Category Archives: writing exercises

TEN WORDS

Write in chalk on a fence, in crayon on lined paper... let go and write! It's only 10 words. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

Write in chalk on a fence, in crayon on lined paper… let go and write! It’s only 10 words. (Photographs by Marylin Warner)

The cover page of the private book I put together of Mary Shepherd's poems, stories and essays.

The cover page of the private book I put together of my mother’s poems, stories, illustrations, and essays.

Dear Mom,

When Dad was in the last years of Alzheimer’s, remember how I used to search for very short writing contests that would help us “keep the pen moving” during that hard time?  I remember finding a flash fiction contest—a story or poem of no more than 200 words—and since I was coming to visit you several weeks later, when I told you about it over the phone, we agreed to each have an entry ready for the contest when I arrived.

I wrote an odd dream-like story—it was 199 words, counting the title–and you wrote several Haiku poems on one topic and called it a narrative Haiku; your word total was something like 87 words. Neither of us entered the contest, but we had great fun reading our writing attempts to each other.  At your suggestion, we even “illustrated” our stories with colored pencils and crayons, which was really a hoot.

Sometimes that’s what writing is: accepting a challenge or pursuing an idea, doing the writing and rewriting, meeting a deadline, and then celebrating the process alone or with a fellow writer. You and I celebrated by going to the White Grill and laughing over coconut cream pie…and we also brought back pieces for Dad and his caregiver, even though they hadn’t written anything.  We were feeling generous.

Even though you like to have me read to you, Mom, you’re not interested in writing any more. But I still perk up every time I find a short-word-count writing contest with no entry fee and a great prize for the winner.  And guess what I found last week?  A 10-word writing contest!  Really!  How hard can it be, writing ten words? (Not easy, actually. They have to be the right words, but come on, step up to the plate, batters!)

I love the premise.  Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a short story of fewer than ten words. His was only six words:  For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

When I taught my Writing To Publish classes for high school seniors, I assigned them to write their own six-to-ten word short stories.  Some really loved the challenge. Others hated it.

Love it or hate it, it’s a creative mind-boggling, teeth gritting, writing activity.  It’s a challenge.

Gotham Writers is again offering its 10-word short story contest.  Last year’s winner was Ingrid Bohnenkamp of Springfield, MO.:  The city burned. Alice lit up, watched. She’d quit later.  One of the finalists I really enjoyed was by Dan Moreau of Chicago: The inmate always called, wrote back, easily her best boyfriend.

The entries are submitted online by May 5, 2014, so you don’t even have to pay postage. There’s also no entry fee.  Only one entry per person.  For full details and prize:

http://www.writingclasses.com/ContestPages/10W.php

What do you think, Mom, will any of our friends enter the contest? I hope so.  It’s not like they have anything to lose, and there is a lot to gain. If they do the work and meet their deadline, they can go out and treat themselves—and maybe their friends who also entered—to coconut cream pie!

"10 words" ~ written in Colorado snow.  It's been a long winter... ;)

“10 words” ~ written in Colorado snow. It’s been a long winter…

Ten Words?  That's the number of fingers on two hands. Count'em. You can write ten words?

Ten Words? That’s the number of fingers on two hands. Count’em. You can write ten words!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, writing exercises

WHAT WE SEE

Abandoned farm house. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Abandoned farm house. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

detroit house

log cabins

Dear Mom,

During a trip to Colorado Springs many years ago, you visited my high school English classes.  In one class we were beginning Transcendentalism, and I wrote this quote on the board: “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau 

I displayed pictures of houses—very old, decrepit houses—and told the students to choose one and write for ten minutes about what they saw and what might have happened there.  Sitting in the back of the room, you lifted a little notebook from your purse, closed your eyes and thought for a moment, then took a breath and began to write.

When the students shared what they’d written, the usual responses ranged from eerily sad tales to creepy horror scenes.  Much later you showed me the beginning of the free verse you’d written that day. Eventually it became a full narrative poem, but here’s what you wrote in the early draft:

Gone from the warped and bare front porch

The soft weary voices of evening—

And the steady creak of the porch swing

As weary ones rest from their labors,

Relax from the plow and the washboard.

 

Great are the secrets you hold there,

And the love that was whispered in evening.

But gone are your voices forever,

As the broken glass of the windows,

And the rusted spring at the screen door.

                   From “Lonely House” by Mary E. Shepherd 

I post this for your friends and family, Mom, and especially for your great-grandchildren who would otherwise never know your feelings about farm life in the 1920-30’s, and the beauty you found in simple daily events.  What you wrote is a reminder of your gentle and hopeful spirit.

_____________________________

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  ~Confucius

“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.”  ~C.S. Lewis

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”  ~ Sir John Lubbock, English writer and archaeologist

pink tree blossoms

pink house

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, lessons about life, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing exercises

WHAT–AND HOW–WE WRITE

I require rescue

Help poster

Dear Mom,

Years ago, for your birthday I took you to a writers’ conference. We were walking around before the first session, checking out the bookstore and getting cold drinks. Posted on a wall was a hand written announcement about an upcoming workshop titled “Comming Soon…How To Improve Your Writting.” Yes, coming and writing were misspelled. And it’s was misused for its, plus some other mistakes.  You were so embarrassed for whoever had made the poster. I agreed, but I also didn’t want to point it out in front of others.  So we waited, standing in front of it and blocking the mistakes. Finally a lady came by and asked if we had questions. When we learned it was her poster, we quietly pointed out the errors so she could correct them. You even offered to help.

She laughed. It had been a prop, and we were the only ones who responded.  We received our choices of journals from the bookstore. The title of her speech later was “Why Are Writers Afraid to Help Each Other?”

You could have given that speech, Mom. One of the many things I learned from you is that helping someone else succeed does not take away from our own success. I watched you help children work on their spelling, teens write essays, peers work on poems and short stories.  You could write beautiful passages, but you were also practical and succinct when that was called for. If you were stranded on an island (see above) you definitely would have used stones to write the short, clear, effective message–HELP–and then gone in search of firewood and food.

April is National Poetry Month. Last week you shared your poem, “In God We Trust,” with our blog friends.  Next week, on April 10th is Encourage A Young Writer Day. If you were still able, you’d be the first one offering to help.  But since you aren’t able, maybe some of the rest of us will step up in your place!

I love you, Mom.

Marylin

Long message posted below a stop sign.

Long message posted below a stop sign.

Gannon makes words.

Gannon makes words.

"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads."by Dr Seuss (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
by Dr Seuss (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

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

Lemons, Lessons, and a Great Writing Opportunity

Dear Mom,

I remember when we found a contest looking for true articles from people who had who faced difficult or even heartbreaking situations but somehow found the silver lining in the cloud.  They went on to make something good of the experience, and the publisher wanted to read their stories.

We both decided to try writing for the contest, but the deadline was only a few weeks away and we got sidetracked. Our best ideas actually came AFTER the deadline. We kept saying, “We should have…” and “If only we had more time…”

That was years ago when you were still actively writing. Now The Chicken Soup for the Soul series books are inviting very similar stories, but their deadline is more than 3 months away!!! That’s plenty of time to ponder ideas, write, edit and rewrite, and submit.  So, in honor of the contest you and I wanted to enter but didn’t, let’s post this terrific opportunity for all our writing friends, okay?

Okay!  Here are all the details:

Chicken Soup for the Soul:  From Lemons to Lemonade
“When life hands you lemons… make lemonade!” And don’t just make lemonade but squeeze out every last drop of juice from that sour lemon to make the sweetest lemonade possible. We are looking for true stories that show how you made the best of a challenging situation and turned it into something positive. Tell us your success stories and how you made them happen.
Here are examples of the kinds of “lemons to lemonade” stories we are imagining:
  • You got fired/laid off and discovered a new better career
  • You prevailed over an illness or medical condition and found a wonderful silver lining
  • You overcame an addiction and found new purpose
  • You lost all your money and possessions and discovered new happiness with your family
  • You went through a difficult time with your child but came out with a better relationship
  • You lost a loved one and created a non-profit that is saving lives so other people don’t go through the same loss
Please remember, we do not like “as told to” stories. Please write in the first person about yourself or someone close to you. If you ghostwrite a story for someone else we will list his or her name as the author. If a story was previously published, we will probably not use it unless it ran in a small circulation venue. Let us know where the story was previously published in the “Comments” section of the submission form. If the story was published in a past Chicken Soup for the Soul book, please do not submit it.
If your story or poem is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.
SUBMISSIONS GO TO http://chickensoup.com
Select the Submit Your Story link on the left tool bar and follow the directions.
The deadline date for story and poem submissions is February 28, 2013. 

There are many kinds of chicken soup and MANY challenging experiences and touching or surprising lessons that all of us could write about. Try this, writers!
(All photography by Marylin Warner.)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

EXACTLY THREE WORDS

Dear Mom,

As I was driving to see you in May, I listened to several interesting radio programs and talk shows. One I’ve already written about (“Mothers And Phone Sex. Really?) Another less controversial program I listened to reminded me of a writing seminar you and I attended together many years ago.

One of the speakers told the participants to practice writing tight, with as few words as possible to make the point. As a warm-up exercise, he gave us ten minutes to write as many descriptive sentences as we could. They could be descriptions of characters or locations or any of the senses, but each sentence could not be longer than ten words. The winner with the most sentences won an autographed book by the speaker. I don’t remember who won or what the sentences were. I do remember that I showed you one of my sentences and you showed me the beginning of a poem you’d decided to write instead.

The writing seminar allowed ten-word sentences. The radio program I listened to asked callers to come up with five-word messages that could become mottos or bumper stickers. One of the callers offered “Tell The Truth, You Liar” and “Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken.” Those are the ones I remember (I was driving, after all).

That afternoon while you napped in the recliner, I took out a notebook and decided to record as many three-word messages and mottos I remembered  hearing as I grew up. Here’s what I came up with:

~ from sports: “Cover your bases” and “Play to win”

~ from Dad: “Do your best,” “Figure it Out,” “You did what?” and “For Pete’s sake”

~ in general from TV or at school or with friends: “Do your homework,” “Make your point,” “Clean it up,” “Don’t you dare,”  “You wanna bet?” and “Not so fast”

~ and from you, Mom: “Say your prayers,” “Don’t give up,” “Are you sure?” and “Say you’re sorry.”

My favorite three-word message is the one that you say at the end of our telephone conversations, when, at least for awhile, you knew me and what we were talking about: “Love you, darlin’.”

Love you, Mom.

Marylin

BLOG FRIENDS:  Share your  THREE-WORD mottos or messages.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, driving laws, memories for great-grandchildren, writing, writing exercises

WRITING ON A DIME

Dear Mom,

Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught.  I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.

Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket.  He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better.  Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.

It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.

I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.

During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!”  The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.

As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.

I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers.  And doodling; doodles are good, too.

Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.

You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.

Good job, Mom!

Love, Marylin

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, teaching, writing, writing exercises