Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Curious Creative: Exercise 4

My Grandmother's Kitchen

This is the fourth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for the busy person interested in exploring his creativity. For the complete rationale, click here.

My Thoughts:

Have you ever walked into a room and caught the smell of your grandmother's laundry detergent? Just a whiff of that scent probably went straight to your heart and a fluttering of flashbulb memories played across your mind's eye. 

Memories of our grandparents (or "aunties") are a rich source of sensory details and emotions. There's something about the way they spoiled us, the treats and unconditional love they lavished on us, that was so different from what we received from our parents. Our young minds were super awake and observant in their homes- all the strange smells, tastes, and decor! As adults, those sensory details are still within us, and have the power to deliver packed punches of memories and emotions if called up. For this week's exercise, we'll call up some of those sensory details. 

Your Turn!

  1. Think of a beloved food that your grandmother (or auntie) liked to give you when you visited her. For example, my Italian grandmother always set out for me Stella D’oro's Breakfast TreatsYum. I feel achey-nostalgic just thinking about them.
  2. Imagine yourself sitting at your grandmother's table eating this treat. Write for five minutes describing every detail you can remember about this experience. Cover as many senses as you can: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, kinesthetic (what you felt inside, i.e. nausea). Describe where you sat, the details of her kitchen. What was your grandmother doing? What sounds did you hear in her house? Who else was in the house and what were they doing? Keep your pen moving for the full five minutes. If you run out of what to say, write, "I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write," until the next detail arises in your memory. The physicality of keeping your hand moving frees up your thoughts much more than staring at blank paper does. So keep writing!
  3. After five minutes is up, read what you wrote. Choose one sentence that delivers a packed punch. In other words, which sentence and its details pull on your heart strings the most?
  4. Open to a new page. Write that sentence at the top, and free-write again with that sentence as your starting point for another five minutes.
  5. If you feel like taking your writing even further, you can repeat the process again by choosing another golden line to start from. 
After 2-3 rounds of free-writing, did you notice the frequency of lines delivering packed punches increase? You're on your way to a first draft of a narrative poem or personal essay...

To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in so you can share even a small part of your creation in the comment box below this post. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box on the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!



Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Curious Creative: Exercise 3

One Little Thing You Noticed

This is the third exercise of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for the busy person interested in exploring his creativity. For a complete rationale, click here.

My thoughts:

Sensory details are how writers "show" rather than "tell" their stories. This way, the reader can take the journey with you, arriving at her own insights and emotions, rather than being told what to think and feel about your story. Good details come from good observation and good memory.

Your turn!

This week's exercise is simple. You don't need to watch a video or draw a picture. You just need a pen, paper, and 10 minutes.
  1. Think of one little thing you noticed this morning. 
  2. Write for seven minutes describing it in detail. Cover as many senses as you can: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, kinesthetic (internal feeling, i.e. nausea). Use lots of adjectives and strong verbs. For this part, don't reflect, add your opinion, or pass judgment. Simply describe what you noticed. Keep your pen moving for the full seven minutes. If you run out of what to say, write, "I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write," until the next detail arises in your memory. The physicality of keeping your hand moving frees up your thoughts much more than staring at blank paper does. So keep writing!
  3. After seven minutes is up, read what you wrote, and then write for three minutes about why you think you noticed this moment.
  4. To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in so you can share your creation in the comment box below this post. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box on the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Curious Creative: Exercise 2


Literally Illustrating Metaphors

This is the second installment of The Curious Creative, weekly short creative writing exercises for the busy person interested in exploring her creativity. For a complete description of the rationale, click here.
Last week, you played with producing a metaphor from amoving image. This week, you’ll do the opposite. You’ll be given a metaphor and move backwards to create the image. Find your art pencils and get ready to draw! Note: stick figures and cave art are totally acceptable! This is not about how great an artist you are. Remember, these exercises are for the busy Curious Creative, and should take no more than 10 minutes of your time. Of course, you can increase that time if you feel more playful.
My thoughts:
My dear friend and former colleague, Stacy Chestnut, once shared with me a teaching idea called, “The Interpretive Card.” In this activity, students flip an index card over and over as they complete an analysis of a piece of figurative language. The physical exercise of repeatedly turning over the card aids the mental process of going back and forth between the right and left sides of the brain, resulting in a more complete understanding of the figurative language.
One thing I have taken away from this exercise is how useful it is for my students to actually draw what they see in their mind’s eye, whether for a metaphor or a new vocabulary word. Forcing them to picture an image often fills the gap where an otherwise superficial understanding would be.
For writers, visualizing while we create helps us form more accurate and thus evocative figurative and descriptive language.
For those of you who are teachers, or would like to do a fun language analysis exercise yourself, I will share “The Interpretive Card” directions at the end of this post.
Your turn!
Draw a literal picture of one of the following examples of figurative language (or choose a different metaphor you love). If it were possible, what would it actually look like? I have included two examples, one by a professional artist and one… by me.
"if you are to
understand water
you have to throw it about
like a herd of
galloping horses"
http://cargocollective.com/thomasbarwick/Plymouth-University-Marine-Building

  1. “An old man whose black face shines golden-brown as wet pebbles under a street light" -Levertov
  1. “dogwood...whose roots are my mother's hair.” -Charles Wright
  1. “dead leaves and dead grass like a starry sky from inside out.” - Charles Wright
To build community and support, please take a picture of your drawing and share it in the Comment box below.

Interpretive Card Instructions
  1. Read the excerpt. Find an example of figurative language.
figurative language: a form of language use in which writers mean something other than the literal meaning of their words (metaphor, simile, hyperbole, personification, imagery, symbolism, etc.)
Copy the example next to #1 and include the page number.

  1. Draw a picture that represents the denotation (literal meaning, dictionary definition) of the picture.
  2. In your own words, explain what type of figurative language is being used, and what it means. What is the author/speaker trying to express?
  3. Find another part in the same excerpt with the same tone, and copy the passage here. Include the page #.
  4. What is the effect of this language on the reader and/or the larger text? Why is the author using this language here?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Exercises for the Curious Creative

  • Are you curious about your own creative potential, but are not sure where to start?
  • Do you love reading literature, and have always wondered if this means you have a writer within you?
  • Do you want to dedicate time towards exploring your creative side, but wonder how you will fit this into an already too-busy schedule? 
Over the years, several friends have expressed to me that they are interested in trying creative writing. They feel the ability might be latent within them, but they don’t know where to start. Others share my love of literature, especially beautifully written language, and I have often wondered if they have writers within. Other friends have expressed their bafflement at poetry, that they enjoy the language but often feel like they “don’t get it.”
As such comments have built up over the years, I am beginning to feel it my duty as a Creative to open the door for these friends. I didn’t start writing poetry myself until I was charged with the task to teach it. Close study with my high school students unlocked the block for me, and I began trying my hand at the techniques we discovered.
“You are what you love,” is one of my favorite Charlie Kaufman lines from the film, Adaptation. If you love language, underline beautiful sentences or read them aloud to yourself just to enjoy the sound, I have a feeling you have beautiful language inside you, too.
So let's explore... All you need is 10 minutes a week to awaken your creativity, to satisfy your urge to explore words, and to get you started. You will not arrive at a finished product after doing a 10-minute exercise, but that’s not the point. You are exploring a side of yourself, exercising your creative muscles. Soon you might find yourself stealing away a few more minutes here and there between errands or on your commute to write down an idea. Down the road, this might lead to a creative project. But for now, think of it as play. Creative play.
If you take 10 minutes a week to create something based on the exercise I provide, I’ll take a few more minutes each week to post a new exercise. Deal? Deal. You can do these in any language; of course, my instruction will be in English, but feel free to play in another language. To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in so you can share your creation in the comment boxes below each post. But don’t read the comments until you create your own!

Week 1 Playing with Metaphors in American Beauty

My Thoughts:

We will begin by exploring the foundation of all creative writing: the metaphor. Metaphors are about transferring qualities from one thing to another, to help you understand that other thing in a more complete way. Check out this metaphor from Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things:

Just then, the first light of day split the darkness like a knife prying the sky from earth.

If we unpack it, Eggers is expressing that when the sun begins to rise, only a very thin sliver of light appears, in sharp contrast to the darkness of the night sky and the earth in shadow. This light slowly widens but not easily; it’s difficult and cumbersome for the sunlight to enter because the darkness of the night sky and the horizon are joined tightly, and the darkness is all consuming. The two things being compared are the first light of day and a knife prying something open. The qualities being transferred from the prying to the sunrise are sharpness, contrast, suddenness, difficulty, and cumbersomeness.
Notice that my explanation is very long, but the metaphor implies all that in a packed punch, a kind of hyperlink to our emotions and imagination.

Your Turn!

  1. Begin by watching this clip from American Beauty. Turn off the volume so you don’t hear the dialogue.
  1. As you watch, brainstorm qualities of the plastic bag. Watch it several times. Jot down adjectives to describe what it would sound like, feel like, taste like, smell like, etc.
Example: crinkly

  1. Generate other things/people/moments that share these qualities.
Example: autumn leaves on a forest floor

  1. Write similes (a kind of metaphor using “like”), expressing some of these qualities, starting with, “This bag was...”
Example: This bag was like leaves on the forest floor.

  1. Take off “This bag was...” and create a new simile from the second halves of the similes you have already written.
Example: Leaves on the forest floor are like an old man’s bones.

Beautiful! A good metaphor gives you an image in your mind’s eye and a twinge of emotion in your gut. Did you write one that does?

  1. Now turn on the volume and watch the clip again to learn the simile used in the film.
  1. To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in so you can share your creation in the comment boxes below this post. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box on the right), you will get an email update whenever I add a new exercise. Thanks for playing!