New Year's Eve Exercise

I'm not much of a fan of resolutions so this year I've come up with something slightly different to mark the transition to a New Year without all the pressure and almost certain failure (if you are me, at least) of a list of resolutions. Feel free to join me in this. Maybe we can start a new tradition!

Get two pieces of paper. On the first sheet write down one or more habits or behaviours or thought patterns you would like to let go of. On the second sheet of paper write down one or more habits, behaviours or qualities about yourself that you want to carry with you into the New Year.

Get two glass jars. Put the list of things you want to carry with you into the New Year in one of the glass jars and place it outside your door before midnight.

Light a candle just before midnight. Take the list of things you want to let go of and touch it to the candle until it catches fire, then drop it in the other empty jar and let it burn. (You can also tear it into tiny pieces, if you don't want to start a fire.)

A few minutes after midnight go outside and bring your list of things you want to carry into the New Year back into your home. Welcome these qualities at the same time you welcome in the new year.

Happy New Year's everyone. May 2011 be filled with magic for you!

Week #113

Carl was alone in the backyard, smoking his last cigarette of the day and idly looking at the moon, when something crashed to the ground with a heavy thud near his new hammock.

a river of stones: Welcome to a river of stones!

(I just discovered this project and think it is a fabulous idea! I know I am suppose to be taking a wee holiday but I had to post this so as many people as possible could find out about it. ~ Lori)

a river of stones: Welcome to a river of stones!: "Would you like to start the new year as you mean to go on? You might have heard of NaNoWriMo, where participants are encouraged to write a..."

Happy Holidays

I'll be back with a brand new first line next Wednesday but things will probably be quiet around here until after New Year's. I'm going to give myself a few days off to relax and try to catch up on some reading.

For next year I've got some new features planned for the blog - there are some author interviews in the works that I am very excited about!

Happy Holidays everyone and thanks for reading!

Week #112

The last thing Charles remembered was the taste of strawberries on his lips.

By Moi

Did I tell you awhile back that the literary journal the New Plains Review was publishing my short story, "Confessions of Ignorance about Astronomy"? Well, my story appears in their current issue, Fall '10. If you can get your hands on a copy, have a look. It's a great magazine, jammed-packed with great writing.

But if you can't find a copy, no worries: you can read my story online. Click here.

Random Exercise #41

It's a busy time of year so I decided to come up with a short exercise designed to flex your creativity, but still fit into those precious few minutes between dashing from the mall to dashing to a party.

Obviously there are no correct answers to the following questions. They are intended to surprise your brain into thinking in a new way.

- What does your favourite song look like?

- If you could touch darkness what would it feel like?

- Take a look at the clock. What does this hour of the day taste like?

- What does your favourite fruit sound like?

- What does your current mood smell like?

Quote

No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.

~ Harry Emerson Fosdick

Confessions from the Desk

For the last two days I have been trying to write a post about how busy I am and how hard it is to find time to write during the holiday season - but I haven't had the time to finish it. Oh, the irony the irony.

I'm sure I am not alone on this one, so if anyone has any suggestions on how to stretch the day, or how to go without sleep, or how to build your own time-making machine, please share with the rest of us.

Random Exercise #40

Use these three words in a short story: crazy, peppermint, Monday.

Week #109

Connie knew this was not the sort of thing a lady did, but decided she was going to do it anyway.

Resources

The ever busy and fabulous Erika Dreifus of the Practicing Writer blog has put together a wonderful list of resources for the writer looking to get published. Click here to begin your journey to fame and fortune.

Quote

"Be daring, be different, be impractical; be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."

~ Cecil Beaton

Setting the Scene Exercise #1

In this exercise I'll set the scene and you decide what is happening, and to who, and why, and how it all ends. How exciting!

Scene:

A near deserted beach. Fog is rolling in. In front of you is a pier and at the end of the pier, through the thickening fog, you glimpse the faint outline of two figures, their heads close together.

(Who are they? Why are they here? What happens next?)

Week #108

I stole my first car when I was eleven years old: it was my Dad's metallic blue Buick.

Very, Very Short Story

I thought my haiku story idea (a story told in three sentences) was short, but I just read about a journal in the UK that is seeking stories only one or two sentences long. Just one or two sentences?! For a whole story?! Wow. That's taking concise to a whole new level. They're looking for stories so if you want to give it a try click here.

Theme Exercise #3

How this works: I give you a theme and you are wildly inspired and immediately write an award winning story, and you thank me in your heartfelt but still funny speech at the ceremony where you are given a trophy and big fat cheque, and I am in the audience teary-eyed and so proud.

Theme: Hope

Week #107

The advertisement read, "Ghosts Lovingly Removed" and was followed by a phone number.

Confessions from the Desk

Sometimes I forget why I write. I get lost sitting here at my desk and wonder why I am pushing words around on a page. I worry that I am wasting my time. I think there must be more meaningful and worthwhile ways to spend my days than by creating stories.

This weekend I plucked Natalie Goldberg's "Thunder and Lightning" off my bookshelf and started rereading it. I came across this and was reminded of not only why I write, but why I read:

"If we read someone who is awake, it helps to wake us up. And think of it: while you read you're not spending money, getting into a fight, creating karma. What better gift can you give yourself than to arrive in the present moment?"

What better gift, indeed? As always, thanks Natalie.

Random Exercise #39

Use these three words in a short story: pony, harmonica, dazzle.

Have fun!

Week #106

Harvey Chase's only ambition since high school had been to become mayor of Barnsville and today was election day with his name, finally, on the ballot.

Random Exercise #38

We all have topics we do not want to write about. For whatever reason, these are the subjects we avoid. Maybe they scare us, annoy us, or make us feel guilty. For this exercise I invite you to make a list of these topics. You need not write about them, just make a list of what they are. But keep the list and maybe one day when you are feeling brave and strong and invincible and adventuresome, you can look at that list, choose a topic, and meet it on the page.

Theme Exercise #2

Use this theme as a starting point for a short story, postcard story, or haiku story (a story told in three sentences).

Theme: departure.

Week #105

Trudie walked nervously along the street clutching the slip of paper in her hand until she found the right address.

Random Exercise #37

E-mail is great and all, but there's nothing quite like a letter, is there? I love writing letters and I love receiving them! So, I thought for this exercise it would be fun to write a letter.

We are going to write to a stranger and tell them a secret about ourselves. Fun, huh? It's up to you who you want to write to: it could be the cute janitor at work that speaks only broken English, or the weird old lady at the end of the street you always catch peeking through her lace curtains. As for the secret you reveal, that's up to you. It can be real, or fiction, or a bit of both.

Dear Reader,

This is your chance to bust out your fancy stationary and fountain pen. Have fun!

Sincerely yours,

Lori

Writing Adventure #13

This writing adventure is in honour of Halloween, my favourite holiday. For this adventure you get to go to a cemetery (the older the cemetery the better, in my opinion). Once there wander around and read tombstones. Let yourself be inspired. Who were these people? What were their lives like? You're a writer - only you can breathe life into them again and let them live on the page.

Quote

Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. If it all feels hopeless, if that famous "inspiration" will not come, write. If you are a genius, you'll make your own rules, but if not - and the odds are against it - go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper - write.

~ J. B. Priestley

Random Exercise #36

Use these three words in a short story: pony, ice, purple.

(I'm heading into the last weekend of my yoga teacher training course. I've been studying like crazy for my exam. All I have to do is wrap both legs around my head and levitate, and I'm in! Kidding! Wish me luck! Have a great weekend!)

Week #103

As Dexter turned his key in the lock he heard an unfamiliar rustling and then a sharp whisper come from inside.

Quote

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

~ Henry Miller

Theme Exercise #1

I thought we'd try something new. For this exercise I am going to give you a theme and you can interpret it anyway you want to write a short story, a postcard story, or even my own idea - a haiku story. I know that you remember a haiku story is a story told in three sentences because you hang off my every word, right? Of course you do, everyone does. (I'm a fiction writer, I live in a make believe world, okay?)

The theme is: Renewal

Happy writing!

Week #102

All her long life Doreen Willowby had been known for her sharp tongue, short temper and complete lack of humour, but there was one thing that never failed to bring a smile to her otherwise grim face.

Random Exercise #35

In this exercise I am going to give you a line of dialogue and you can use it in your story any way you like. You can make it the first line, the last line, or any line in between. You decide who says and why. Sound like fun? I hope so!

Here's the line of dialogue:

"It is a vicious circle."

Confessions from the Desk

Things have been going well at the desk lately. I sold another short story! That's makes two stories accepted in less than a month! That's a record for me. I'll let you know when this one appears. It will be online (and apparently there will be a "hilarious" caricature of me as well). That alone should be worth the click. I'll let you know when it appears.

Week 101

I was reading the newspaper and eating a sandwich on a park bench when the dishevelled old man stopped in front of me and announced, "I am the world's most fabulous dancer!"

Two Great Websites

I discovered a new website for short story writers and poets that I thought you might be interested in called Fictionaut. It's part magazine, part community. Click here to have a gander.

Full disclosure: actually, I didn't discover Fictionaut - the fabulous Erika Dreifus did and I simply read about it in her Practicing Writer e-newsletter, which you should be signed up for, if you're not already. Click here to learn more about Erika, her awesome blog and newsletter, and her soon to be released short story collection, Quiet Americans that I can't wait to read.

Writing Adventure # 12

Sometimes you just get stuck. The ideas, for whatever reason, stop flowing. Your inspiration gauge is on empty. When that happens it is time to take an inspiration walk!

Inspiration walks are great because there's no pressure, no way to do them wrong and somehow they always manage to surprise you. Here's what you do: get outside and get moving. You can take the same old walk you take every day or you can go somewhere completely new. It doesn't matter. The only important thing is to leave everything you are worrying about at home! The worries cannot come with you. Then walk. Don't think. Just pay attention to your surroundings. And when you notice something interesting (it doesn't matter how crazy or insignificant it is) jot it down on a piece of paper or in a notebook. Once you jot it down, forget about it and keep walking. By the end of your walk you should have an interesting list of items. It may read like this:

- girl in red beret
- squirrel with no tail
- graffiti that reads "if the shoe fits, buy the other one"
- a falling leaf
- mean-looking old woman squatting on a bench


There will probably be a few items on that list that rub up against each other and spark an idea. And then you'll be writing again!

Quote

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle."

~ Albert Einstein

Week 99

The summer I was sixteen two things happened: my mother died and the carnival came to town.

Book Review: Creating Short Fiction

I already briefly mentioned Damon Knight's "Creating Short Fiction" in an earlier post while I was still reading it and said that I liked it. Well, I finished it and I like it a lot. This is an incredibly useful book on crafting short fiction. I think there is plenty in here for both the novice writer and the been-around-the-desk-a-few-times writer. There is a wonderful section explaining various different viewpoints and the advantages and disadvantages of each (that section alone may be worth the price of the book if you are particularly puzzled or interested in whether to go with a limited omniscient viewpoint, a detached viewpoint or a multiple-character viewpoint). There is also a great section on developing characters and good advice on what to do if your plot fizzles out.

This book does a great job of leading you from initial idea to finished story without being boring along the way. Also included are examples and exercises. I'm glad I read it.

Writing Adventure #11

Go to your favourite people watching place. It could be a park, coffee shop, the mall, train station - wherever. When you see someone interesting write a three sentence bio for them. Get creative! Here are a couple examples:

Steve is an ex-firefighter. He enjoys playing Scrabble and grooming poodles. Secretly he wishes he could do the tango.

Marcia loves cowboys and lemon meringue pie. In grade school she won a spelling bee contest. She has never learned how to walk in high heels.

Week 98

Tyler stepped out into the Las Vegas sunshine thinking that had been easier than he had expected.

Random Exercise #33

I've been doing this for a couple of weeks now and I hesitate to throw this one out to you because it won't lead to you writing fiction (I don't think?). But it is turning out to be so much fun I decided to let you in on my new secret writing joy.

Confession: I'm not much of a journal writer. I go through fits and spurts with it. But I like the idea of having some sort of record of my life to look back on one day. So I started trying to sum of my day in one sentence. I figured one sentence was manageable. At first they were long and crazy. Things like: I went to visit my Mum today and when I stood up from her sofa my jeans were so covered in cat hair they looked like they were made of fun fur, not denim, and when I couldn't scrape it all off with her lint brush she accused me of not knowing how to work it properly and I said "Mum, if I figure out how to write a book I think I can figure out how to work a lint brush" but she looked doubtful and I felt like I was going to explode.


But now they are getting all Zen-like and poetic. I say things like: The sunset breeze calmed me into pink happiness. (Well, actually I made that one up - but that could be today's).

Anyway, if this appeals to you, I invite you to try it. It's fun!

Confessions from the Desk

I just received the good news that a short story of mine is being published in the Fall 2010 issue of the New Plains Review! This acceptance letter came at a good time for me. My confidence, which even on a good day hovers around ankle-height, has lately dropped even lower. So it felt good to have a story accepted. It renews my energy for the grant application I am working on and makes me want to get back to work on those two short stories that are being stubborn about being written. And, of course, it helps keeps me going while I write novel #2.

I always thought having a novel published would bring me to a place of more confidence about my writing. I guess not, huh? It turns out these things really are more about the internal than the external.

Week 97

Gus was in his car, paused at a red light, when he saw his neighbour hobble out of the Pink Palace beauty parlour in tears.

Confessions from the Desk

Sorry for the lack of posts and new exercises lately. I'm up to my neck in work at the moment. The most pressing being a grant application that I am working on. Remember those two short stories that have been giving me grief lately? Well, I got a copy of Damon Knight's "Creating Short Fiction" and have been reading that. It is great (expect a proper review when I finish reading it) and has been giving me so many things to think about that I've actually gone back to the short story I wrote last winter and am now rewriting it! I confess I am getting a bit worried about this new trend of mine to spiral backwards through my work and rewrite it. I mean, how far is this going to go - will I start rewriting stories I wrote (and published) ten years ago? Somebody stop me if I try. The plan is to rewrite this story and submit it along with my grant application and then return to the two stories that I've been working on throughout this summer. That's the plan, anyway. We'll see how it works out.

Week 96

Every night for the last week Dan had promised himself before sitting down to dinner that he would tell Tina his news, but every night he had eaten quickly then bolted from the table with the words still locked in his chest.

Random Exercise #32

Use these three words in a short story: chopstick, banjo, whirlwind.

Week 95

Carrie had never been able to read a map but she was going to have to learn fast.

Writing Adventure # 10

Take a walk around your neighbourhood. Pay attention to the litter. Yeah, I know this exercise is heavy on glamour, but it teaches you that everything has a story. If you find something interesting have a closer look - you don't have to touch it! I personally can't resist anything with handwriting on it, whether it is a shopping list, a torn bit of homework or, my favourite find, a letter! But it doesn't matter if all you come across is cigarette butts and used condoms (though I sincerely hope you live in a better neighbourhood than that!) Consider where this piece of trash came from. Who dropped? Did they do it deliberately, or by accident? What frame of mind were they in when they dropped/lost it? Where are they now? Write about it.

Week 94

Leo looked up at the sky wearily, as the first few drops of rain started to fall.

Book Review

I read a great book recently. It is called, "A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life: Self-Expression and Spiritual Practice For Those Who Have Time for Neither." Isn't that a fabulous title? I mean who doesn't want a big new free happy unusual life? It was written by Nina Wise and I hope she writes another book, that's all I can say.

It is a book about bringing creativity and spirituality into your ho-hum, busy, ordinary life. But why I really love it is, it teaches you that your life is actually a pretty extraordinary, fabulous, blessed place filled with wonder just as it is. Which means Nina Wise and I are on the same page, so to speak. You really don't need oodles of time, or to change yourself from top to bottom to be creative or to experience more joy and happiness in your life. It is all there just waiting for you to discover it, or rediscover it, actually.

This book is divided into chapters, each one focusing on a different way to express yourself creatively. There is a chapter on writing, but also one on singing, on dancing, on making art, on collaboration, even one on love-making! And scattered throughout the book are exercises. I have to say sky-gazing, which is a type of Buddhist meditation I had never heard of before, is my favourite.

It is an inspiring, interesting, thought-provoking, wise, funny book that I am already looking forward to rereading.

Confessions from the Desk

Remember that short story I was having difficulty with and switched from third person to first person on? And remember how happy I was with the switch? Well...(and you just know where this is going, don't you?) After a two week vacation I came back to my desk, reread the story (both versions) and decided they were both crap. That was on Monday. For the rest of the week I have been working on novel #2 and ignoring my short story. It is bobbing around in the back of my mind where I am sure it will emerge one day and command me to grab my pen. So much of the writing process is about patience and trust, I find.

(*An interesting thought just occurred to me. I always used to write my first drafts in longhand, even for my first novel, but lately I have been working directly on my laptop. Maybe I should try drafting that short story in longhand and see what emerges? Hmmmm.)

Quote

This is from a Paris Review interview with John Cheever.

Interviewer

What is your definition of a good editor?

John Cheever

My definition of a good editor is a man I think charming, who sends me large checks, praises my work, my physical beauty and my sexual prowess, and who has a stranglehold on the publisher and the bank.

Week 93

Joni crawled around the room trying to find the source of the smell.

Musings from the Desk

Sometimes I get asked why I write. It is one of those questions that simultaneously has no answer and a thousand answers. In the beginning I just wrote. It was that simple. I reached for a pen and words poured out of me. I didn't think about it much. But eventually even I began to wonder why I was spending so much time and effort on this odd, frustrating, wonderful, rewarding, exhausting, exhilarating thing called writing.

I decided my one tiny little life is simply not enough for me. I am greedy. I want to experience so many things: I want to be young, old, a woman, a man, an labourer, a socialite, a hermit, a movie star, an astronaut, a deep sea diver, a king, a queen and the court jester. And alone with just my pen and a pad of paper I can be all these things and more.

Quote

"If you don't change the direction in which you are going, you will end up where you are headed."

~ Confucius

Week 92

Detective Farrow had been on the force for thirty-three years and thought he had lost the ability to be shocked, but now stared in near disbelief at the gangly girl in front of him, before loudly clearing his throat and asking her to repeat what she had just told him.

Random Exercise # 31

Awhile back I introduced the idea of a prose haiku. I love the idea of a short story told in three sentences. I thought a theme might be a good idea to help get us started. So our theme is: reunions. Interpret it anyway you like.

Here's an example to help get you started:

She was walking on the beach when she spotted him, alone, leaning on the pier. Even after seventeen years his still handsome face was unmistakable. She watched him for as many minutes as she dared, her heart beating louder than the waves, and then turned, retracing her way back to the hotel with the knowledge that he would never recognize her in that instantaneous, aching way she had recognized him, pricking her every slow, hopeful step.

Week 91

Stan looked around the hotel dining room and thought, not for the first time, that humanity was not at its best at breakfast time.

Musings from the Desk

I've been working on a short story lately that has been giving me a bit of trouble. For fun I decided to change the point of view. (It was in third person and I switched to first person.) I didn't have a plan in mind, I just started rewriting it from the beginning, this time in the first person. Well! This character suddenly sprang to life. I found out more about him in an hour of writing like that than I had in the last few months. The plot line of the story still hasn't sorted itself out but for now I am going to keep things in the first person and see where they go. It might not work out in the end, it is still too early for me to tell, but I'm having fun with it again.

Random Exercise #30

Use these three words in a short story: emerald, penny, cactus.

Week 90

My mother, bless her soul, always said you should never make serious decisions when you're angry.

Quote

"Imagination is greater than intellect."

~ Albert Einstein

Random Exercise #29

Let's continue exploring our five senses more fully. For this exercise (and it's a sexy one) I want to focus on taste. Does anything say summer quite like watermelon on your tongue? Taste (and smell, but we'll concentrate on that one another day) are both intimately linked to our memories. Think about your favourite foods as a kid. Though you may have outgrown Fruit loops in chocolate milk, the memory immediately takes you back to the rough nub of the sofa fabric as you watched cartoons in your pyjamas.

I don't think food is used enough in fiction. You can learn a lot about a character if you know what their favourite foods are. A character whose favourite meal is hot dogs smeared in Cheese Whiz, washed down with a root beer float is a lot different from a character that eats tofu and sprouts while sipping organic carrot juice. So if you're having trouble bring your characters to life you might want to give some thought as to what is in their refrigerator. Even if these details don't make it into your fiction if helps bring the character alive.

For this exercise I'd like you to grab some fruit. Something bite-sized like strawberries would be great. But anything will do. The trick here is I want you to eat it with your eyes closed. Slow down. How does it taste? And don't just say - sweet. Does it taste like a red star bursting on your tongue? How does it feel? I told you this was a sexy exercise. Don't think, just write down your first impressions. Get it down before your brain starts censoring itself. You don't ever have to tell anyone what strawberries felt like on your tongue as you ate them blindfolded on your back porch in the full heat of summer.

Confessions from the Desk

Maybe it's the heat but my mind has been mush the last few days. I've been trying to draft a new short story but it's been like watching a chicken try to fly. You can see it wants to get off the ground, but you know it's just not going to happen. So between writing sentences, then deleting them, and staring out the window, I've been making up words. One in particular I'm finding very useful: netnesia. Netnesia is when you're on the internet and you know you wanted to look something up, but damn if you can remember what it was. So you pleasantly waste oodles of time surfing, looking at all sorts of other stuff, then finally give up, switch off your computer and presto! - you suddenly remember the website you were so desperate to check out. So, you had netnesia.

Now this could be one of those cases when I think I've come up with something, but everyone else had known about it for years. So if that's the case with netnesia don't burst my bubble. My day has been hard enough already. I'm not even going to Google "netnesia" to see if anything comes up. I'd probably forget to anyway.

I hope at your desk the words are flowing for you.

Week 89

It was early in the morning on the first day of Melanie's vacation when she got the idea to remove, or cover up, every mirror in the house for a month.

Writing Adventure # 9

On our last writing adventure I sent you out to explore the world using all five of your senses (you can read that post here). For this exercise I'd like to invite you to do the same thing but if you went outside last time, this time try a spot indoors. Try going to a mall, a train station, a library. And if you stayed indoors last time, then here's your opportunity to put your senses to work outdoors. Go to a park, along a beach or through a forest. Wherever you go experience it with all your senses and then write a description of it.

(This weekend is another 3 day yoga teacher training intensive for me. That means 9 hours each day of yoga - though some of it is lectures and anatomy stuff. But there's enough yoga to leave me aching, trust me. Anyone got a surefire way of soothing sore muscles? Now would be the time to share it with me! Have a great weekend and I'll be back the start of next week.)

Week 88

Wonderfully, Tony only knew three things about Donna when he married her: she was ticklish, allergic to cats and baked the best lemon meringue pie he had ever tasted.

Confessions from the Desk

I am one of those contrary sorts of writers (I'm not a contrary person, mind you, just a contrary writer). When I am working on a first draft I grumble to myself and wish I were in the final stages of editing, fine tuning the whole piece until it sings. But when I am editing (you guessed it) I wish I were in the throws of writing a first draft, the words flying from me, every twist in the plot opening up new vistas of possibility.

(This yoga teacher training course is absolutely killing me, by the way. But I did learn from the chiropractor who taught the anatomy part of my course that the top four vertebrae in my neck are almost completely locked. I need to get it x-rayed and then worked on. When the good doctor told me it felt like my neck had been like this for years and asked what had happened to it I said I had no idea. I didn't mention the fact that since I've been able to read and write I have rarely lifted my head up! It has either been bent over a book or bent over a desk. Maybe when I become a yoga teacher I should offer classes to writers and other bookish types to save the necks of the book world!).

Week 87

Stella had always thought the perfect time to commit a murder was on firecracker night.

Random Exercise # 28

Pretend that you are an advice columnist. Yes, you! Your advice! Your opinions! Can you think of a better gig than that? I really think that would be a fun job so if anyone needs an advice columnist - please contact me!

For this exercise you get to write the questions and the answers. Have fun. And if you've got any great real life advice column stories, drop me a comment. I'm feeling voyeuristic.

Secret Journal Exercise # 11

Pick a famous person from history. Who is it that obsesses you, intrigues you, fascinates you? Is it Cleopatra? Bluebeard? Gandhi? Pick someone and write an entry in their secret journal.

Week 86

My recently deceased husband, widely regarded to be one of the greatest writer's of his generation, began his career with a two thousand page piece of drivel about the history of civilization told entirely from the point of view of a tree and ended it with a novel just seventeen sentences long, which many people foolishly believe provides answers to every spiritual and existential question that has ever gripped the human heart or mind.

Quote

"To be nobody but myself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else - means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting."

~ e.e. cummings

Random Exercise #27

It has been a busy week. I had a grant application due on Tuesday and tomorrow (Friday) I start a yoga teacher training course (and have to get up at 5:00am - yikes!). But I didn't want to leave you without a little inspiration for the weekend. So...

Use these three words in a short story: pizza, guru, sprint.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Book Review: Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd

You know how it is: you're an artist but you never make enough money (or any money) from your art and you get one crappy job after another that you hate every minute of. Sound familiar? Seriously, the title of my memoir could be: "One Crappy Job After Another". (Am I the only person who is constantly coming up with wacky titles for memoirs I'll never write?) Well, I've discovered a terrific book by Carol Lloyd called "Creating a Life Worth Living" that is a career manual for creative folks. It is filled with great ideas and advice to help you build a life that you won't have to force yourself out of bed every morning to face.

In addition to the advice, there are also interesting exercises that I have actually completed. (I usually skip the exercises in this type of book because they often seem lame or like filler to me, but these I've found have actually helped me to clarify certain things about what sort of work suits me best.) There are also some terrific interviews with artists from various disciplines - the writer Mary Gaitskill is interviewed, for example. If you're still searching for work that allows you to focus on your art and doesn't drive you nuts, this is definitely a book worth reading.

Week 85

I knew the moment the words left my lips and hit the air between us that I had just uttered the stupidest thing a man had said to a woman since Adam complained to Eve about her cooking and demanded something new for dinner.

Random Exercise #26

I love reading personal ads. Admit it, so do you. Have you ever written one? Would you like to? For this exercise I'm going to create a few characters and you can write a personal ad in their voice. Or feel free to create your own characters. But if you need some inspiration...

Character #1

Jocelyn works in a flower shop. She is thirty-six, has never been married and lives alone. Her passions are detective novels, black and white movies and building kites which she likes to fly on Sunday afternoons in the park near her apartment when there is enough wind. It is her dream to one day see the ocean (any ocean will do).

Character #2

Jake is a butcher. He has been married and divorced twice, both times to the same woman. He enjoys playing cards, barbecuing and watching TV sitcoms from the
1970s. "Three's Company" is his all time favourite TV show. If he had all the courage in the world he would be an Elvis impersonator, but the closest he has ever gotten to that dream is dressing up as the King on Halloween.

Character #3

Martha is pretty sure she has the most boring job in the world. She works for an insurance company processing claims. In her spare time she studies belly-dancing and teaches her pet parrot new words. It currently has a vocabulary of sixty words, which is more than some of the men Martha has dated. She loves Chinese food and cupcakes. Since she was thirteen-years-old she has saved every fortune from every fortune cookie she has ever eaten. She keeps them in an old cigar box that once belonged to her father.

Week 84

Jess believed there were only two types of people in the world: dog lovers or cat lovers.

Musings from the Desk

Recently, I received an email from an editor. He was the editor of a a fairly new literary magazine that shall remain nameless. I had sent them a short story and he wrote to tell me how much he loved my story. In fact, it was one of the best pieces the magazine had received so far, he said. He then told me they would be making their final decisions soon.

Three days later I received a standard "thank-but-no-thanks" rejection email from the magazine.

A long time ago I decided as a writer that I wouldn't let myself get too upset by rejection, and I also wouldn't let myself get too caught up in any praise that might come my way. It made sense to me that if I wasn't going to pay much attention to one then I couldn't place too much importance on the other, either. This practice has stood me in good stead, though it is not always easy to stick to. It is tempting some days to hide under the covers after a stinging rejection, or to start chanting, "I am the greatest" after a good review. But I try to keep my focus on the page, on whatever I am writing. I prefer to pour my energy into my work rather than into trying to figure out how good or bad of a writer I might be. I'll leave that up to others to decide.

Although it seems they're having trouble figuring that one out as well.

Week 83

Eventually everyone arrives at that heart-faltering moment when they must decide whether or not to attend their high school reunion.

Eugenides Alert

If you, like me, am a Jeffrey Eugenides fan then get yourself over to the New Yorker's website where his latest short story is online. Check it out here. (It's good - I read it last night.) I hope he's got a new novel coming out soon.

Quote

"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home."

~ Twyla Tharp

Writing Adventure #8

Okay, not long ago I suggested using all your senses in your writing, to not just describe how things look. So, let's practice that a little, shall we? For this exercise I want you to leave your desk (yes!) and go somewhere familiar. It's good to go to a place that you know well because you're going to experience it in a new way. When you arrive at your destination (your park, museum, beach, forest, shopping mall, coffee shop, wherever) write down what it looks like. I know, I know, this is what I told you not to do, but I want you to get all the visual stuff out of your system. So spend a few minutes jotting down how the place looks. When you've finished that, describe how it smells. Then write about the sounds you hear. Now it gets harder - how does this place feel? Can you feel a breeze on your skin? Sunlight on your face? Is it a bustling place, crackling with energy? Or is it calm? Finally how does it taste? Now I don't want you to go lick the bark on a tree or anything. I am still on the safe side of sanity (barely, but holding on). But is the air fresh? Or gritty? You can get as poetic as you like here. Maybe this place reminds you of the first time you tasted pistachio ice cream and loved it. It doesn't have to be literal, or make sense to anyone but you. Don't spend a lot of time thinking about your answers - just quickly get your impressions down.

Does your familiar place feel new now? Did you discover things about it you hadn't noticed before? Everywhere is like that - rich, multi-layered. Now try to keep that in mind when you are back at your desk.

Suggestions Anyone?

I have recently become a wee bit obsessed with the painter, Agnes Martin and am very interested in reading the book she wrote entitled, "Writings". But there is a problem. It is out of print, and the cheapest copy I can find on Abebooks is $135.00 US (gasp!). Anyone have any idea where I can find a more affordable copy?

Book Review: Art & Fear

I've been reading some interesting books lately that I want to tell you about. Let's start with Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Now the title alone was enough to make me want to read this one, but the description on the back sealed the deal. It reads, in part: "This is a book about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work."

So, you can see this isn't a book specifically about writing, but it is about doing your work as a writer. It is about those things common to all artists: finding inspiration, figuring out what to do with it, doubting yourself, feeling jealous of peers. There is an interesting chapter on the academic world and the artist's role there. But the question that intrigues the authors most is why do so many people who start off making art, stop.

I liked this one because it was written for working artists. And some of the things I read here I have only come across in conversations with other artists (but in book format you can avoid the nasty disagreements and messy affairs - just kidding). Other things written about in Art & Fear I've only had conversations with myself about. (Don't pretend I am the only one here who converses with themselves - what else is there to do when you're brushing your teeth?)

Anyway, I really enjoyed Art & Fear. If it sounds like something you might enjoy I recommend getting your hands on a copy. Mine has found a permanent home on my bookshelf.

Week 81

As the engines began to roar and the plane readied itself for takeoff, Julia wondered for the hundreth time why she was making this journey.

Writing Tip

One way to make your writing stronger is to keep in mind that you have five senses. It is easy to let your work become overly visual. Remember that your characters can hear, smell, taste and touch, as well as see.

Secret Journal Exercise #10

For this exercise I want you to pretend to be a homeless person. You decide the sex of the person, age and why they are homeless. But on the day this journal entry is written this homeless person walks by a newspaper box and realizes it is his/her mother's birthday. Write about their thoughts, feelings, and the things they would most like to say to their mother.

Week 80

None of it would have happened if the August heat hadn't gotten to Chaz and made him forget that not only the air-conditioning in his car was broken, but the parking brake too, when he eased the Buick tight to the curb under the deep shade of that glorious maple tree in front of number fourteen Winchester Drive, which just happened to be on the steepest part of the slight incline of that long, straight street.

Quote

"Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life."
~ Natalie Goldberg

(What are the real things of your life?  This is worth thinking about from time to time.  Figure out what they are and then say a holy yes to them.)

Writing Adventure # 7

You're going to need nice weather for this writing adventure so I hope Mother Nature cooperates.  Remember when you were a kid and you used to lie in the grass and find shapes in the clouds?  Well, that's what I want you to do.  Study those clouds until you've got three inspiring things (I found a fire truck, a dachshund and an ice cream cone) and then write a short story with each of the items in it. 

(If you are the kind of person who never stopped lying in the grass and looking for shapes in the clouds even though you, supposedly, grew up long ago then we are kindred spirits.)

Week 79

It was one of those slow summer days when it was better to do anything outdoors rather than be inside separated from the sun, so when Jeff saw the crowd of people lined up so orderly on the sidewalk, he impulsively joined the queue.

Quote

"A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.  You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate."

~ Flannery O'Connor

Random Exercise # 23

Use these three words in a short story: point, rattlesnake, lifeboat. 

What You Need Most

It is tough being a writer.  Rejection is unavoidable and there are so many opportunities to lose faith in yourself, to lose your way. 

But you musn't. 

Which is why I think what you need most as a writer is to believe in yourself.  You need plenty of other stuff too, but without believing in yourself and your writing, it will be tough to keep going. 

And you must keep going.

So, how do you develop the kind of self-confidence and belief in your work that will keep you going no matter what?  Well, I think you always have to work to your own highest level.  Always do your best, in other words.  You might be able to trick the rest of the world, but you'll never fool yourself.  Only you know if you've given it your all at your desk. 

And always give it your all. 

My advice: if you know you've got one more draft in you, write it.  If there is a sentence that is sloppy - keep at it until it's smooth.  Don't fall into that trap of thinking no one will notice.  In my experience someone always does.

One more thing: don't compare your writing to anyone else's.  Run your own race.  Do the best you can.  Admire other writers, learn from them, allow them to inspire you, not discourage you.  And if you continue to write as best you can then someday, somewhere, someone will wish they could write as good as you.

Week 77

As soon as June recognized the voice on the telephone she felt a tingling in her belly.

Secret Diary Writing Exercise # 9

Pretend you are God, or whatever your version of god is, and write an entry in their diary.  Are things going disastrously wrong, or are things going according to plan?  Is there even a plan? 

(This exercise is not in meant in any way to be blasphemous.  It is intended to lift you up and broaden your perspective.  Being a writer is a bit like being a camera operator on a movie set.  Sometimes you need to come in for a close up and sometimes you need to pan back to see as much as you can.) 

If I Build it Will They Come?

Everyone tells me that since I now have a book published I must have an author's website.  To this end I very earnestly bought a copy of "Do It Yourself Websites for Dummies".  Seriously, I did.  Me, who pretty much has her computer skills maxed out just putting together this Blogger post.  My Dummies guide was set aside after a few chapters.  As I told a friend, "I need a Dummies guide to understand my Websites for Dummies Guide." 

I then discovered there are places on the web that promise you can build your own website using their templates and graphics even if you a computer spaz like me.  Except they didn't use the word spaz.  I was very excited by this, I have say, but then some friends implied if I went that route I would create an amateurish, tacky-looking website. 

The obvious solution, of course, is to just hire someone to build me a website, right? But I looked into what that would cost me and all I'll say is I'm hoping in my next lifetime I'm a web designer and not a writer.  I even came across a site that only builds websites for authors.  They charge three thousand dollars.  This infuriated me so much I will not mention their name.  Most first-time novelists will not even make that much money in royalties.  But every first-time novelist will be pressured to build a website.

Yesterday it occurred to me that the only time I have ever gone to an author's website is to research what they looked like before I built my own.  After giving it a bit of thought I realized that I am more interested in the actual book than the author.  Which means when I hear about a book that interests me I usually go to Amazon, read the jacket description, flip through the book if I can, and read any reviews that are there.  I may not buy the book there...

So, do I go the amateurish, tacky route?  It's affordable and will get me a website.  Or do I wait until I have the money to hire a proper web designer?  Which may never happen.  Or do I scrap the whole idea and forget about having a website all together?  And just start selling myself as the new J. D. Salinger.

Week 76

John stared down at the crumpled note that read, "Unzip Rumble Fish" trying to work out what it could possibly mean. 

What's in a Name? (and a Writing Adventure Exercise)

Everything, or least to me.  I spend a lot of time finding just the right name for the characters in my stories.  The wonderful thing about naming a character, as opposed to naming a baby, is you know the character's personality before settling on a name so you're able to pick one that perfectly sums up the character for a perceptive reader.  The right name can be a clue, or a hidden joke.

I even collect names.  I have a journal devoted to names that I find and like.  In it are first names, last names, full names, names from different eras because names go in and out of fashion.  Don't believe me?  Give it fifty years and Brittany will seem as outdated then as Gertrude does to our ears.  I find names just about everywhere.  While reading (history books are especially good hunting grounds), in those baby books filled with lists of names, phone books, graveyards, even the waiting room at the doctor's has given me some treasures. 

Try keeping lists of interesting names for yourself, if you don't already.  Sometimes just a name can be so inspiring a character will grow out of it.  If you'd like, you can turn this into a Writing Adventure Exercise.   A great place to visit is city archives, or a small local museum - any place where you will find plenty of photos of people from long ago.  Read the names of the strangers in those old black and white pictures and I guarantee you will find something to inspire you.  Before you know it you will have a list of fantastic names and from them characters will come alive in your imagination. 

Quote

"Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead."

~ Gene Fowler

Confessions from the Desk

For some girls it's shoes - for me it is journals and sketchbooks.  I just can't get enough of them.  Especially if they are Moleskines!  I enjoy buying them so much they tend to pile up, their pages blank and waiting.  So I am always excited when I think up a new use for a journal (plus it gives me another reason to buy more - it's a vicious circle, I know, I know). 

Today I was sitting at my desk working on my new novel.  One of the problems of writing a novel I discovered the last time around was there is so much to remember: the names of all the characters, their ages, what season it is, what year, character's professions, the names of streets characters live on, the places they go, research notes and sources - the list goes on and on.  As I was jotting down yet another post it note to myself I happened to glance up and see a small blank journal languishing on my bookshelf.  Aha!  So this time around I am going to write all the stuff I need to remember in a small black sketchbook.  I am still working out how to organize the material but I think page one will be devoted to title ideas.  Because I don't anyone will be interested in reading a book called, "novel #2".

Week 75

George's excitement began to fade when he thought about what his friends were going to say when they found out. 

Random Exercise # 22

This exercise is really Part Two of exercise # 21.  Hopefully you have spent some time thinking and writing about how a stranger sees you and you've gone beyond the physical.  You have written about how your posture conveys your mood (you know you walk differently when you are happy then when you are sad, etc).  You have discovered that carrying a notebook and pen creates a different impression than carrying a laptop.  And because I asked you to be kind, hopefully you did not write about your fat thighs (which do not exist!) but instead noted how patient you were while waiting in line behind an old woman who simply could not decide between a slice of banana bread or a blueberry muffin. 

Now that you have learned all that because you hoped someone would notice it about you, go out and describe some people that you see.  Go beyond their mousy brown hair, crooked teeth and glasses.  Who are they?  Are they having a good day?  Are they shy with people, but love animals?  What does the book they are carrying say about them?  Try to give them the depth you hoped someone else spotted in you.

Random Exercise # 21

This exercise is intended to strengthen your powers of description, but I'll warn you, this one might be a wee bit hard.  I want to you to pretend to be a writer sitting in a coffee shop and who should walk through the door?  But you, of course! Describe yourself as a stranger sees you.  (Be kind!) 

And remember to not just focus on a physical description - how you dress, how you move, what sort of things you carry with you, all contribute to the overall impression you make.  You are far more than just a height, weight and hair colour.  And this writer that is watching you has above average powers of observation - what do they see?

Week 74

After years of buying tickets, neatly filling in ballots and entering every contest she found out about, Joni finally won a prize.

Just a Reminder

Just a reminder that the contest on Goodreads to win a copy of my novel "The Last River Child" closes tomorrow.  Click here to enter if you haven't already! 

Interview

I was interviewed on Mrs. Q: The Book Addict's blog the other day.  Click here to have a peek at our discussion. 

Writing Adventure # 6

In honour of spring, let's leave out desks and venture outside.  There is a long tradition of writers being great walkers.  Perhaps something about the rhythm of walking calms and inspires a writer's brain.  So lace up a pair of comfortable shoes, grab a notebook and get outside.  It is not important to have a destination in mind for this exercise.  In fact it will probably work best if you don't.  Just roam wherever the mood takes you.  It is even more important not to have any hopes or expectations about your writing.  As much as possible, empty your mind.  Simply observe your surroundings.  If an idea or a line comes to you that you would like to pursue later at your desk, pause and write it down in your notebook, then continue walking.  The goal  is to relax, to let your mind wander and see what interesting thoughts surface.  And if no ideas occur to you, that's fine, too.  You're alive.  You're creative.  Breathe deep and walk tall. 

(And if you grab a coffee somewhere along the way think of me - I always seem to be trying to balance a notebook, pen and coffee cup, all while trying to keep my hair out of my face.  Yes, I'll be the writer bumping into trees and spilling coffee down her front.)

Week 73

If Phoebe had known it was her sister Jacqueline knocking at the door she never would have answered it.

Writing Tip

Ever find yourself feverishly writing away when suddenly the plot sputters to a standstill?  You no longer know what happens next, your characters refuse to speak, and it feels like your brain is mired in mud.  Sound familiar?  Whenever this happens to me, I backtrack.  I retrace my steps to the last fork in the road, plotwise, and try a different tack.  I send the whole story spinning in a new direction and almost always the piece comes alive again.  The plot restarts itself like an engine that had stalled, the characters begin chattering again and the story flows once more.  Give it a try the next time your writing gets stuck.

Secret Diary Writing Exercise

Pretend that you work for a casino in Las Vegas as a blackjack dealer.  Who are the people that bet at your table every day?  What about the casino - how much to you know about how it is run?  Whose secrets do you know?  Do you have any secrets of your own?  Write about it in your diary. 

(It has just occurred to me that the word "diary" may be too girly for you guy writers.  Would it be better if I changed the name of these exercises to "secret journal"?)

Confessions from the Desk

I truly have a gift for making myself feel guilty.  The last few days the weather has been absolutely gorgeous here.  Blue skies, sunshine and warm!  So warm that winter jackets have been shed for shorts by some people (Canadians can be a bit nutty when spring arrives). 

It might seem hard to turn spring into something guilt-inducing - unless you are me.  I have a confession to make: the past two days I've abandoned my desk in the afternoons to go for a walk.  I know, the horror, the horror!  But really, the guilt is terrible.  It's just that I'm so busy at the moment, with promoting my novel, finishing up a book of short stories and starting on a second novel that I feel guilty leaving my desk for any reason.  Soon I'll feel guilty about going to sleep!   You know, when I started this post I was going to write about managing your time as a writer and how hard it is, etc.  But then I decided to come clean and tell you how guilty I feel over two lousy walks on the first warm days of the year.  And you want to know the worst part?  One of those days was my birthday!  I know, I am hopeless.  I suppose the only upside is I'll never do anything truly terrible - the guilt would kill me. 

Today is another warm sunny day and the forecast looks good for tomorrow, too.  Usually I create exercises for you guys, but today I thought I'd give myself one.  I am to go outside this afternoon, enjoy myself, and not feel guilty about it.  I'll let you know how I do.

Week 72

Though no one ever believed her, Dolores Perkins had no doubt that the stranger who had kissed her so passionately in the dark parking lot behind the Bingo and Bowl was Elvis Presley.

Quote

"Live your life from your heart.  Share from your heart.  And your story will touch and heal people's souls."

~ Melody Beattie

The Craft of Revision and a Red Pen Exercise

I've had a few conversations with writers lately where they confessed to me they weren't really sure how to go about revising their work in the best way.  That got me wondering if there are people reading this blog who feel the same way.  I'm one of those writers who believes good writing is about rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting).  And I'm good at revising.  But I didn't start off that way.  Revision is a craft.  It's a skill you get better at with practice.  So in that spirit, I thought today's exercise would focus on revision.

Get out a first draft (or a second, third, or fourth draft you're working on).  Here's the thing about revision - you don't have to focus on everything at once.  So, as you read through your draft concentrate on removing words.  The goal of this new draft is to get the word count down.  It doesn't matter if this a postcard story with only 150 words - you want to tighten up the writing, because good writing is tight.  Look for spots in your story where you are getting wordy.  Where maybe you are going on a bit too long explaining things or describing things.  These spots slow down the pace of your writing. Remove all unnecessary words or rewrite the sentences completely to make them more concise.  Pay close attention to adjectives and adverbs - these are often places you can strengthen your writing by cutting.  Be ruthless.  Can you get the word count down?

Advice for Writers

There is a plethora (isn't that a great word?) of great advice here for writers.  I love Richard Ford's advice the best.

If I were to add something it would be : get yourself a decent chair with good back support to write in.  Not glamorous advice, but practical and you'll thank me one day.  Or you'll give all your royalities to a chiropractor and say, "I wish I'd listened to Lori when she told me..."

Week 71

Darren had rehearsed what he was going to say in the rear view mirror of his car several times, but his fingers still twitched nervously as he dialed the phone.

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

I read the other day that Twitter has become the most essential online networking tool for writers.  Could this possible be true?  If it is, I shouldn't be surprised.  I've never even been on Twitter.  But I'm always so far behind the curve, the curve looks straight from where I'm standing.  I mean, I just signed up for Facebook.  I'm no Faith Popcorn, put it that way.  Thoughts on Twitter, anyone?  Do you think it is useful for fiction writers?  Who should I follow to get the hang of Twitter?

Random Exercise # 20

Use these three words in a short story: cupcake, ninja, polyester.

(Has anyone else noticed that blogger has changed and the spell check button seems to have vanished?  Or am I blind?  Please excuse all spelling mistakes for the time beeing.)

Week 70

As Cal stood on the shoulder of the highway, his thumb thrust lazily out, he hummed "Hotel California" to himself and watched the first car in over half an hour come shimmering towards him. 

Last River Child giveaway

Over on Goodreads there is a giveaway of my novel, "The Last River Child" going on throughout the month of March.  There are 5 copies available to be won (only Canadian and US addresses are eligible).  Get yourself entered here!

Musings from the Desk

Probably the question writers get asked the most is, "How did you get to be so beautiful?" No, actually that one is topped ever so slightly by, "Where do you get your ideas?" But I think fiction writers spend more time thinking about structure than they do plot. Even more than they spend thinking about fashion, hair styles, makeup, makeovers, or which Olsen twin they would like to look like most.

I have plenty of ideas - ideas are everywhere. I can read something or overhear (okay, eavesdrop on) something and a scene, or a character starts to form in my heavily caffeinated brain. Plot is not my problem. (Good plots...well, that's a whole different discussion.)

But structure! Structure is something my brain spins round and round like a Rubik's cube. At the moment I am getting back to work on novel #2 (still nameless the poor thing) and I seem to be spending all my time thinking about structure. I have long discussions with myself about what is the best way to tell this story. Who is telling it? Is it happening now? Or did it happen long ago? Do I tell it in order? Or would it be more suspenseful for the reader to tell it out of order? Finding the right structure is a little like finding the right box to wrap a gift in.

There are so many, many ways to tell any story. It's finding the best way to tell it that separates a good story from a great story.

(By the way, if anyone knows of a good or interesting book for writers on structure, please tell me about it. I am seriously obsessing right now. I get like that. And if you have any beauty tips you'd like to share, hey, leave a comment about that too.)

Random Writing Exercise # 19

Hemingway once wrote a short story in just six words. Here it is:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Can you tell a story in six words? If your brain freezes up at the thought of that - can you describe your day in six words? Can you write your memoir in six words? Can you describe yourself in just six words (make me proud - only use positive words!).

If this becomes addictive to you, or you want some inspiration check out Smith magazine where they took Hemingway's idea and ran with it. It's a cool website. They also have a couple of amazing anthologies of six word stories.

Week 69

Clarissa leaned closer to the stranger and asked him to repeat what he had said.

Interview

It's a glamorous life I lead! Today I am being interviewed on The Book Chick blog. Check it out here.

Thanks Jonita! I had a great time on The Book Chick blog!

Book Review

There is a review of my novel, The Last River Child over at the The Book Chick blog. Check it out here.

Description Exercise

I love it when a writer can bring a character to vivid, over-the-top, technicolor life in just a few sentences. Check out this example from Canadian writer, Guy Vanderhaeghe's "The Watcher".

"Easily six feet tall, she carried a hundred and eighty pounds on her generous frame without prompting speculation as to what she had against girdles. She could touch the floor effortlessly with the flat of her palms and pack an eighty pound sack of chicken feed on her shoulder. She dyed her hair auburn in defiance of local mores, and never went to town to play bridge, whist or canasta without wearing a hat and getting dressed to the teeth. Grandma loved card games of all varieties and considered anyone who didn't a mental defective."

Brilliant, eh?

Too often description of characters are limited to just physical characteristics, especially when the characters are first introduced. For this exercise I would like to you to think about how you usually describe a character and try something new. Something bolder. Strive to write a description as original and interesting as your character, just as Vanderhaeghe has done. He could have simply told us Grandma was big strong woman with red hair that liked to play cards, but what a loss to literature that would have been.

Try describing:

- a neighbour
- your grade seven teacher
- a cashier from the supermarket
- your favourite uncle

Week 68

Henrietta stood nervously on the railway platform watching the passengers disembark.

The Chance the Say Hi

There is a new exercise - a Valentine's Day themed exercise even, but you have to scroll down a bit for it. See it? It is Random Exercise # 18. For some mysterious and frustrating blogger-logic reason it is down there beneath Wednesday's first line post. I couldn't figure out how to get it up here where it belongs, then finally decided it was just easier to create a new post to tell you about it. Which also gives me the chance to say hi - hope everything is beautiful in your world at the moment. I am working like mad on a grant application. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Week 67

Dolores could not remember ever feeling so tired.

Random Writing Exercise # 18

In honour of Valentine's Day lets write a love letter. But not a usual love letter. I want you to write the love letter you would most like to receive. Who would it be from? What would it say that made your heart catch, your soul soar?

(Happy Valentine's Day everyone. I admit I do not like the commercialization of, well anything, really - but a day devoted to love can't be a bad thing. As long as you stay focused on the love and not the heart-shaped box of crappy chocolates. Now go spread some love.)

Quote

"We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough."

~ Helen Keller

Posing as a Famous Writer is Easier Than You Think

I am on vacation. Just a short one - a long weekend in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. This morning, after a coffee at Bridgehead (a truly great coffee shop, by the way) and before skating on the Rideau Canal (the purpose of my visit) I stopped in at Chapters, one of the large chain bookstores here in Canada. I found the fiction section and saw they had three copies of my novel, The Last River Child on the shelf. Since I was feeling confident this morning I approached a salesperson, introduced myself and offered to autograph the copies. I don't do this as often as I probably should. Mostly because I don't usually feel confident enough to. But every time I do manage to work up the nerve the exact same thing happens, and I am always amazed.

Take this morning for instance: the sales woman was thrilled to meet me, she introduced me to a few of her coworkers, found me a nice pen to sign with and put a few of those fancy stickers that say "signed by the author" on the cover of my book. Did you spot it? The thing that always amazes me? No one has asked me yet to prove that I am Lori Ann Bloomfield. They just take my word for it that I am the author.

This amazes me. Truly. It makes me want to pretend to be all sorts of people and do all sorts of things. I mean, how much could a person get away with? If they had the nerve. Which I don't. But I enjoy dreaming about it.

Random Writing Exercise # 17

This is an exercise about love. About passion. I want you to take a walk and observe the people you pass. When you find an old person who looks interesting to you (it can be a man or a woman) study them for a moment. Who was their greatest love? Who touched their heart like no other? Were they loved in return? Or was it unrequited? Did they spend their life with this person? Or was it a brief love affair? Write it down.

Week 66

I had been following the man with the tartan umbrella for nearly an hour when he surprised me by entering a lingerie store.

Have you ever noticed?

Have you ever noticed that some writers have pretty strong opinions about using a thesaurus? Like it is cheating in some way. I thought of it just now because I'm revising a short story and reached for my thesaurus. I needed another word for "dejected". As a writer, I figure I'll use any tool on offer. It seems crazy not to. Writing is hard enough without me sitting here banging my head off the desk wasting an hour trying to think up another word for dejected when I can just quickly flip open a book and find a dozen options. So there's my two cents worth on thesaurus use. What do you think? Is it cheating?

(I went with "broken-hearted", in case you are wondering, but I might change it again. You know how it is with revising.)

Random Writing Exercise # 16

Write a short story that includes these three words: windmill, mongoose, sing.

Week 65

It was the first vacation Stan and Laverne had taken in seventeen years and it had not gotten off to a good start.

Quote

"I have often rewritten - often several times - every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers."

~ Vladimir Nabokov

(I hear you, Vladimir.)

Help for Haiti

If you would like to send aid to Haiti but are unsure of how to do that, or what agency you would like to contribute to then my friend and fellow writer, Sam of the Beginner's Mind blog, can help. He has been busy compiling a list of worthy and reputable agencies. Click here with an open heart. Thank you, Sam!

Week 64

Ted had been digging for most of the afternoon and as he slowly stood up, carefully straightening his aching spine, he was dismayed to see the hole was only chest deep.

Musings from the Desk

There has been such a wonderful outpouring of help and concern for the people of Haiti. But in such times it is easy to feel that as fiction writers we cannot help. And perhaps we can't directly. But lets widen our scope for a moment, let's not think only of Haiti, but let's think of all beings in the world, of all those suffering, whether through a natural disaster, famine, loss of a job or loneliness. Can we as fiction writers do anything to help alleviate this suffering? I believe we can.

You may have noticed that many of my writing exercises focus on getting in the skin of a character. And that's exactly what I want you to do as fiction writers - invest yourself completely in the heart and soul of the character you are writing about. Become the character. Because an interesting thing happens when you do. Not only does your fiction get better because your characters become more fully developed and therefore real to the reader, but you become a better person because you begin to develop empathy.

Empathy: the power of identifying oneself mentally with (and so fully comprehending) a person or object.

When you are empathetic you care about your fellow humans, you care about this miraculous planet we find ourselves sharing. And when you care, your readers begin to care as well. Through your words they may begin to think about people or a situation from a perspective they never had before. Things they may never have considered previously, they may now begin to care about. And all because of your writing. So as fiction writers we do have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the world, and perhaps, to even change it for the better.

Writing Adventure # 5

It's been awhile since we did a writing adventure exercise her at First Line. Even though it is winter in my part of the world, which means I use any excuse to avoid leaving the house, I think it is good for the creative soul to get away from the desk sometimes. So grab your notebook (or laptop) and lets go!

Go to a place of departures - and no, I don't mean a funeral home. Go to a train station, an airport, a bus station, a subway platform, a taxi stand - you get the idea. A place where you can watch people leaving. Focus on someone who looks interesting. Where are they going? Are they looking forward to the trip? Dreading it? Who is meeting them? What are they expecting to happen when they arrive? Have they travelled to this place before? Write a short story.

Week 63

Edgar tugged the panama hat low over his forehead before stepping out the door.

Book Review - The Creative Habit by: Twyla Tharp

You might not think a writer could learn much from a choreographer, but if the choreographer was Twyla Tharp and it was her book, "The Creative Habit" we were talking about, then the writer could learn plenty. At least this writer did.

"The Creative Habit" is to creativity what a Lonely Planet guide is to a traveller. It is a guidebook, a friend on the road and helpful advice from someone who has trod the way before you. Twyla Tharp believes, as I do, that creativity is a language. That even though the final product may differ widely - it may be a painting, a novel or a dance - the process that guides the project from first spark of inspiration to completion is the same.

With interesting insights, great suggestions and unique exercises Tharp guides the reader through the various stages of creative development. From generating ideas, to what to do when these ideas stall, or go wrong, Tharp has been there herself and is brimming with practical tips and advice.

I admit to a passion for dance - my creative life began at the barre not at the desk - but I think there is something here for every creative person, no matter what their discipline. When I began reading "The Creative Habit" I was working on a short story that had ground itself to a halt. Using some of Tharp's exercises got my pen moving again. And that has to be the highest recommendation for a book about creativity.

Just Discovered

I just discovered this great site and wanted to tell you about it. It is called Inked-In. It is a community for writers, musicians and artists. That's about all I can tell you right now because I've just signed up and am still awaiting approval (fingers are crossed). But it looks like it's got loads of information and plenty of interesting people. If you're interested click here.

Week 62

Randy felt a prick of apprehension when he saw only one set of footprints emerging from the edge of the forest in the freshly fallen snow.

Random Writing Exercise #15

Grab a dictionary. Open it up to a random page and without looking point to a word. Do this two more times. Now use those three words in a short story.

(My three words are: presentation, Great White Way and tank.)