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.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
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.
Last year I made a list of 51 Things to Do Before Summer’s Over. This year I thought, “Why wait?” Let’s get started on the fun when summer is just beginning!
52 Things to Do This Summer
1. Drink lots of Lemonade.
2. Plant flowers.
3. Sit in the grass. Have a picnic.
4. Clean out your closet. Donate what you don’t wear anymore.
5. Go for a bike ride.
6. Find a Little Free Library near you.
8. Make pudgy pies over the fire.
9. Host a movie Musical marathon of summer sing-a-longs: Mamma Mia, West Side Story, State Fair, Oklahoma…
10. Visit a cafe’ you’ve never been to before. Bring a friend!
12. Lounge with a loved one.
14. Seek summer scents – freshly mowed grass, fresh-picked herbs, going for a swim, grilling out.
15. Take a tour of a nearby brewery. Enjoy a pint!
17. Try paddle boarding.
18. Take a road trip.
20. Go stargazing.
21. Take a tour of someplace right in your hometown.
22. Start a journal. Or read an old one.
24. Attend an outdoor concert.
25. Walk places rather than drive whenever possible.
28. Read a book.
30. Draw with sidewalk chalk.
32. Let your hair air dry.
33. Practice taking the perfect peaceful selfie.
35. Paint a room in your house. Make it bold.
36. Read the latest issue of BookPage. Cover to cover.
37. And while you’re at it, add to or start a Goodreads account to keep track of all the books you’re going to read.
38. Make salsa with veggies from the garden or market.
39. Create a new smoothie.
41. Play frisbee in the park.
42. Launch fireworks.
43. Go antiquing or hit up a rummage sale.
45. Buy a handmade piece of jewelry from a vendor at a carnival.
46. Find a new piece of lawn art.
47. Switch to iced coffee.
48. Celebrate the unique summer holidays.
June 1st – Dare Day
June 4th – Hug Your Cat Day
June 6th – National Doughnut Day
June 14th – World Juggler’s Day
June 18th – Go Fishing Day
June 19th – World Sauntering Day
June 22nd – National Eclair Day
June 25th – Log Cabin Day
June 27th – Sunglasses Day
June 28th – Paul Bunyan Day
June 29th – Hug Holiday
49. Stop and smell the roses.
51. Attend BlogHer’14.
52. Reflect. And appreciate the little things.
What’s on your summer to do list?
*All photos are from my Instagram page. For more fun ideas of what to do this summer, follow me on Instagram! I always check out the pages of new followers. 🙂
Hi, All! Jess left me in charge of this week’s Guilty Pleasure Friday. She sure is a trusting soul. I won’t mess with anything, though I’d really love to paint the walls a pretty pink, with opaque white stripes.
No? Okay, I’ll just tell you about my Guilty Pleasure and hope I can inspire the creative genius in your heart!
I paint old furniture.
Doesn’t sound exciting to you? That’s okay. I LOVE it! When I look at an old piece of furniture, one with some character in its lines, I get goosebumps thinking about how beautiful I can make it!
Give me your old scratched and marred desk, chair, hutch, table, whatever…and I’ll make it look better than new!
I don’t refinish furniture, but I paint it. I stencil designs and I paint free-hand funky, quirky, cute and wild designs.
Got a thing for animal prints? No problem.
Prefer something more conservative like a floral design? You’ve got it.
How about a retro look? I can do that.
Sanding the wood until it’s silky smooth; planning the design that perfectly suits the receiver of the piece; brushing on the creamy paints from a massive spectrum of colors.
I love the scent of sawdust and acrylic paints!
It’s definitely my passion. Chairs are, by far, my favorite pieces to paint.
A child-size chair can be hung on the wall as a shelf.
An ordinary wood chair can be repurposed as a flower planter in the garden.
A set of pastel painted chairs can freshen the look of your dining room or kitchen.
Oh, then there are old trunks, the odd end table or occasional table, wood trays, wood stools, an outdated china cabinet, and even kitchen cupboards!
How do you find pieces to paint? You’ll see the signs of our disposable society everywhere.
- Garage sales
- Piles of junk at the side of the road
- Your mother’s attic
- Your basement
- Flea markets
- Ask your friends
- …you’ll stumble on the one piece that catches your eye and won’t let you go without loading it in your trunk.
If you go searching for something to paint, don’t pass up old tins, old windows, old watering cans and planters. They can be painted, too! I’ll tell you how to paint and repurpose some of those things in a future post at my website, Sexy, Smart and Strong.
Set me up with a cup of spicy tea and a few pieces of dark chocolate and I’ll paint all afternoon.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Does it have anything to do with paint?
Marcia Richards is the author of Marcia Richards’ Blog…Sexy. Smart. From The Heart. Marcia writes about women, history, and the path to realizing your dreams. She has a Historical Trilogy and a collection of Short Stories in progress. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing with the grandkids or her husband, traveling or turning old furniture into works of art. She believes there is always something new to learn.
Visit Marcia at: http://Marcia-Richards.com
For all of you struggling with your writing projects! Here are the rhymes you didn’t learn in school to help you. Enjoy!
Hickory dickory dock,
the mouse ran off with my plot!
The clock struck one,
the writer was done!
Hickory dickory dock.
Hickory dickory dock.
The bird pooped on my plot!
The clock struck two
What’s a writer to do?
Hickory dickory dock.
Hickory dickory dock
The dog chewed through my plot!
The clock struck three
Guess it wasn’t to be.
Hickory dickory dock.
Jack and Jill went up the hill
to fetch another chapter.
Jack fell down
bringing the pages ’round
and Jill came scribbling faster.
Old Mother Hubbard
went to the cupboard
to give the poor dog a pen.
When she came there
the cupboard was bare
and so the poor pup wrote no end.
I am the youngest of four children. A “surprise” if you ask my parents, a “mistake” if you ask my siblings, and a “party crasher” if you ask me. Being seven years younger than my closest sibling, much of my childhood was spent watching movies, reading mystery books, and writing fantastical short stories to be later performed as a one woman puppet show in my room.
Seeing as I had only myself for entertainment, my imagination ran wild with adventure and tales of great woe. Seeing as my parents were the age of my classmates’ grandparents, I was convinced they would be dead before I graduated eighth grade. I thought, I’d better prepare myself for how to live alone. Thus began the many escapades of Jess, lone street rat and orphan girl, hiding out by day in her makeshift cave and creeping by night stealing fruit snacks from the pantry cupboards. She was not to be toyed with!
The stairwell in our house had a banister at the top with a few bars running horizontally for looks and structural support. The space between the stairs and the first bar became the secret crevice to enter my hideaway and had to be crawled through on one’s stomach. Once safely in my room, a string or jump rope was tied from the dresser handle across the room to the plant stand which doubled as a storage unit for my mass quantity of Cabbage Patch Dolls (Annette, Lanny, Paula, Patti, Heather, Tay, Humphrey, Barney, Keri Ann, Sara, Sloane, Chrissy, Pat, Camilla and Suzette). After the string was tied, blankets were thrown over the line creating a secret canvas covered hideout or puppet show theater depending on your mood. Hidden behind these draperies the cries from the streets of “Riffraff!” and “Scoundrel!” could not harm me.
The challenge while playing orphan was to go as long as possible being unseen. So, to sneak food, one had to crawl through the secret crevice over the stairwell, descend the steps, slide down the frame of the door, quickly crawl under the dining room table and wait until opportunity came. Then, you crab walked into the kitchen, silently opened the pantry door, pulled out a fruit roll-up or box of croutons, and crab walked back under the table to delight in your stolen afternoon snack.
Another challenge in the game of orphan could only be played when left alone in the house for short periods of time. The game was called “don’t touch the carpet” and it counted how many times you could get around the living room using only the furniture before you slipped or fell onto the carpet. Here’s how an expert at this game does it.
- Begin on the couch.
- Bounce across its cushions.
- Step onto the end table, avoid coasters and magazine piles.
- Jump onto the loveseat.
- Repeat step 2.
- Stretch legs to the rocking chair and go!
- Steady yourself, or pretend to surf for awhile.
- Stretch onto the smaller end table.
- Move to the chair in the corner.
- *Note: The final task is extremely difficult if playing in sock feet, proceed with caution. Step 10. Crawl onto the TV, and cling for dear life on the frame around the screen, when a good distance jump is there, jump back to the couch. Repeat steps 1-10.
One thing I learned while playing orphan is that you get lonely. You really need a sidekick. Soon I had two, a cat named Carmel and a dog named Tipper. Make sure your sidekick is someone you can trust with secrets, such as your hideaway whereabouts. Sometimes when you’re an orphan, a secret language must be developed so you can leave written messages to your pals without an invader knowing what it means. These can then be conveniently pinned to your canvas with a clothespin.
So if you’re thinking about playing the game Orphan, here’s a list of supplies you may want to include.
- blankets to build your hideaway/take a nap
- stuffed animals/dolls for trusty sidekicks
- junk food for the road, the days are long are arduous as an orphan
- paper and pens/markers because orphans are extremely intelligent and creative
- a tape recorder and microphone because orphans are known to burst into song when they’re safely hidden in their getaway home
What sort of games did you play as a child? Who would you take as your sidekick?
So my wonderful blogging network of new friends has given me so many words of wisdom and helpful sites for writers to go to. One of which included reading the book “Ignore Everybody and 39 other keys to creativity” by Hugh MacLeod. I won’t re-tell you about the book, you should check out the blog post I read or the author’s site. But one of his chapters is a reminder that everyone is born creative.
“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and repace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.'” -Hugh MacLeod
The book is full of wacky cartoon drawings and keen combinations of hysterical no nonsense advice. It talks inspirational process along with business necessities. Mostly what I appreciate is the author’s honest voice that creativity is work. The ideas that come to you can shoot out like fireworks, but somebody’s got to measure out the gunpowder, safely and securely measure out the display base, and strike the match. He reminds us that good ideas are worth fighting for, and you’ve got to show up for the battle.
So this week, my quest was to practice writing prompts every day. Today I went onto www.writeordie.com which is a site many other bloggers, writers, NaNoWriMo’s have all suggested, and I thought what better week to try? The site offers a timed space for writing to measure word count, and if the author fails to complete so many words after a short period of time, subtle hints are given on the screen. First off, I think write or die will be my mental undoing. Always a bit of a competitor in the language field, I went straight to kamikaze mode on a grace period level of “strict.” At first the sudden color change made me jump a little, I wasn’t expecting that. In amusement, I watched as the screen went from a happy-go-lucky pink into a dip-dye evil red. I was hoping there would be another color, but suddenly multiple words were deleted from my story. Scrambling to put them back together I barely had time to think about what my character would see next before the pink background began it’s bloody dripping down my screen again. I lasted only 12 minutes. Write or die is not a place to do the brainstorming for your story. Write or die is a place to take your brainstorming and crank it out on page. Duly noted. I should tell you the next level up is called Electric Shock Mode on a grace period of “evil.”
The one fantastic thing write or die did for me was illustrate just how much I need to brainstorm the next plan of action for my short story. I’ve recently dumped my protagonist, Lydia, into a labyrinthian underworld through which she must walk a series of strange parallel worlds. In order to bring her to life again I have to plan what will happen to her, who she’ll meet, what she’ll find.
And that brings me to next week’s writing resolution. I will create a storyboard. I’m an immensely visual learner, so trying to brainstorm while using write or die only distracted me more watching the color of my screen change, so my brainstorming needs to occur beforehand. Crawl, then walk, Jess! Duh! Using photos and language that inspire me, I’ll make a storyboard of Lydia’s journey. I also plan to read before bed each night. I have a hard time “turning my head off” as I call it, I lay awake thinking about the day, about work, the laundry list of things to do (which reminds me I need to change my laundry), so I plan to read before bed and hope I think about my story as I fall asleep. Better keep a pen and paper handy too, just in case inspiration sparks! Good luck to all of you on your writing endeavors!