Wordsmith Wednesday–Cultivating Imagination

Children play

Image via Wikipedia

Growing up when I did–a long, long time ago–I had abundant opportunities to cultivate my imagination. The games we played as children could not depend on media or even toys…with rare exceptions. Kitchen utensils and tin cans, my mom’s broom and a few cardboard boxes were all I needed to play house. I baked mud pies and used small swatches of material to make clothes for my doll. Sticks became arrows and we kicked a can. It was a wonderful childhood that provided plenty of exercise and ample opportunity for developing an active imagination.

Then along came adulthood. No more room for flights of fancy or escapes into other cultures…except perhaps in between the covers of a good book when there was time. Television took over relaxation and it was so easy to slip into modes of passive entertainment.

But for us, as writers, an active imagination is as important as pen and paper or a computer and keyboard. How often are you able to time travel to the Tudor era or the American West or hop a quick flight to Bangalore where your character may be following a lead on the tail of a criminal? Or, what if, you’re writing a scene in the middle of a blizzard while it’s 90 degrees Farenheit outside? We have to be able to mentally, emotionally, and physically transport ourselves to these times and places. We want to be able to think “outside the box.” Those of you who write Sci Fi even have to transcend dimensions.

So for this week’s post, I’m going to offer a few exercises to help flex your imagination muscles and then I want to ask you to either offer up an exercise of your own or share your response to one of the exercises that one of us posts. Or both. Go ahead and get in touch with that inner child and play!

Exercise I.
You are a small dog. How do you experience the world around you? Choose your own setting and characters.
Exercise II.
You are a reporter called upon to interview a great religious or political figure? Choose your own interviewee and describe one or two questions you would like to ask and their response to your question. Include setting and body language if you want.
Exercise III.
You live in (choose a country you have never visited). Describe the scents and tastes of the foods. This may take a bit of research.
Exercise IV.
You are dying and cannot speak. Who is with you and what is said?
Exercise V.
It is the opposite season of wherever you are now. Describe the scene you would see outside.

I’m anxious to see your response and I hope to use one of YOUR exercises to strengthen my own power of imagination. Now, go play.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Giving and Receiving Feedback

Group Discussion

Image by jzawodn via Flickr

An important part of my writing experience and growth has been the process of giving and receiving critique. The first time my novel was accepted for work-shopping in a Writer’s Conference I was so sure I had passed a significant hurdle–if accepted, it must be that it was really good. Whoa, was I surprised! After that experience, I put the manuscript away and began think of an alternate plan for my second career. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to realize the value of honest feedback and I began the painstaking task of rewriting. When I revisit that initial draft I shudder to think I was oh-so-proud of it.

In this post I’d like to toss out some suggestions for giving and receiving feedback about your writing. Whether you participate in a Writing Critique Group, an Internet Forum, one-on-one sharing, working with a professional editor or workshopping through a University or Writer’s Conference, open yourself to enjoy…yes, enjoy the opportunity that such give-and-take provides.

In General:

  • Prepare yourself emotionally and mentally for the process of critique. Don’t go into a session expecting universal acclaim of your brilliance and form the intention to help your fellow writers.
  • Familiarize yourself with the process established by the group. If it includes pre-reading the work of other participants, be sure you have read and written comments on their submissions.
  • If required, have copies of your manuscript available for all participants.

Receiving Critique

  • Listen with an open mind to the comments of other members of the group.
  • Ask clarifying questions after the reviewer has completed their analysis.
  • Avoid becoming defensive. If requested, explain your point of view.
  • Take notes on all remarks.
  • Watch for similarities. If more than one member express the same idea, take a good, hard look at that suggestion.
  • Brainstorm with the members for solutions to problems with plot etc.
  • Do NOT make significant changes right away. However, go ahead and correct grammar and typos..
  • Remember that this is your work. You may be the only one who has the whole picture. Be careful about taking every suggestion to heart or you may lose your story or poem in the process.
  • Return the favor and give a well-thought-out review to other members of the group.

Giving Feedback

  • Preface the session with what you like most about the work.
  • Ask the author how they feel about their work, if they can identify strengths or areas needing improvement.
  • Be specific. Don’t just say, “This doesn’t work for me.” Give examples of where improvement is needed and how it can be accomplished. For example, “This would work better for me if, instead of telling me she feels scared, show me how it affects her using sensory detail.”
  • Give the author a chance to ask questions and/or to explain his point of view.

Now, for some discussion:

  • Do you participate in some sort of critique forum? What kind?
  • Does your group have any rules of engagement you would like to share?
  • Can you add suggestions to those I have outlined?
  • Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share about your experience with critique?

I hope you will join in with me helping your fellow writers and poets. Please leave your observations or suggestions in the comments section of this post. Happy Writing. Enjoy the process.

Wordsmith Wednesday–Show Up and Write!

Writing journal

Showing Up
A Poem

Meditation is like
You have to show up
or nothing happens.

I thought I’d start out with this short poem I wrote a while back. It’s a bit of advice I need to remind myself of often–both for meditation and for writing.

If we are going to succeed in any area of life, we have to be willing to devote time to perfecting our skill.

I’d like to entertain a dialogue on this subject, if you will indulge me.

  • Do you have any techniques to assure that you are dedicating time to writing?
  • Do you have proven cures to overcome laziness, avoidance, all those things we sometimes refer to in the mythical euphemism writer’s block?

These are a few of my thoughts:

  • Dedicate a space for your writing. Create an ambience that will inspire–add music, candles, privacy, order (or chaos if you prefer). Try out coffee shops, libraries, nature or other venues that attract you, without distracting you.
  • Schedule writing time that fits your lifestyle. For some this may be a daily affair, for others weekends, early mornings or late nights.
  • Get the support you need from family members whether baby-sitting, assisting with household needs or privacy.
  • Write an Rx for writer’s block. Here are a few of my favorite remedies:
    • Take a walk in nature
    • Grab a dictionary and randomly choose a dozen or so words. Use those words in a poem or flash fiction.
    • Review and revise your work from your previous writing session.That often propels you forward.
    • Retrieve work that you’ve edited out or rejected and use it to produce a new poem or short fiction piece.
    • Visit a blog that offers prompts and go with it.
    • Browse a newspaper for a potential story line

Okay, now it’s your turn. I’m asking you to help write this short article. In the comments section, please add some of your proven cures for writer’s block and what it is that makes you show up and write.