Writing Toward Home

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Category: Prompts and Ideas

Wordplay Wednesday: What I Know By Heart

Wordplay Wednesday: What I know by heart

This weekend, the calendar, in a rare, serendipitous juxtaposition, ushers in both Christmas and Hanukkah, followed by the beginning of Kwanzaa on Monday.  To me, it is a perfect year for the holidays to overlap so completely. We need unity in our celebrations of what we all believe and hold dear. And we each need to articulate those things to ourselves and to one another.

I am reading an Advent devotional book called Why This Jubilee?,  written by a local church pastor, James C. Howell. It contains daily meditations on the meanings of specific lines from familiar Christmas songs. It is a lovely book and filled with many  memorable phrases that I have jotted down. One in particular made me stop and reflect over the last few days since I read it.

James Howell asks the reader to consider what we “know by heart.”  On the one hand to know something by heart means to have something  committed to memory as  a  well-loved song , poem or quote.  Another way to think of  knowing something by heart is to reflect on those things that our heart tells us  are true no matter what is going on in the world around us. It is this concept that I want to ask you to consider with me.

What do you know “by heart?” What does your heart tell you about the world, faith, people, circumstances, right and wrong?  I think that at this time of year and in this year in particular it is  something we should all consider.

Here is some of  what I know by heart:

No matter the circumstances in the world, God is still in control.  I can trust  in His goodness and sovereignty even when politics, governments and mortal humans disappoint.

All people are made in the image of the Creator and have innate worth, no matter their race, color, nation of origin, faith or  financial position. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, compassion and courtesy.

Despite the skewed version of the world given by the news, most people in the world  simply want to pursue a quiet life in which they provide a  safe home, enough food and hope for a better future for their families..  Everyone deserves a chance to  pursue those dreams.

Every person is created on purpose and for a purpose. We are all individually  designed to offer our unique gifts and dreams to the world.  We are given skills, talents and abilities not to hoard, but to share with others in order to enrich all of human experience.

Being kind, considerate and generous are not weaknesses, but are the true measure of a person’s strength.  To quote George Eliot, “ What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

What do you know by heart?

The Secret to Story

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The Secret to Story : Ask 3 Questions

 

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After months of playing with words, and exploring poems, book and song titles and linguistic devices,, it is time to get to the big idea of writing: STORY.   Whether you write poetry, fiction, memoir or essays, you are telling a story.

 

We human beings are hard-wired by the creator to think in story. Our brains love a good story whether it comes in the form of tales around a campfire, gossip, a great novel, a movie or your favorite Netflix series. Stories entertain us, aid us as we navigate the world, assist us in making sense of events ( even politics!) and help us remember.

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So, what makes a good story? We have all watched shows or movies or read books that did not resonate for one reason or another. Sometimes we can point to a certain flaw that makes a story not work, but often there is just a vague sense of something not fitting. We may not be able to define it, but our brains innately recognize a story that is well told.

 

While it is easy to detect a good story, it is harder, much harder to actually create one. There in a nutshell is the struggle that writers, especially novices, face. While the following advice is not foolproof, it will help you get started with a story that has potential.

 

When you want to begin a story, ask and then answer the following three questions:

 

What if? Who cares? So what? Let’s take each in turn, realizing that all three must be represented in a “good” story.

 

 

~ What if? In asking “What if?” you are setting up the premise of the story. Many writing prompts online and in books start with “What if?” to set up a certain situation.

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~What if a man overhears his boss planning to let him go?

~What if a woman discovers a shocking secret about her new husband?

~What if a man discovers a stolen art masterpiece in his mother’s basement?

~What if a young woman opens a letter that contains a key and a set of instructions that promise risks, but also rewards?

 

 

What if questions like these and many others make great story starters, but the premise cannot be sustained until we ask the next question.

 

~Who cares? In asking “Who cares?’ you are making decisions about the protagonist or main character of your story. Who is this person that has found themselves in a particular situation? Is the person , a hipster, an heiress, a con man, a grandmother, a writer, a crime boss, a priest, a news anchor, a struggling single parent?

Deciding who exactly the story is about determines how he/she will respond to the “What if?” question. Their values, life circumstances and personal history will all play into what they do when faced with that situation.

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Once you answer the “Who cares?” question, some storyline options open and others close. Knowing who you have in the driver’s seat of the story helps you decide where the action will lead.

 

~”So What?” Now that you have your specific character in a certain circumstance, you need to decide why this situation matters to this person. What are the stakes? What about her life will change because of this? How will relationships be altered? How will he change internally because of this scenario and the choices he makes? What will she give up or gain? What will your protagonist learn about himself and the world?

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The answers can lead to success or failure, happiness or despair for your protagonist and therein lies the rest of your story.

 

In a nutshell then, a story is about how a specific person responds to a certain situation and the changes that result from choices he makes.

 

Start a story.

 

  1. Choose a “What if?” scenario. You can use one of the ones I provided or your own.
  2. Then decide “ Who cares?” about this circumstance. Choose a certain sort of person who gets caught up in this situation and must do something in response.. The more specific about your character you can be, the better. Who he is will determine what he does.
  3. Next, have your character begin to make decisions or take actions. Those decisions will have implications that will change his life for good or ill.

 

 

As you write, keep asking those questions until you feel that the situation has been resolved satisfactorily. Congratulations, you have a story!

 

Happy Writing!

 

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Wordplay Wednesday: List-Making

Wordplay Wednesday:   List-Making

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I am a great list-maker. I create detailed grocery lists only to leave them in the car or even at home when it is time to go to the store. I make lists of things to do, books to read, projects to attempt, stories to write, menus for dinner, errands to accomplish and so on. The lists mostly end up like the one for my groceries—not available when actually needed. 

One could be tempted to assert that for me creating a list is a waste of time, however I disagree. I think that in my case the physical act of creating the list is the salient  part of the exercise. By writing it down, I actually engage my brain and the list is then internalized and remembered. Not perfectly, mind you, but accurate enough.  I tend to get 95% or more of the things on my grocery list even when it is left behind at home.

When I was teaching, I would make my lessons plans for the week and rarely look at them again after entering them in the plan book. The act of thinking through my plans and writing them down was the important part, not looking back over them. There was rarely a need to do so. Plus, I often found that if I did vary from the plans, my “seat-of-the pants” thinking and resulted in serendipitous moments that were actually better than the original. Because I had taken the time to plan, my mind was able to make subconscious connections that seemed random, but really were not.

So, this week I am advocating that try making lists and discover what comes to mind. You will find that as you write ideas or down, other things will pop into your head that may not seem relevant. Write them down anyway. Often the things that come unbidden from the recesses of our minds carry a lot of power. I find that sometimes those ideas have just been waiting for a chance to emerge and get some attention.

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So what kind of list should you make? There are many options. I am going to offer several, but you may come up with others.  For this activity you can either set a timer or determine a certain number of items to list. Having either the time or the number parameter gives the exercise a bit of structure which helps with the thinking process.

Make a list and then choose an item off your list that has some power. Make a story, poem, essay, memoir, collage or art piece. Keep your lists in your writing. notebook and return to them often.

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Things I love              

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Things I fear              

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Favorite places

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People I admire

 

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Make a list and see where it takes you. Happy Writing!

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Wordplay Wednesday: Thinking like a Teenager

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  Thinking like a Teenager: Creating New Vocabulary

Each new generation of teens creates its own language by inventing new words and phrases or by taking familiar ones and altering them so they mean something totally different. The purpose behind this is two-fold: to have a common language of belonging and also to bedevil their elders. By the time the lexicon is appropriated by adults, the kids have moved on to new terminology. Think of “rad”, “groovy” and “totally.”

The same is also true of society in general. There are many words that were commonly employed in previous generations that now have passed into disuse. I re-read the classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this week and found many expressions that were footnoted for this very reason.  Of course, this gave rise to a wordplay idea.

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This week we are going to play around with using old archaic words in new ways.  I  employed my enormous  dictionary plus some online surfing to find uncommon and interesting sounding words to use for this exercise.

Below I have made a list of words without their definitions. Guess what?  You get to decide what they mean and how to use them in your writing.

The idea is to choose a word that looks and sounds interesting and come up with a definition. Then use the word in a free-writing exercise for five minutes. At the end of the time, choose another word and keep your piece going for an additional five minutes. 

I will post the definitions for the words next week. If your  curiosity gets the best of you, look them up.

Acersecomic                            nugacity

 

Fanfaronade                           bindlestiff

 

Gobemouche                           pyknic

 

Martlet                                        afreet

 

Hamartia                                   bannock

 

Mollitious                                   erf

 

Shamal                                        bardolatry

 

I would love to see your definitions and stories.

As always, have fun writing!

Below is my free-writing based on last week’s  post,  “ The Power of a Single Word.” The prompts were all single words that carry a lot of  meaning and power.

I chose the word home.

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When I hear the word home  my first thought is of the place of my childhood, which we called “ the little brown house with the red door.” I lived there from the age of 6 months until I was a freshman in high school. It is the reservoir of countless memories: Christmases, birthdays, friends, hide-and-seek and Red Rover, lemonade stands, endless litters of kittens, picnics in the backyard, tire swings, and tree houses and running through the sprinkler.

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One of my favorite memories is of decorating for Christmas. Dad, my brother and I would pile on our coats, hats, and gloves and head out into the piney woods behind our house to gather branches. I remember tramping along singing  Christmas carols and laughing at my brother’s antics. Dad would take his saw and cut fresh boughs which he  piled onto our outstretched arms until we could scarcely see. Even now I can smell the pine fragrance and feel the tickle of the needles  and the stickiness of the sap on my gloves.

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Once we were home, Dad would climb the ladder and one-by-one accept the branches that we handed to him, stapling each one in place around our large picture window and our red front door. Next came the traditional untangling of the strings of Christmas lights which always produced a few “naughty” words from dad who insisted he had put them up so neatly the year before. My brother and I would cover our mouths with our sticky fingered gloves and exchange amused wide-eyed looks until the lights were ready to hang. Once the large bulb multi-colored lights were in place, we would plug them in and stand in the front yard admiring our work drinking hot chocolate and tea cakes provided by my mother.

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Happy Writing this week! I hope you enjoy thinking like a teenager and making your own words.

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The Power of A Single Word

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This past Sunday  the sermon at church  was about the power of our words.  We were reminded to be careful with our words as they can be forces for good or ill and can bring hurt or healing. The message was based on a passage from Proverbs, but the Bible is filled with references to controlling our tongues and our words.  God speaks most about those things we have the hardest time learning.

The sermon included an interesting fact that my husband and I discussed in the car on the way home. According to the pastor, we humans on average speak 700 times a times a day with a total word count of between 7,000-20,00 words. To me, that sounded like an awful lot of words. I looked it up online and it was correct, with one caveat. Men tend to be at the lower end of the word count and women at the higher end. 

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I do not want to get into the debate of whether women speak 13,000 more words per day on average than men. In my household, with a gregarious, extroverted male and an introverted woman wed to one another, I think the statistics might be reversed. I tend to be much more verbose in my writing than in my speech. Still, I thought about all of those words and wonder how much of what we say is really important. That is a post for another day, perhaps.

The pastor went on to talk about how some words possess so much more meaning than others. Sometimes a single word can convey volumes, especially in certain circumstances. That thought led me to consider words that carry a great deal of meaning all by themselves. I decided  this week I would make a list of prompts that are all just one word in length.

I came up with longish list, but decided to confine the prompts to five.  All are words  laden with a variety of meanings and connotations depending on the perspective and experiences of the writer. They may not be easily defined, but they are words about which we all  possess strong memories and ideas.

For your free-writing session today, set your time for 10 minutes,  select one of the words below, and immediately start the timer. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the word. Write whatever your first thoughts and ideas are.

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The word may spark a memory, an opinion piece, or fictional scene. Keep your hand moving and continue to write until the timer sounds. If you finish an idea, allow another to flow in and keep writing. When time is up, keep going if you have an idea that has energy. Write until you have a sense of closure with your piece.

Home

Courage

Justice

Death

Love

Try each of these words this week in a fee-writing session and see where they lead you.

I will post my free-writing for a word on the list next week.

Happy Writing!

As always I would love to hear about your experiences with the writing.

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Below is my free-writing from one of last week’s prompts. It is a slightly fictionalized version of a real event.  I edited it only for clarity and spelling from my original free-write.

“ The most frightened I have ever been”  10 minute writing.

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When I was about 7 my mom, my grandmother, and I went to my Aunt Eugenia’s house to have lunch. My brother was spending the day with my grandfather because on a previous visit he had practically destroyed my persnickety aunt’s  living room by knocking over her grandfather clock which fell onto a glass bookcase and destroyed many of her beautiful knickknacks. After lunch I quickly grew bored with the chit-chat at the table which would likely last all afternoon. I went outside to escape my aunt’s wary looks, as if I, too, possessed destructive potential ( I did, but that’s another story). I loved Eugenia’s  huge yard because was filled with all kinds of gorgeous flowers. I wandered to the back of the property, where, hidden from view of the house, my cousin Mike had built a tree house. I climbed  the wobbly boards nailed to the tree and enjoyed a spectacular view of their neighborhood. When I heard my mother call, I descended the ladder and was confronted by two enormous, snarling German Shepherds who belonged to the next-door neighbors.

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I froze as the dogs advanced, baring their teeth. I screamed in terror and backed up against the tree. At that moment their owner appeared and called them off. I stumbled through the garden crying and yelling for my mother. I fell at least twice skinning a knee and my palms on the rocky path  which ran through the flowerbeds.

I don’t recall anything else about that day, but  from that incident I developed a strong fear of large dogs  that remained for many years.

Thanks for reading and keep on writing!

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Wordplay Wednesday: Free-writing

Wordplay Wednesday :   Free-writing

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Over the past few months we have explored words and played with them in a variety of ways . The purpose behind those activities was to demonstrate the potential that words possess. Used purposefully they can reveal, inspire, inform, entertain, engage, and more. By playing with words in different ways for a short exercise, a writer becomes more comfortable and confident in wielding them for a specific purpose.

 

The next step in playing with words is Free-writing, which is the equivalent of an artist’s warm-up sketches she may do before tackling her main work or the scales a musician undertakes before playing a piece of music. It is writing practice of a short duration that helps limber up the writing muscles and get them ready.

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In Free-writing you use a word, phrase, or quote as a starting off point for your writing. It is a way of stimulating thinking, not a writing assignment. The words or phrase may end up not being used at all if your thinking takes you in a different direction. The purpose for having a starting point is so that you don’t find yourself staring a blank page frozen by indecision over what to write about.

 

The Process:

 

Writing practice should occur on a regular basis. Set a schedule for yourself that works. Daily writing practice is ideal, but not always practical. Decide how many days you will practice and stick to it.

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Writing practice is best done by hand. The physical process of writing longhand creates an important mind-body connection.

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You need some type of bound paper and a pen. You can use legal pads, the marbled composition books or spiral notebooks. I make a bulk purchase of inexpensive 1 subject spiral notebooks when the office supply stores are having sales before school starts. By using something that does not cost much, I free myself up to throw words down on the paper with abandon. Choose a pen that you enjoy writing with and always have a spare handy.

 

Write the date at the top of your paper.

 

Set a timer for 15 minutes. The purpose of the timer is to set parameters so that you will start writing quickly. You don’t have time to worry too much about each word when the timer is counting down. Just write!

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Write the prompt at the top of your page. Read it over and then start writing whatever ideas pop into your mind. Don’t edit your words. Just write them down and keep going. Ride the wave of your thoughts wherever they take you. You might write a memory, a poem, a scene, a character sketch or, an essay. Don’t decide beforehand, just let the writing take the form it needs to take in the moment.

 

Keep your hand moving until the time is up. If you cannot think of what to say, write that. Your brain will quickly tire of “ I cannot think of what to write about” and it will come up with an idea or image to get you back writing.

 

Do not stop to edit, cross out ,or re-read until time is up. This is not the time for worrying about spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Just get those ideas and thoughts on the page. You can pretty them up later if you wish.

 

Write what matters to you. That’s where the power and magic live. This is not school, so you don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone but yourself.

 

Read aloud what you have written. The process of hearing your own words aloud is a way of discovering and honing your unique writing voice.

 

 

Now for the prompts. You may be wondering where the words and phrases for writing practice come from. I get my best prompts from reading. When I read, I always have a pen and something to write on nearby. I usually stick several index cards in the books I read. They make great bookmarks and are also handy for writing down words, phrases, or quotes that I want to remember. When filled up the cards migrate to my desk and wait until I need a prompt for writing practice.

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The best prompts are ones that resonate with you. If it makes an impression when you are reading, then it will likely make a good prompt for writing. Collecting prompts is something I enjoy. I encourage you to do that as well. However, if that is not your inclination, keep reading.

 

Each Wednesday, I will post 5 prompts that you can use for your writing practice during the week. I will also post some of my writing from the previous week’s prompts. Let’s do this together!

 

 

The most frightened I have ever been

 

An obsession

 

Thanks for nothing

 

Give yourself permission to….

 

Embarking on an adventure

 

 

Happy Writing!

 

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