Category Archives: writing exercises

DOUBLE LIVING

seasons-of-my-self-book

 

 

The message I wrote to my mom inside the blank writing book I gave to her.

(The message I wrote to my mom inside the blank writing book I gave to her.)

Christmas of 1976, I gave my mother an Abbey Press writing book titled SEASONS OF MYSELF.  Through the years, she penned several stories on the blank pages of her book, including one story about “Marrying The Right Man.”   In it she changed the names and some details, but the emotional truths stayed the same.   This was long before her dementia, and she had a talent for writing honest, compelling tales.

Mom had told me of her junior year in college, when two very different but equally wonderful young men wanted to marry her.   In the end, she of course chose the man who later became my father, but a great deal of solitary thought and prayer—and wondering What If?—had gone into her decision.   Reading the story and remembering her process taught me to pause with my own writing ideas and spend time considering the many possibilities of “What if?”

In response to her story, I asked myself what if Mom had chosen the “other guy”?   How would her life story have been different?   And what would have been my story, the stories of her grandchildren and great-grand-children…and so on? What if?  Hmm.

( What If?)

       ( What If?)

On the back cover of the “Write your Own Book,” the publisher offers suggestions for uses and also shares quotes of famous writers. My mother put two check marks by Catherine D. Bowen’s quote: “Writing is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living.”   Later in the journal Mom wrote that quote again and defined it this way:  “Double does not mean double dealing or double cross, but in having twice the usual size, strength, consideration and power for understanding.”

September 28th is “Ask A Stupid Question Day.”   Instead, maybe we should ask a smart question—What If?—and then write our own responses so we can experience the best kind of double living.

(The back cover of uses and quotes printed on the writing book, SEASONS of MYSELF)

(The back cover of uses and quotes printed on the writing book, SEASONS of MYSELF)

Top picture: Me holding Molly as a baby. Lower picture: Molly holding her baby, Grace.  What If? my mother had married the other guy?

Top picture: Me holding Molly as a baby.  Lower picture: Molly holding her baby, Grace. What If? my mother had married the other guy?

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, special quotations, writing exercises

Writing RAZZIE Titles

Everything I Knos about women

 

 

Does God Ever Speak

 

Last week’s post offered four No Fee, Cash Prize writing contests.  This week’s post shares a fun (and funny) activity that can shake loose writing ideas and get you thinking of new titles and topics: Write Razzie Titles.

In the movie world, Razzies are the opposite of Academy Awards.   GRA (Golden Raspberry Awards) are given for the “worst” movies (and actors, directors, etc.)   There’s no accounting for choices. A good example is Neil Diamond, nominated for both a Golden Globe award for best actor, and a Razzie for worst actor, for the same 1980’s movie THE JAZZ SINGER.

Just for the fun of it, this week try creating a book, short story or poem title that could win a Razzie award.   Years ago my mother was visiting when I was teaching  this activity in one of my Writing To Publish classes for high school students.  She had a great time—and a lot of laughs—with some of the students’ “bad” titles.   Then when they traded titles and wrote the opening lines for another student’s title, the ideas really took shape.   This activity is definitely  a nonthreatening  way to shake loose the cobwebs and fear of writing and come up with creative prompts and writing exercises that lead to real projects.

Oh, how I wish Mom’s dementia would float away so she could again laugh at these titles and maybe even write possible first lines. Because her dementia refuses to budge, I’ll share these actual book titles with you and see what you come up with.

Have fun! (And then get down to business and write.)

 

Invisible DickMommy Drinks

How to Raise your IQ

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, writing, writing exercises

IT HAS TO MAKE SENSE

 

Zen wriing

 

 

mind's eye pencil

 

Many of you know from other posts that before my mother’s dementia, she and I used to make a game of finding and entering writing contests.   We learned these basic writing lessons along the way: 1) writing to the guidelines of a contest keeps you thinking and practicing your skill;   2) even if you don’t win or place in the contest, you’ll have a completed story that you can build on and submit elsewhere; and   3) no writing effort is ever wasted, and you might be surprised where this effort will lead.

This week I’m posting four writing contests that have NO ENTRY FEE but offer Cash Prizes and/or publication. No matter where you reside or what your age or writing experience, there is at least one contest for you!

First, here are two fiction reminders.   Writer, producer and director Joss Whedon says: “You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, and you find out who they really are.”   And sci-fi writer Iain Banks adds, “The trouble with writing fiction is that it has to make sense, whereas real life doesn’t.”

Now the contests:

INTERGENERATION SHORT STORY CONTEST sponsored by Intergeneration Foundation: http://intergenerationmonth.org/enter-the-contest/   No genre restrictions; electronic submissions by 9/30/2016;   400 words maximum, international eligibility. Awards: $500, $300, $200

KEY WEST LITERARY SEMINAR EMERGING WRITER AWARDS sponsored by Key West Literary Seminar for short fiction, novel excerpts, and individual poems. http://www.kwls.org/awards/emerging-writer-awards/ Electronic submission deadline 9/12/2016 Top awards $500   US writers

SUNDAY TIMES EFG SHORT STORY AWARD, sponsored by Society of Authors. Guidelines at http://shortstoryaward.co.uk/   All fiction genres, story length maximum 6,000 words, submit postal and electronic, international eligibility for writers of all levels, age 18 and older with publication experience in UK.   Deadline 9/29/16   Top winner £30,000

REAL SIMPLE: LIFE LESSONS Essay Contest (this could also make a good writing prompt or journal topic) on this theme: “What was the most dramatic change you ever had to make?” 1,500 words max   US writers www.realsimple.com/lifelessonscontest      Prizes: $3,000, $750, $500  Submit electronic submissions by 9/19/2016

Based on previous writing posts, you know you can try writing your rough drafts with your left hand, your right hand, or mirror writing in crayons or chalk.   Just choose a contest or topic and give it a try. And if you know of other contests and writing opportunities, please share them with us.hey you, get busy

Itypewriter MG_3621

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, life questions, paying writing opportunities, special quotations, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

Right, Left…or Mirror?

Basic cursive writing worksheet

 

August 13 is Left Handers’ Day, a time for South Paws to celebrate their talents.  Left-handedness is more common in twins than in singles, and overall left-handed people are also usually more physically balanced.  Although lefties were once believed to be cursed and have direct links to evil, now it’s obvious that they have an advantage in sports like basketball, tennis, fencing and boxing.

Studies have also shown that even temporary “practice” activities that make lefties use their right hands and righties use their left hands is a good challenge and also encourages creativity and clearer thinking.  For a real challenge, also try “Mirror Writing,” which is reversed writing that resembles ordinary writing reflected in a mirror.   Emergency vehicles like ambulances often have their identification also written in mirror writing so drivers can look in their rear-view mirrors and read it clearly.

Ambulance in mirror writing

In the movie (and the book) THE SHINING, Danny writes REDRUM, which is murder in mirror writing, and in MEMENTO “facts” are tattooed on Leonard’s chest so he can read them in reflection.   Episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Scooby-Doo” have used it, too.

I was printing words and coloring ambidextrously when I started first grade.  The teacher hit my hand with a ruler and said I had to choose which hand I would use…and my choice had to be right-handed because the world was set up for right-handed use.  (This teacher retired at the end of that year.)

So at school I became only right handed, and it seemed to be working out fine…until at home and on the sly I began mirror writing.  I’m still grateful that my mom did not make a big deal of this or tell me I had to stop. Instead, she got me chalk to write in mirror writing on the sidewalk, and she also asked me to write stories in mirror writing so she could learn to read it.   After awhile I decided I was happy using it as a game and I went on to other things.

August 16 is National Tell A Joke Day.   I’m including this special day because of the comments made on last week’s blog post about the time I took my mother to her senior exercise class where the favorite activity was doing the Hokey Pokey.

UK blogger Jenny Pellet wrote that “Here we call it ‘Hokey Cokey,’” which still has me smiling.  And Colorado writer Nancy Parker Brummett shared this: “When the inventor of the Hokey Pokey died, they had trouble getting him in the coffin. They put his right foot in but then his left foot came out!”  She had me taking this seriously until the final line of the joke!  Thank you, Jenny and Nancy, for sharing these with us. On August 16 we should all tell a joke to make others laugh. The world definitely needs more good laughter.

try your hand at mirror writing

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Special days in July and August, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

What’s Your Title?

books for writing

 

FDR in wheelchair

 

Van Gogh's chair

One of the “thinking activities” I used before my mother’s dementia worsened was to take her out for a ride in the sunshine and play the TITLE GAME.  We’d choose objects or something we saw along the way—as an example here, I’m using pictures of chairs—and we’d take turns creating a title for a poem or story that might be written about it.

For instance, the picture above of FDR in a wheelchair might inspire a title for a children’s story, while the picture of Van Gogh’s chair might end up with a title about the person who had sat there posing for a painting.  If Mom was reluctant, I would ask questions like  “But what if–?” and soon she was laughing and creating all kinds of titles…to earn her the prize of an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen. (Bribery was an honorable technique if it inspired her  to participate.)

I once read a journaling prompt about the importance of “thinking in titles” as an exercise in discovering what you really think or feel about something.   Supposedly, if you keep a diary or a journal, when you write a TITLE  about that day’s entry before you begin writing, it will direct the details and give the entry a focus and insight you might otherwise overlook.

Think about books that began with one title but after revisions and rethinking, the final copy ended up with a very different title.  For instance, Jacqueline Susann’s book THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS began as THEY DON’T BUILD STATUES TO BUSINESSMEN.   John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN was first titled SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED.   1984 by George Orwell was originally titled THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE, and William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY began as TWILIGHT (and it didn’t even have vampires and werewolves).

Imagine you have one minute to create a title for a book or story about your life, or a novel about the year something unusual or life-changing happened. One minute is all it takes, and you’ll win a Dairy Queen ice cream cone…or something you really want. What would your title be?

chair tee-shirt simplify

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Filed under art, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, writing exercises

THE ICE INITIATIVE

Play Your Strong Suit

 

typewriter w: 4 hands

 

 

Picture this: the day after school lets out for the summer, a twelve-year-old daughter whines and complains she has nothing to do. The mother takes an envelope out of her purse. It’s filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines, and handwritten notes on scraps of papers. “Here it is,” she says, waving a piece of newsprint. “We’ll do this!”

The “this” is a contest looking for the best original Helpful Hint; the postmarked deadline is that very day, and the first prize is $50. She smoothes the rumpled newsprint on the kitchen table and says, “I’ll enter if you will.” And then as her daughter sits there moaning, the mother pours them glasses of tea and opens a tray of ice from the freezer. As she adds ice to the glasses, one cube falls onto the table.

The daughter looks at the cube and sighs. “I’ll try doing it, but only until that ice cube melts. And then I’ll quit and do something else.”

By the middle of the afternoon the ice cube has long been water on the table, and the girl and her mother are laughing and taking turns at the typewriter. The mother’s entry is about keeping an envelope full of contest opportunities so that whenever she needs something fun or different to try, the envelope holds the answer.

The daughter’s entry is called “Before The Ice Melts,” and it’s a simple timer. Before an ice cube melts, any boring, must-do responsibility or chore must be accomplished. Or if a babysitter wants to keep rowdy kids in line, all they have to do is sit at a table with an ice cube on a napkin in the center and do their homework or read a book or work on something without talking…but only until it melts.

The mother and daughter are both excited and telling jokes as they finish typing their entries (the daughter can only two-finger hunt-and-peck type, so it takes awhile), and then they fold their entries and put them in envelopes. They have twenty minutes to get to the post office, so while the daughter gets the stamps, the mother goes to get the entry information and address.

The rumpled square from the newspaper is gone! They search everywhere—the kitchen counters and drawers, under the table, in the typewriter room and even the bathroom—as the clock ticks.   The post office closes, and they still haven’t found it.

“Thanks, Mom,” the daughter thinks more than fifty years later, “for losing the address and ruining my chance to write the Great Ice Cube Initiative and become famous.”

But she smiles as she thinks this, wishing her wonderful, idea-rich mother had somehow sidestepped dementia and could laugh with her now as they watch ice cubes melt and talk about all the fun ideas they created together.

what deadline

ice cube on plate

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing, writing exercises

A Word To Tackle: TOSKA

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

 

 

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

For Mother’s Day one year, I gave Mom a deck of cards for writers.  52 cards, not for playing poker or bridge or any card game, but for picking a writing prompt.  The idea was to “play your best hand” and write without stopping for fifteen minutes.

Mom laughed at the first prompt card she drew from the deck.  It said to write for fifteen minutes about where a lost child might be found.  “That’s too easy,” she said. “My first place to look for Marylin would be the library.”

I love libraries, especially very old, small libraries that smell of floor wax and have wide, tall windows and comfortable chairs scattered around the stacks of books. One of my favorite quotes about a library comes from Albert Einstein: “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”   I first saw this quote boldly printed on a map of the town of Chautauqua, New York.   The map was posted on the bulletin board of the Smith Memorial Library, and someone had used a marker to make an X where the library was: “You are here. Make the Most of It.”

Library bulletin boards are fascinating sources of information. Last week when I returned some library books, there were coupons for the nearby coffee shop, note cards with job opportunities, and contact numbers for poets looking to start a group. There was also one yellow card thumb-tacked to the board, with the word TOSKA printed in large letters.

Below the word TOSKA, in smaller printing was this message: “Among other things, Toska means melancholy, anguish, boredom, nostalgia, homesickness, sorrow, loneliness. If you know someone who suffers from one or more of these maladies, you can help heal them with a visit, a kind word, the touch of your hand on theirs as you listen to them talk about themselves and something they once treasured.”

I read this message again, almost feeling my mother’s presence.   If it weren’t for her dementia—and even though I doubted she had ever heard the word Toska—I knew she had helped many others by sitting beside them, holding their hands and listening.  Take that, Toska!       

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Make the Most of itMG_5559

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing exercises