Category Archives: writing exercises

THE RIGHT WORDS

What words would "Mr. Wonderful" say to impress a woman?

What words would “Mr. Wonderful” say to impress a woman?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful's words?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful’s words?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

In 1871, Lewis Carrolll wrote the nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” It begins “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ~ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” It’s a well-known poem, often praised for the flow and sounds of the words, and in every English class there are always some students who swear they understand exactly what Carroll was saying.

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prominent novelist, poet and short story writer who was also known for Gobblefunk, his own language. Two examples are “swigpill” (disgusting food), and “splath-winkled” (hurrying about). Despite this special language he scattered through some of his writing, his also wrote this: “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

Sometimes words work; sometimes they don’t. All writers know this, and most agree that one place where this is particularly true is when they write dialogue. It either works, or it doesn’t. 

To loosen up the writers in my classes and workshops, I often jumped right into exercises on writing dialogue. My favorite prop was Mr. Wonderful, a 12” doll with a flashy smile, a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and real-tie brown leather shoes. Press the palm of his hand and he said sixteen different phrases—all from the heart—and all as fake as his smile. Two of my favorites were “You know, I think it’s really important that we talk about our relationship,” and “You know, Honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight…and do the dishes.”

It was obvious to both males and females that Mr. Wonderful’s words were stilted and didn’t work.   So the writers were to act as his “coach” and choose any three of his phrases and write what a “real guy” would say. After they’d finished, they were to hand the sheet to another writer who would write what an imaginary Ms. Wonderful would say in response. Everyone relaxed with the dialogue of this fake-to-the-core doll. It was a great way to get started.

Before my mother’s dementia, once when she was visiting I introduced her to Mr. Wonderful. She listened to his phrases and laughed. Then she said that some of the hardest dialogue to write was how children talk, so another exercise for my students could be to write what a young girl or boy would say to Mr. Wonderful, telling him how to dress and what to say. I really liked her idea, and asked if she wanted to try writing some examples.

Mom looked around, shook her head and smiled. In her opinion, the best way to write dialogue was to get comfortable and sit quietly, in a waiting room or a classroom or anywhere adults or children talk and do things. Then listen to what they say, how they pause or move when they say something, if they chatter on and on or speak in short sentences, if they mumble or whine. That’s how you learn to write like people really talk, she said. You listen.

And then she laughed and added that you didn’t want to sit quietly too long. You might fall asleep and then some uppity writer might write about how you sleep with your mouth open or snore.

My mother taught me that getting words right is important, but so is watching and learning. And getting your heart involved, too. As John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote: “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The same is true in life.

This "borrows" from Keep Calm and Carry On.  Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

This “borrows” from Keep Calm and Carry On. Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

 

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell where the men are.

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell what happened to the men.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations, teaching, writing, writing exercises

THIS NOVEMBER, TASTE LIFE TWICE

Bull in front of Kansas barn (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Bull in front of Kansas barn (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Consider the possible genres: horror? mystery? romance? true crime? or science fiction?

Consider the possible genres: horror? mystery? romance? true crime? science fiction?

On May 2, I wrote a post about a game Mom and I played during some of my visits when she was still in the early stages of dementia.   As I would drive around town, she’d choose a house and answer the question, “What’s Behind the Door?”    It was intended to encourage her to remember tastes, sounds, smells and feelings. We had a lot of fun with the game, and we usually went for an ice cream cone afterwards.

Several of you have asked if I made up other writing prompts.  Here’s another: “Genre-flecting” (thinking about story ideas based on genre types.)

The purpose with my mother was to use different writing genres to inspire ideas for stories and poems. We talked about various genres–mystery, memoir, western, romance, horror, children’s, fantasy, science fiction, etc.–and also combinations of genres: women’s mainstsream, malice domestic mystery, romantic western, narrative poetry, children’s adventure, etc.

We used buildings as the prompts, and once we chose a place, the next step was to create characters, animals, situations or events that happened there. Since I was driving and she was in the passenger seat, I would cite the genre prompt, she’d think about it, and then she’d create a story or poem idea.   For instance, consider the top picture of the bull in front of the barn. If I asked, “What’s going on here that could make a children’s adventure story?” ~ your answer would be very different than if I asked, “What’s going on here that would make a sci-fi/mystery story?”

For those of us who are not participating in this November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or National Memoir Writing Month, we have another option.  November 14 is both “I Love To Write Day” AND “Loosen Up, Lighten Up Day.”  

Combine them.  Shake your shoulders loose, grab a pen and write.  Choose one of these pictures or use one of your own or from a magazine; consider a genre you especially like to read—or don’t like to read at all—and set a timer.  Write about “What’s going on here?” for 20 min. or an hour, or for half a page or a full page. Write, and see what ideas or memories emerge. 

The wonderful novelist, essayist and short story writer Anais Nin reminds us this about the importance of writing: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection…”  

This November—throughout the month, or on the 14th, or any day—write…and taste life twice.   My mother would be the first to tell you it’s okay to treat yourself with an ice cream cone.

old house at pond      

cabin on open plains

tejon st

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Different kinds of homes, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

TWO SECRETS OF SUCCESS

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

4:40 A.M. ~ crescent moon is in upper right section of window

 

 

 

"The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep!" ~ Rumi

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep!” ~ Rumi

 

 

Twenty-four years ago, I took Mom to a one-day workshop on writing nonfiction magazine articles.   The speaker began the session by asking how many specific suggestions participants would include in an article about The —#— Secrets of Success. While many in the group had ideas for five, eight, or even a dozen secrets for success, Mom had two.   1)  Greet each sunrise with a hopeful smile, and   2)  Keep moving.   In her experience, those two pretty much pointed her in the right direction each day.

During one of my trips to visit Mom this summer, I was sleeping in the guest room of her assisted living apartment, and for some reason I woke up at 4:40.  The sunrise was just a thread of light on the horizon.  A crescent moon and a single star glittered in one corner of the view from my window. 

I peeked in on Mom to see if it had awakened her, too. In a different time and place—maybe in the bedroom of her real home, and certainly before losing my dad to Alzheimer’s and now losing much of her own memory to dementia—I think Mom would have smiled as she watched the moon and star on the horizon, then taken a deep breath and gotten out of bed early to welcome the new day.

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.   Don’t go back to sleep…”   These two beginning lines, my favorites from a longer, well known poem by Sufi poet Rumi, are lines I’m sure would have struck a chord with Mom. For many of her 96 years, her favorite time has been in the quiet early breaths of a new day.  She would use that private time to work in the yard, read and write letters and poetry, pray and sometimes even bake.  Before the dementia took over, it was her first secret of success.

Her second secret of success was short and simple, but essential on many levels: Keep moving.  Regardless of obstacles, set-backs, illness, disappointments or worries, to keep moving meant staying focused on what had to be done, breathing deeply, singing or humming as she worked, and being grateful for the things she learned and noticed along the way.

One beautiful example of someone who kept moving is April Holmes, Paralympic Gold Medalist in the 100-meter dash. April was 27 in 2001 when, as a college track star, she lost her leg from the knee down in a train accident. Instead of giving in or giving up, she kept moving…physically, emotionally, hopefully and with full commitment. Against all odds.

I’m sure my mother had more than just the two secrets of success she used that day for writing practice at the workshop. She was a woman of faith, kindness, creativity and common sense, and she had an amazing capacity for love and trust. I wish now that she’d kept writing on that workshop exercise and written out many more of her success secrets.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and many forms of devastating memory loss plague families, communities and countries everywhere in the world.

But one day this month, Wednesday, September 10th, is “Swap Ideas Day.” This is an excellent opportunity for us to share our favorite Secrets of Success.   Do you remember poignant, funny, strange, or insightful secrets of success from your parents, grandparents, teachers, friends or motivational speakers?

Today, September 6th, is National Writing Date Day.   Make a commitment today to write some of your secrets of success and share them with us!

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Bikers racing through Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom's #2: Keep Moving.

One Secret of Success for competitive cyclists is Mom’s #2: Keep Moving.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

One section of Garden of the Gods. August 4th was Stage 4 of the USA ProChallenge cycling competition. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet high.

 

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Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

NOW is the best time

Example of a Saturday card.  Cover message is ...but it's better than to miss a month

Example of a Saturday card. Cover message is
“Another birthday? Well, it’s better to be a year older…”  (inside message) “… than to miss a month.”

 

 

Another Hallmark Saturday card:  "Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG..." (inside message)  "...we were BFFS and didn't even know it!  Happy Birthday to my BFF."

Another Hallmark Saturday card: “Before LOL, TTYL, and OMG…” (inside message) “…we were BFFS and didn’t even know it! Happy Birthday to my BFF.”

 

How many of you have ever created your own greeting card?  Let’s see a show of hands (humor me, okay?)

As a child, maybe you colored flowers or boats on a folded piece of paper for someone’s birthday; or  you learned to print the message GET WELL SOON for a sick friend; or you wrote out coupons on strips of paper and gave them to your mom or dad for Christmas, promising “I’ll clean my room” or “I will not hit my brother.” Remember how much fun card writing was? And as my mom always said, the best cards are the personal ones you make yourself.

Hallmark’s Saturdays card line is your opportunity to make a card, and make some money. So dig out fun or funny or touching photos, color or black and white, and submit them to Hallmarkcontests.com

Read through the section with all the open contests. To get you started, I’ve shared two of my favorite Saturdays Expressions cards…and their inside message lines, to show you good examples. Hallmark pays for each card, plus other perks, including a small picture of you and a clever bio sketch on the back of the card. Deadlines vary.

Maybe you’d rather write about a true aha! moment or Eureka experience. If so, submit a personal essay up to 1,500 words to the Life Lesson Essay Contest. The deadline is September 18, and first prize in $3,000. http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/inspiration-motivation/second-annual-life-lessons-essay-contest-00000000013682/index.html   No entry fee.

And for you poets, another no entry fee contest is Princemere Poetry Prize. Deadline is September 15 and first place is $300. http://www.princemere.com

Or, work on your own writing deadline, or a photography, painting, drawing project that isn’t quite finished. Choose your creative endeavor and go for it…NOW.

Why NOW? As I was driving to visit my mom recently, I heard a radio commentator talking about the August 2014 phenomenon. The Chinese call it “Silver pockets full” and supposedly it happens once every 823 years. This month, August of 2014, there are five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays. Check your calendar, and you’ll see.

Supposedly—and there’s absolutely no scientific proof, but it’s certainly a good motivator to get busy—anytime during this month is an excellent time to follow your dreams, finish up your creative projects, expect the best…and encourage your friends to do the same.

Well, friends, what have you got to lose?

This isn't a card, but somebody used a smart concept to create this "fight breast cancer" T-shirt.  (If you don't get it, ask someone to explain it to you...it's great!)

This isn’t a card, but somebody used a smart concept and teen reference to create this “fight breast cancer” T-shirt. (If you don’t get it, ask someone to explain it to you…it’s great!  Here’s a hint: think like a teenage boy on a date.  What does “getting to second base” mean to him?  So it’s a good breast cancer awareness slogan to “save 2nd base.”)

 

A display of "Saturday" cards by writers from everywhere.  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

A display of Hallmark’s “Saturday” cards by writers from everywhere. (Photos by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, lessons about life, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

A BOOK BY ANY OTHER TITLE…

Books ARE often judged by their covers...and their titles.  (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Books ARE often judged by their covers…and their titles. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young's book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

My possible illustration for Michael R. Young’s book, MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw

A possible book cover for REUSING OLD GRAVES: A REPORT ON POPULAR BRITISH ATTITUDES by Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw

 

Ask anyone in my writing groups: titles are my thing. If you’ve written a poem, a short story, a novel or a nonfiction book and need a good title, I’m your go-to girl.

When I was a young child, one of the services of my parents’ car dealership was to personally deliver cars to the buyers in other towns. To pass the time during long drives, here’s one game we played:  my mom or dad would make up a title and have me make up a story to go with the title. Even then, I sensed the difference between a really interesting title and a so-so or boring one. A title like “Three Ways To Make A Ghost Get Out of Your Bedroom” could keep me busy for hours.

With some exceptions, unless you intend fraud or deceit, you can use an existing title for your own book. In other words, you could title your book GONE WITH THE WIND.  Why you’d want to do that is another question, but you could. So sometimes my mom would give me the actual title of a book or story she’d read, and I would do the best I could to make up a new story to go with that title.

To show you the importance of a good title, here are a few examples that might make potential buyers  give a book a second look. HOW TO POO ON A DATE (The Lovers’ Guide to Toilet Etiquette) by Mats and Enzo, COOKING WITH POO (“Poo” is Thai for “Crab”) by Saiyuud Diwong, and COOKING WITH POOH: Yummy Tummy Cookie Cutter Treats by Mousse Works.

Or consider STRIPPING AFTER 25 YEARS by Eleanor Burns. Is that title more interesting than How To Spend Years Creating Quilts With Strips of Fabric? And in 2007, Simon & Schuster printed Big Boom’s self-help book with this title: IF YOU WANT CLOSURE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP, START WITH YOUR LEGS.  Catchy title, but I’m just not sure how long a book it would have to be—sounds like the details could pretty well be covered in a magazine article instead of a book.

There are many one-word book titles: IT, JAWS, SHANE, ULYSSES, LABYRINTH, REBECCA, SIDDHARTHA, ATONEMENT, WICKED, etc. According to book authorities, the longest title in the English language is by Jonathan Edwards, preacher and philosopher in the mid-1700s (his famous sermon is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”) His book title is AN HUMBLE ATTEMPT TO PROMOTE AN EXPLICIT AGREEMENT AND VISIBLE UNION OF GOD’S PEOPLE THRO’S THE WORLD, IN EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER, FOR THE REVIVAL OF RELIGION, AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM ON EARTH, PURSUANT TO SCRIPTURE PROMISE AND PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE LAST TIME.

Be honest; did you finish reading the entire title?  Hmm…how many readers do you think would have wanted to buy the book?

John Steinbeck said, “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”   To give ourselves the best odds of actually selling what we write, we should spend some time—and have some fun if we can—with our titles.

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)

With all the book titles that include Poo and Pooh, I just had to add this poster for identifying Poop in the Woods (courtesy of Garden of the Gods, Colorado)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, Fort Scott Kansas, writing, writing exercises

THE THINGS WE MAKE

Make a cairn and mark your trail.   (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

Make a cairn and mark your trail. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

Decorate your fence; make a display of things you love.

Decorate your fence; make a display of things you love.

Make an effort to catch your own dinner.

Make an effort to catch your own dinner.

 

Make a scene trying to scamper away from a camera.

Make a scene trying to scamper away from a camera.

Years ago, long before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mom’s dementia, for her birthday I took Mom to a weekend writing conference on the campus of Bethel College in North Newton, KS. We shared a dorm room, ate in the student union, attended workshops in fiction and nonfiction writing, and had a wonderful time.

Mom met a charming lady who was writing an unusual article. While others were writing about surviving loss, rebuilding after financial ruin, getting their kids off drugs, or keeping their faith during hard times…this lady was writing “How To Make Your Bed While You’re Still In It.” She shared the rough draft with us, and it was short, simple and fun. The next morning in our dorm room, Mom scooted to the head of her bed, pulled the sheet up and smoothed it, then pulled up the bedspread, etc., and made the bed while she was still in it…kind of. We never heard if the lady published the article, but we had fun practicing the steps and helping her figure out how to clarify the directions.

Remembering that adventure, this week I began a list of things we make: make a bed; make a scene; make a wish; make a statement; make a difference; make a baby; make a deal; make a mountain out of a mole hill; make a promise; make a choice; make a mistake; make matters worse; make a commitment; make an enemy; make a friend.

The summer before I turned 15, I accepted a job babysitting 5 little boys from the ages of four to nine, every weekday from 7:30am to 5:45pm. I fixed their meals, broke up their fights, bandaged their knees, and walked them to and from baseball and swimming lessons. On the third day of my job, the middle boy left the gate open and their dog got out and was hit by a car. I wrapped the bleeding dog in a towel and carried it to the vet’s office with 5 young brothers in tow, crying and running beside me, tugging at the towel.

That day I’d had enough and wanted to quit. My dad told me I needed to keep my word. He said, “You may not like this job, but the choice you make to stay with it or walk away will tell you who you are.” I ended up staying with it that summer, surviving low points like digging the hole for a doggie funeral, scrubbing crayon drawings off the dining room wall, and nursing a whiney little boy through an ear infection. That job taught me more about hard work—and myself—than I ever could have imagined.

Making a bed while you’re still in it, and making a decision to finish a job you don’t like are two examples of things we make. Feel free to make a comment and add to the list!

Make a big deal out of a child's success!

Make a big deal out of a child’s success!

 

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, writing exercises

What is your ONE WORD?

 

If you can't pronounce a word, it's probably not the right one to make Your Word.  (Picture by Marylin Warner)

If you can’t pronounce a word, it’s probably not the right one to make Your Word. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Sign it, sing it, paint it, think it ~ it's your One Word.

Sign it, sing it, paint it, think it ~ it’s your One Word.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Several months ago, I wrote a post titled “Ten Words.” It included a contest for short-short-short stories of no more than ten words. In this post, I’m asking you to think about only one word—your ONE WORD—but you don’t have to enter it in a contest.

Before her dementia, my mother was the master of one-word comments and questions. With slight variations in her facial expressions, she made her point very well. “Why?” was more than a question; it was a warning to rethink an action or an attitude. “Wait” conveyed her philosophy: patience was a virtue; she had faith enough to wait and trust how things would work out.  My mother’s one-word statements or questions were a perfect example of Shakespeare’s writing advice: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.”

I used to keep a list of one-word book titles: JAWS, 1984, REBECCA, ATONEMENT, IT. I also enjoyed one-word lines that “said it all” in movies: “Plastics.” (THE GRADUATE); “Stella!” (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE); “Rosebud.” (CITIZEN KANE); “Freedom!” (BRAVEHEART); and “Adrian!” (ROCKY).

Regardless of how you feel about football or the Super Bowl, one NFL quarterback has renewed the interest in “One Worders.” Bronco Peyton Manning has been using his one word shouted at the line of scrimmage– “Omaha”–for years, and he plans to stick with it. Granted, the Broncos lost this year’s Super Bowl, but the Nebraska town (Manning has never lived there) named its zoo’s new-born penguin “Peyton,” and a local ice cream parlor named a new flavor “Omaha, Omaha,” to go with the orange-vanilla mixed with blue malt balls…Bronco colors. The Omaha Chamber of Commerce presented Manning with a $70,000 check for his foundation for at-risk children.

What is your ONE WORD? What is one word you believe in, hope for, use as motivation…or use only because it means something to you, and you don’t tell others why you use it? Physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging; it is the skin of a living thought…”

Years ago, I was volunteering at the Episcopal Women’s Thrift Shop and came across a hand-stitched, framed sampler that someone had discarded to be sold in the shop. No one else seemed to like it–or maybe they didn’t understand it–but the word spoke directly to me. It became my One Word nudge, inspirational reminder and personal challenge: YAGOTTAWANNA

What’s your One Word?  Or, what is the word you once used but then gave it up?

My ONE WORD choice.  (Picture by Marylin Warner)

My ONE WORD choice. (Picture by Marylin Warner)

Omaha, Nebraska  (Smithsonian's Arial America shot)

Omaha, Nebraska (Smithsonian’s Arial America shot)

 

Peyton Manning (Google photo)

Peyton Manning (Google photo)

 

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Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing exercises