Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ongoing Spirit of Gratitude--A Thanksgiving Writing Exercise

A book-writing client talked with me this week about having an ongoing spirit of gratitude for her characters. She regularly notes on paper what she appreciates about them. She also works as a newspaper reporter. Her interviews are always full of understanding of the people she profiles and their situations.

She believes this spirit of appreciation sparks unspoken cooperation between writer and subject—whether that subject is memory, imaginative, or factual.

Make use of the annual holiday of Thanksgiving for your writing exercise this week, by writing each day for 2-3 minutes about what you appreciate. This is sometimes called a gratitude journal.

Writers use gratitude journals to unblock their creativity. Gratitude is simple, easily forgotten, more powerful than expected when you practice it. With our creativity, it fosters a kind of deeper understanding and appreciation about our lives, what we specifically offer the world, what’s unique about that offering and why it matters.

Each evening before bed, list three things you felt grateful for that day. You can focus, as the book writer above does, on what you’re grateful for about your book, your characters, the topic you’re exploring. Or just your life.
Keep going with this exercise for seven days. Regular practice is key to it working.

A week from now, see what changes have come. Sometimes you’ll noticing a lightening of spirit. Maybe there will be new opportunities. More awareness of what’s actually working, what you’re doing well.

This sounds like a lightweight activity. It’s not. It’s potent. I’ve keep a gratitude journal for many years. When I forget to write in it each evening, and the days slip by without appreciation, my Inner Critic begins to strongly affect my writing. I’ve learned to appreciate this simple exercise as a way to keep myself on track as a writer and as a human being.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Writing Exercise--Pace Yourself via Expansion or Contraction

Pacing—a delicate affair in writing a book—depends on a balance of expanded and contracted moments. Good pacing creates a rhythm between the two. This week’s exercise lets you notice your natural (often unconscious) tendency of either expanding or contracting too much. If you adjust, correct, and balance, your writing will soar.

1. Set a kitchen timer for fifteen minutes. Begin to write about a childhood event that influenced you greatly. Don’t overthink this exercise, just let it rip. No editing along the way!

2. Read the piece out loud. Whenever you get interested, as you read, highlight the paragraph that pulled you in. (It’s essential to read out loud—you’re switching from a writer’s viewpoint to a reader’s.)

3. Contract (condense) the paragraph into one sentence, as short as possible, without losing the essence of the larger paragraph.

4. Now expand this one sentence into five new sentences (a new paragraph).

Which was easier for you, expansion or contraction? Think about whether this short exercise helped you see anything about your natural tendency as a writer.

5. Return to your original freewrite about the childhood experience. Select your favorite section, a paragraph or two.

6. Apply the aspect (expand or contract) that was the most difficult for you in steps 3 and 4. If you had trouble with expansion, expand the section to three or more paragraphs. If you had trouble with contraction, condense the section to half its length.

Read the new writing out loud. Can you notice the difference in flow, in music, in pacing?

Monday, November 10, 2008

John Truby: Why Writing with Images Is More Powerful Than Writing with Words

Hollywood script doctor John Truby says that successful movies are written with images first, words second.

We are such a visually oriented culture. But we are trained in school to communicate with words first. Images are considered random, illogical, somewhat dangerous. In my experience, writer’s block occurs when we become too word-based. Freeing ourselves requires tuning into our natural, childlike ability to perceive images.

This week, explore the two languages we use as writers: the language of words and the language of images. Both are necessary to a good book.

For ten minutes, pay attention to images around you. What can you perceive when you remind yourself of details perceived via the five senses?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Building a Bridge between Your Writing and Your Life

How closely do your writing and life intersect? How can they support, even feed, each other?

This week's exercise can be transformational. You begin by listing your personal minimum requirements for staying healthy and balanced in your life. Look at these arenas:

physical (health, sleep, exercise, food)
emotional (relationships with family and friends, self-care, private time) intellectual (learning and growing, staying current)
spiritual (faith in self, belief systems)

Ask yourself, What is required in my life to feel in control, balanced, and healthy?

Make a second list or chart of what you need to have in your life, to get your book written. Be very specific:
working equipment?
good scheduling?

Rate the two lists as far as reality. What do you have in place? What is missing?