strengths in your query letter in order to wow the agent.

8. From Creative Writing Educator and Public Speaker, Sue Roupp:

One word will unstick you.

First off, Sue has the greatest laugh ever. It’s big and bold and it fills the room with her excitement for storytelling. Sue taught a class on memoir writing and emphasized that you are the hero of your own story. Through you, the reader learns that it’s ok to fail, to learn, and to gain knowledge.

That’s what inspired me this past weekend.
Who or what inspired you this week?

 

 

ROWdate: Where Did All My Summer Go?

I don’t know where this week slipped away to!  I suppose I’ll attack my goals this week like some people recommend ripping off band-aids.  Just do it!

Writing: 

No progress on the WIP.  The only writing I got done was some journaling on my trip (before I forgot it all), three handwritten letters for fun – something I used to do all the time, and preparation of a few blog posts ahead.

What I Did Accomplish:

-Again, I’m announcing the super fun new project that Marcia Richards and I are conspiring on.  It’s called The Redhots, and it consists of two redheads (us) sharing our opinions on everything we think is HOT or NOT!  Tune in this Friday for the first ever episode where Marcia and I discuss the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy.  Trust me, you won’t want to miss this!

-Also, I joined up with five other fabulous writers for an online book club called Great New Books, which is really getting an awesome response from readers so far, so thank you!  Our final days of the August book club pick, The River Witch, is happening now.  Tune in for September’s read, and please share your recommendations with us as well!

-Something else to look forward to:  More Author Interviews!  I’ve been busy reading and preparing interviews and blogs for two writers currently, so soon to be on the way – Michael Perry and Timothy McKinney.

Reading – In the last week, I completed The Devil Colony by DFW Writers Conference Keynote Speaker and NYTBS Author, James Rollins!  Loved this one as it takes place around Salt Lake City, Utah and Yellowstone!  Just started A Cook’s Tour by Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdain!

-Writing Plan:  Just today the fabulously funny and intelligent Nigel Blackwell suggested another round of Fast DraftWhile I cannot commit to the full two weeks (being that I work in retail and we’re already planning for Christmas!), I will commit to Fast Drafting practices on the days that I have off to boost the non-existing word count of the present.  Thank you Nigel for the kick in the pants!

That’s what I’m up to!  How about you?  Did the week slip away from you too?  Did you make great progress?  What upcoming events or projects are you excited about?

Around the World: Archives and Advice Columns

Hello Everyone!  I’m currently bumming around Seoul, South Korea right now!  Annyeonghasimnikka!  That means Hello/Good Morning in Korea.  If all goes well, I hope to share some photos from the trip later in the week, but for today, we’re doing a little blast from the past with my blogging archives.  Believe it or not (cause I’m leaning towards not), I’m almost to my 200th post!  Here are a few I like that many of you may not have seen.  You can click the blue links for the full post.  So glad I have the Life List Club to hold me more accountable than I had been with my goals.  Yikes!

From the post I Write Like I Eat Potatoes, With Cheese originally posted January 24, 2011

Writers beware.  If you’re going to start changing your diet to see how it impacts your life, don’t begin that process the weekend of your niece’s 2nd birthday.

The Weekend Begins

I was supposed to start out early on my three hour drive home, but instead, I slept in, and was lured to stay when my boyfriend offered to cook breakfast.  Inventory:  egg and cheese sandwhich on toast, hashbrowns, milk, and blueberry flavored coffee.  Ok, pack up the car in -11 degree temperature, clear snow off of windshield, check.  I was doing really well so far.  I only stopped once on the drive to use the restroom, and I wasn’t planning to buy a thing.  But the lonely man behind the counter stared me down in his bowling shirt and disheveled facial hair.  Inventory:  gatorade and cheez its – -damn!  Saturday night I successfully finished writing a 10 stanza long rhyming birthday poem of all things Sonja to be read for her party.

The Party Day

The family oohed and aahed before we began to eat.  Inventory:  Brown sugar french toast, apple cinnamon squash, eggs, bacon, cheesy potatoes, mixed fruit, and broccoli and cauliflower salad.  Oh, Lord, so many tasties!  I made sure to take extra broccoli, and ok, I also took extra potatoes, but I wasn’t planning to write directly afterwards.  I was planning to watch my two year old niece unwrap presents in a quick half hour and then cheer on the Packers during the game.  Oh the game!!!  Inventory:  tortilla chips with chili cheese dip and black bean and corn salsa.  No judgement, I needed to replenish myself, the Packers needed all of our cheering help, and salsa as you know helps the vocal chords immensely.  On a side note, since some of you have gotten to hear about my father, I’ll have you know he did a rather spastic touchdown victory dance that was something of a combination between churning butter and the hokey pokey.

From the post Dear God, Writing is Hard.  Love, Writer originally posted February 4, 2011

Don’t you wish writing was as easy as talking to God?  No matter where you are, it will find you.  Blessed is she who writes, for she shall inherit a publisher.  Do not covet thy neighbor’s writing.  Do unto other’s writing as you would have them do unto yours.

When I was little, I believed I had a direct line to God, or at least to my priest.  When I was around 7 or 8, I used to write letters to the parish priest, Father Duane, and “mail them” by dropping them off in the collection basket.  They never failed to get to him, and I always received a most prized piece of mail in return answering all my weird questions like “Don’t you get sick of singing These 40 Days of Lent, Oh Lord?  I do.  Did you happen to watch the Barbara Walters special last night?  It was captivating.  I hate squash and my family loves it, do you think God put me in the wrong family?”

It would be great if good writing was as simple as talking to God, or writing your priest a letter, but it takes a lot more hard work, and often it won’t receive as kind and accommodating a letter in reply.  But good writing, like religion, can speak to your soul.

From the post Silent Protests Against My Mother originally posted March 14, 2011

Ever wonder why your parents made some of the decisions they did?  No, you cannot take the turtle into bed with you!  No, you may not watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall with your brother!  No, you may not eat double stuff oreos, and I don’t care if Liz’s mom lets her!

My mom is a great mom.  She writes in perfect cursive penmanship, has impeccable spelling, pays attention to detail, writes long letters and mails them with real stamps and envelopes and everything.  She likes to sing, read mystery books, bake a variety of coffee cakes, and spy out the windows.

But I have one bone to pick with my mother.  Throughout my childhood, on countless trips to the grocery store, she would never let me get double stuff oreos!  This woman who rarely enforced rules about vegetables, or clean plate clubs, who married a baker, son of a woman who enforced dessert before dinner, wouldn’t let me eat double stuff oreos!  Hell, I had coca cola in my sippy cups!!!  (That may be why I stopped growing in eighth grade.)

This anti-oreo rule never made sense to me.  I was a child who liked milk.  I had contests with my father over who could drink their milk the fastest at dinner.  I don’t know if you’re aware, but milk and oreos are like made for each other, best friends forever, kindred spirits from the galactic orbs of destined to be together soulmates!  I bet if you eat an oreo without milk, your heart shrinks a little.

From the post Do You Have a Favorite Book? originally posted May 18, 2011

Another magical book club meeting.  Two months Another magical book club meeting.  Two months ago, I joined up with a coworker of mine and attended her book club.  At the end of that meeting, hoping to insight me to return, they asked me what my favorite book was, and I said The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Now why on earth would a book about cells and science and medical advancements appeal to a girl who only walked through the science building on campus during winter when it was the shortest route to the English building?  It’s because the author, Rebecca Skloot, spent a decade researching the subject and uncovering the family that belonged to Henrietta Lacks.

Do you ever look back on your old posts and laugh that you’re still struggling with eating too many potato chips?  No…just me…

Ok then, do you ever look back on your old posts and think “Damn, I may stubborn, but I’m also good!”

Feel free to share an old link from your past blogs in the comments!  I’d love time travel with you!

What You Don’t Know Can Save Your Writing: Guest Post by Sonia G. Medeiros

Hello readers!  It’s another blog hop of the Life List Club!  I have the fabulously funny and intelligent Sonia G. Medeiros with me today and I can be found blogging at Gary Gauthier‘s talking about crossroads.  Then, you can enjoy your cup of morning coffee and read the other Life List Club posts by clicking on the names in our sidebars!  We love to chat, so strike up a conversation in the comments, you’re sure to hear back!  Take it away, Sonia!

What You Don’t Know (Can Save Your Writing) by Sonia G. Medeiros

Writer’s Block (noun): a (possibly imaginary) condition afflicting writers, characterized by severe word-constipation; symptoms may include extreme procrastination, uncontrollable weeping, hair loss, blank stares, and binge drinking/eating.

I’d like to be one of those folk who states, without the slightest hesitation, that I do not believe in writer’s block. And I do know that it’s more psychosomatic (emphasis on the psycho) than anything else. But, when I’m staring helplessly at a blank screen/page, it seems pretty real.

The thing is, if it exists at all, writer’s block is only a symptom.

Alrighty then, mis smarty pants, what’s the disease?

Fear? Could be all sorts of fear that gets in the way of our creative flow. Fear of failure or success. Fear of change. Fear of fear.

Maybe it’s the inner-critic who won’t shut up. You know that guy, the one that’s always telling you that you’re gonna suck anyway, so why bother? Always wanting to correct the work before it’s done…which always makes the muse stomp out in a huff.

Or maybe it’s a result of not taking care of our bodies or the creative self.

But sometimes writer’s block is not about fear, the inner-critic’s filibuster, or a lack of self-nurturing. Sometimes it’s about what you don’t have for your story. About what you don’t even know you don’t have. The catalyst that will start your story’s chain reaction.

A story is like a living thing. It needs a skeleton (structure), flesh and blood (plot and characters) and a soul (that certain something that makes the story gel). Take away any of those things and the story falls apart.

Those of us that tend toward the pantsing end of the spectrum may struggle more with structure. Sometimes we just get it and sometimes we don’t. And, when we don’t get it, we often don’t even know what we aren’t getting because we’ve relied on the creative flow to carry us through.

A thorough and ongoing study of structure is the sure cure. Larry Brooks Story Engineering, Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure, and James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure are all invaluable resources for any writer, whether pantser, plotter or pantsing-plotter (like yours truly).

If character and/or plot are ailing, the cure is likewise more studying (and you thought you left studying behind in school). Making great characters or gripping plots isn’t a cookie-cutter process but the elements that make both great can be learned. Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters and Story Structure Architecht and Christopher Vogler’s The Writers Journey are great resources.

And if it’s the soul that’s missing? What then? That’s a little trickier. There are no writing craft books (that I know of anyway) that can tell us just what that something is. All we can do is give it some brewing time while continually asking ourselves “what do I need to make this story work?” The answer can come from anywhere, especially from where that’s least expected, so a whole lot of keeping-our-eyes-peeled is in order.

So when it feels like writer’s block is not such a myth, take a deep breath, screw your courage to the sticking place and hunt up the reason. Kick the fear in the butt, tie and gag the inner critic, love yourself and then pull out your latex gloves and give your story thorough exam. And, when your creation lives, cackle like Dr. Frankenstein…just because.

Have you ever been completely stuck in a story? What was holding you back? How did you overcome it?

Sonia G Medeiros is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She’s the author of more than a dozen short stories and flash fiction pieces, blogs at WordPress, and is working on her first novel, a dark fantasy. When she’s not wandering along the tangled paths of her wild imagination, she wrangles home life with one fabulous husband, two amazing, homeschooled children, a part-alien half-chihuahua and two cats who battle each other for world domination.

Writing and Reading, and Ghosts-Oh my!

There’s always so many awesome blogs to read, so I always appreciate mash-ups to help me find out what I missed and what’s happening in the blogosphere.  Here are my favorite reads from the past 2 weeks.  So settle in, enjoy some hot apple cider and a sweet roll while autumn rustles in.

Oops, I didn't mean to give you mine!

Writers and Readers and Speakers:

Piper Bayard blogs about her seven year journey towards being a writer and shares her tips on starting out and attending writer conferences.

Larry Brooks guest posts at Ollin Morales’ blog, Courage 2 Create, about The Most Powerful Learning Tool a Writer Could Ever Have.

Katie Ganshert poses the question of how to write a Love Triangle – will your reader love it or hate you?  She uses Vampire Diaries as her illustration!  *Squeal!*

Trish Loye Elliot from over at Wordbitches posted an interesting question for writers, Bookclubs – A Good Idea or a Huge Time Suck?  Share your take on the worthiness of reading when writing time is scarce.

Renee Schuls-Jacobson takes the Dialect Challenge and vlogs about pronunciation and accents in The Hybrid Accent.  It’s hysterical and fun, you must watch and share your own language quirks.

Creepy True Stories From Around the World:

Stacy Green writes about the creepiest child killer true story I’ve ever read.  Read it, it’s so eerie!  The Sweet Face of Pure Evil.

Catie Rhodes shares super spooky legends and videos about the Ghosts of Cameron Park in Waco, Texas.

Pam Hawley is turning Hawleyville into the Hawleyville Hauntings next month!  Check out her line-up as she gears up for Halloween!  Fall, Festivities, and Freakitude.

Exciting news:  Get ready this October as Jess Witkins’ Happiness Project turns into Jess Witkins’ Haunted Blog for the WHOLE MONTH!  Expect costume ideas, Halloween how-to’s, ghost stories, scary movies, books, and more ghoulie fun!  Muahahahaha!

Creativity? How to Force More of It and Have Fun Too

Did you know you can get a degree in creativity?  Oh yes, it exists.  I’m not sure what the criteria for the degree includes, but you can probably google it.  I want to talk about the guy I met at the Writers Institute who has this degree, a Masters in Creativity from Buffalo State College.  His name is Doug Stevenson, and he has a passion for thinking outside the box.  Well, actually, if you ask him, he’ll tell you to think outside the box, but don’t forget about the box.  Doug started out in American Studies, then Advertising, and then got his masters in creativity.  He spent years working in improv acting groups like Second City (a beginning point for most Saturday Night Live actors).

Doug Stevenson

Doug led two sessions at the conference and it was clear they were going to be creative in theme based on the title alone.  For instance, I went to a class called “Innovation is Like a Box of Chocolates:  A Savory Study of what Everyone Suddenly Needs.”  Doug highly recommended that writers take an improv class at some point.  Now, now, before you all start slinking to the back of the room, hear his argument out!

  1. Improv requires no judgement, it’s about accepting invitations and rolling along with the story.
  2. It teaches you the power of “Yes, AND…”  You build on ideas.
  3. You learn how to cooperate with discovery.

In the classes, Doug had us do several warm up activities from his improv days.  I pushed myself and decided to volunteer for one.  There were 7 of us lined up in the front of the room.  Each of us was given an emotion to portray and the opening line of a story “It was a dark and stormy night…”  (I know, a whole room full of writers, and that’s the best we could come up with!)  So our emotions included sadness, anger, frightened, bitter, giddy, confused and I got the lovely assignment of pretending to be in love.  The story took several interesting twists as each of us were allowed to spin our takes on it.  It began on a stormy night, a couple was going on a date (yep, that’s me), my date was sad because he was a lot older than me and the night certainly wouldn’t bode well.  Passersby were frightened by the storm and could only think of stripping in their fear, while others were bitter about them having the nerve to strip.  A giddy thief was stealing from our car and a woman was angry she was stuck in a city with the likes of all of us, and I ended the story by changing my mind and hooking up with the car thief instead of the old man.

That’s all hysterical and wonderful, but what’s the point, Jess?  The point was none of us could plan where the story was going, we had to continue from what we were given.  We could change the direction but we were forced to be creative and open-minded when doing so.  You constantly looked at the story with new eyes, and that’s what Doug wanted us to do with our own WIP when we were struggling.  If something wasn’t working, he said to put it aside, step away, and come back to it later with new eyes.  Or, use a story box of combinations and just go with it, maybe adding in an unknown will lead to something spectacular.  Here are some examples of what we did.

Story box:

The President                    Hypnotization                   Carnival

A Cartoonist                     Melting Apocalypse         Underwater

A Cowboy                          Greek Mythology              Underworld

A Bird Watcher              Murder Mystery                 Boise, Idaho

Ok, so we’ve got this box with columns of character ideas, themes and places.  You can randomly select from them and try to make a story.  For example, The President and a cartoonist must go to Boise, Idaho where everyone is melting in the Apocalypse.  Or, a lone bird watcher travels underwater to claim his true identity as a Greek God.  Whatever, I’m just getting your gears grinding!

The other thing we did was use story cubes.  Story cubes are a toy you can buy that lets you roll dice with pictures/actions on them and you can incorporate that into your story.  It’s up to you how many cubes you use.  We did a practice using just one roll with one di.  So I rewrote the story of Mary Had a Little Lamb, to be Mary Had a Gala Apple.  Again, do with it what you like.  You could roll 6 dice and try to make a story using all 6 images.

Jess, you ask, I’m writing a story about a magic princess slaying a dragon and marrying the man of her dreams, who just happens to be a hobbit/wookie mix but through their love the people of the planet Condroidmilock find acceptance in intergalactical love.  What do you want me to do with the canoe I just rolled?!  Geez, you guys, do I have to do everything for you?  Where’s your acceptance?  Where’s your Yes AND…, where’s your cooperation with discovery?  *Bangs head on laptop*

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Sorry, about that.  I’m good now.  Use this as a warm up.  Use it as a way to hone your craft, pick objects that would never go together and try to make it work, just see where the writing process takes you.  If you’re writing the next sci-fi romance that is going to change the way we think of social class or race, then maybe incorporating a canoe into your story wouldn’t make sense.  But, what if while writing that side story, you discover in your protagonist a new strength or quirk you didn’t know they had.  What if it makes you view them in a whole different light?  Or more importantly, WHAT IF YOU HAVE FUN WRITING??

None of us would have chose to be writers if we didn’t love writing.  I’m not saying that writing isn’t fun, but we know writing can be work sometimes too.  When we’re stuck, feeling drained by the non-galactical chaos of normal life, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to springboard our inner creativity into writing again?  That was Doug’s point.  And mine too.  I’m not trying to sell you guys into taking an improv class if it terrifies you, but DO think about improv as a way to non-judgementally accept new ideas into your writing.  We write because it’s our way of being creative, and who couldn’t use a few more skills in their arsenal of writing talents?

So, I’m challenging you, readers!  Write me your best quick story using these items:  a baby doll, a duck painting, a pillow shaped like a banana, and a remote control.  (These are random items collected in my basement.)  The winner of the contest gets:  A postcard mailed to you from exotic Wisconsin and a feature interview by myself to be posted on my blog!  Happy writing!

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