Category Archives: writing exercises

WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY?

My mom's favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.

My mom’s favorite book to have read to her at bedtime.  I think it reminds her of poems and prayers from her youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the mark we leave behind?  (All photos by Marylin Warner)

What is the mark each of us will make to leave behind? (All photos by Marylin Warner)

When I visit my mom, my favorite time is at night when she’s tucked into bed, and I pull up the rocking chair and read to her. Her favorite book—the one I always read several times from start to finish—is Joan Walsh Anglund’s A LITTLE BOOK OF POEMS AND PRAYERS. Sometimes Mom naps, sometimes she smiles, and sometimes she hums along with her own rhythm to the words and poems.   All else falls away.

This is the first example on the first page of Anglund’s book. Originally the page displayed only the title, but this handwritten addition was made later:

What you do ~ What you say ~ How you work ~ How you play ~ Day by Day ~  

It all matters ~ When all is done ~ It’s what you leave behind ~ Saying who you were.

Imagine taking a philosophy class and having the professor write this quote by Aristotle on the board: “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act but a habit.” And then, instead of assigning some deep, intellectual essay to expresses the best way for individuals to live, imagine that the assignment was to write a very brief set of instructions, so simple a child could understand them. If a professor gave you this assignment, what would you write?  I’ve already shown you my simplistic answer. (Obviously, the assignment was not to write good poetry.)

August is WHAT WILL BE YOUR LEGACY? month. It’s intended to be a time for us to reflect on our past and present actions and vow to make positive changes that will affect the future and be the legacy we leave behind.

The suggestions for making the most of this month are numerous. Everything from thanking those who have made a difference in your life to “Playing The Legacy Game” and having everyone in your group tell how they would like to be remembered and what they can do to make this happen.

What you decide to do—if anything—is up to you. I’m fairly certain that if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would say that since she and Dad were married in August, everything that came out of that union—including their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, plus the business they built and the differences they made—was their legacy.

If thinking about your legacy—or writing a bad poem about what you want to leave behind—isn’t what you want to do, August has numerous other opportunities. It is also Happiness Happens Month, Boomers Making A Difference Month, and Get Ready for Kindergarten Month. You’ve already missed Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night and National Garage Sale Day (both on August 8th) and S’mores Day (August 10th), but you can go ahead and do those things anyway.

That could be your legacy…breaking the rules and doing things on the unexpected days!

P.S.  —   https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015  The link I gave for the 50-word Gotham contest had an “invisible space” (according to the very nice Gotham editor who responded to my email cry for help.)  Here is the correct one, which seems the same, but the space has been removed.   I tried it, and it works!  Jump right in and enter by the 17th!!!           black butterfly

grasshopper on leaf

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Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

There are Doors…and then there are DOORS

Door fence at Molly's

door on side w:bird cage

In architecture, protection, and decoration, doors are getting second looks…and second lives. One new trend combining all three is “door fences.”   My favorite example is pictured above.  These very old doors were given new function and appreciation as a privacy fence entrance to a charming Kansas farmhouse, built in 1881 and then restored after a tornado in 2008. Only one door actually opens and closes. Can you guess which one?  (Answer at the end of the post.)

In moments of confusion and forgetfulness, doors offer an opportunity for clarity. For instance, when you go from one room to another, intent on getting or doing something, if you can’t remember what it was, turn around and go back. Crossing the threshold of the original doorway often triggers the memory.

In life and literature, doors are metaphors for opportunities and choices.  Boris Pasternak, author of DR. ZHIVAGO, advises us to listen closely because    “…when a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.”  Actor Milton Berle’s advice is to choose our “tools” and take charge: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”  Whatever our approach, Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Be an opener of doors,” and Emily Dickinson reminds us to be open and ready: “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”

Building on the words of Emerson and Dickinson, here is a contest to open the door for a writing opportunity. The contest asks: what would be the title of a book written about your life—and then made into a movie? This is not a time to be serious or profound.  Interesting titles that make the judges smile, or even laugh, will have an advantage.  For instance, here’s a sample idea of a title and tag line from the contest judges: A LITTLE OFF THE TOP ~ One man’s struggle with male pattern baldness.

There’s no entry fee; length is a maximum of 50 words total for title and tag. The online deadline is August 17 (come on, you aren’t actually writing a book or movie script; have some fun with this!). The winner will be posted in early September, and the prize is the online Gotham writing class of your choice. This is open to everyone. https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/movie-of-your-life-contest-2015 

Charles Dickens wrote: “A very little key will open a very heavy door.” Try this contest and see if a very few words will gain you a very good prize.

(Answer to the question in the first paragraph: The door that actually opens and closes is not the door on the side, next to the bird cage. It’s the white door with the glass pane.)

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

Look closely at doors and keep them in perspective. What do you see in this door picture?

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are much shorter and more narrow, almost child size.  (all photos by Marylin Warner)

The door on the left is regular size; the door and little window on the right are actually much shorter and more narrow, almost child size. (all photos by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, special quotations, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

CHOOSING WILBUR

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch  (Wikipedia photo)

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch (Wikipedia photo)

CIDAR HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving.

CIDER HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving

Many years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s distracted my mom’s writing, and then her own dementia stopped the writing altogether, she had an idea for an adult short story. Prior to that, she’d written children’s stories and poetry.

The idea for the story grew out of an actual event, a hurtful situation caused by a member of the family, and it had nagged at Mom for a long time. She wanted to write it just for herself—to sort it out and get it off her chest, like writers sometimes do—but in case it was ever accidentally found, she wanted to use a fictional location and names for the characters.

Many of the writers in my classes use books of baby names, search telephone books for name ideas, or read headstones at cemeteries.  Another way to study names for characters is read a lot of stories and novels.

Author John Irving’s books contain a variety of fictional characters’ names: Garp, Egg, Owen Meany, Piggy Sneed, etc. One of my favorite Irving novels, CIDER HOUSE RULES, features Dr. Wilbur Larch’s orphanage for children whose mothers did not come to him for abortions, but ended up abandoning their babies after giving birth.

One of the babies who was unsuccessfully adopted several times had been named Homer by Dr. Larch. As an adult, Homer helped choose names for other orphan babies, so the book is full of names. One charming practice at the orphanage is Dr. Larch reading aloud to the orphan boys each night, and closing with this tribute: “Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” I suspected Mom would choose one of the female characters’ names for her story, and if her story had included a male, she might also have considered the name Wilbur.

If I had a son, I would not name him Wilbur. But through good writing and story telling, I have appreciation for the name. In E.B. White’s 1952 classic, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, the barn spider’s friend is Wilbur the pig.  Wm. Joyce’s book, A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON, is about a twelve-year-old searching for a pair of false teeth. And then there’s Wilbur Wright, co-inventor and co-pilot of the first successful airplane.

Even though the dementia has erased the story Mom wrote and the search for alternate names, I close this post with a tribute to her: “Good night, you princess of Kansas, you queen of kind living and gentle lessons.”

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig.  His name?  Wilbur.  Their advice:

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig. His name? Wilbur. Their advice: “Don’t get too close. He’s hungry.”

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

‘Bye, Santa…Hello, PC Writing Contest

Say good-bye to Santa as he loads up his RV to go on vacation. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Say good-bye to Santa as he loads up his RV to go on vacation. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

 

 

Say hello to pioneer-style RV travel.  What story would you write about this?

Say hello to pioneer-style RV travel. What story would you write about this? (Is woman’s work ever done?)

After I moved my parents to an assisted living apartment (he had Alzheimer’s, she was showing signs of dementia), I began telling Mom about unusual writing contests. We didn’t have to actually enter the contests; the goal was to use the guidelines as writing prompts, and also to encourage her to talk about ideas and keep writing.

In the spirit of post-holiday writing, here is a real contest opportunity that also makes a great writing prompt. The PC does not stand for Politically Correct (haven’t we had enough of anything to do with politics?) The PC is for POST CARD Story Writing Contest, and writers can use any post card and then write up to a 500-word story about the cover.

The deadline for The Geist Literal Literary Post Card Story Contest is Feb. 1, 2015, and entries can be made online. The cash prizes are $500, $250, and $150, and this Canadian contest is open to ALL writers everywhere. For full guidelines, details and examples of past winners:   http://www.geist.com/contests/postcard-contest/  

Another contest for All writers is the Narrative Travel Writing Contest/2015. There is no entry fee, and the first prize is $500 for a creative narrative entry about a great travel suggestion: http://www.transitionsabroad.com/information/writers/travel_writing_contest.shtml

If I were still using writing contests as prompts for my Mom, I would show her the postcards below and ask her to make up stories.  For the Dust Bowl, maybe she would tell a story about mothers putting wet sheets over the insides of windows and doors to keep children from choking on the blowing dust.  Of if I showed her the post card about cowboys taking a Saturday night bath in a pond, she might make up a funny story.

The post card of another Kansas personality, President Ike Eisenhower, shows him talking to the troops in WWII. What fictional conversation would you write to create a story?  

As we approach the beginning of a new year—with new opportunities for writing, creating, sharing our ideas and talents—remember that sometimes practice writing can blossom into excellent entries in writing contests.  Plus, practice writing keeps us thinking, and when we’re actively thinking, it’s a good way to keep our minds active.

A Saturday night bath in a pond? There's a story somewhere in this card.

A Saturday night bath in a pond? There’s a story somewhere in this card.

 

How will your characters protect themselves against a Dust Bowl?

How will your characters protect themselves against a Dust Bowl?

Could they be talking about something other than war?  Write the story.

Could they be talking about something other than war? Write the story.

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, paying writing opportunities, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises

A MAGIC COMBINATION

"Red Hot Jello" (also known by other names.  All pictures by Marylin Warner.)

“Red Hot Jello” (also known by other names. All pictures by Marylin Warner.)

 

Federico Fellini said, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

Maybe he was right, but this soon after Thanksgiving, I suggest you try a different combination: a Red Hot Coke recipe, and a no-entry-fee-but-cash-prizes mini-writing contest.

First the recipe. This is easy, everyone loves it, and it’s been a favorite in our family for a very long time. We don’t remember who first shared it, and we’re not even sure what the actual name is. My grandchildren call it “Red Hot Coke Salad” and “Cinnamon Bubble Salad,” and the picture is above.

Here’s the ultra-easy recipe:

Pour one cup boiling water over one large pkg. of Cherry Jello mixed with 1 cup of red hot candies

Whisk or stir until mixed completely together

Add 1 cup of very cold water and 1 cup of chilled applesauce (we like chunky) and stir well

Stir in one-half cup of cold Coke (or Pepsi)   Pour into a bowl and refrigerate

You can stop here and it’s VERY good. You can make it AMAZING by adding Cool Whip–use creamy.

When the Jello mixture is starting to set up, stir in ½ of a small container of softened Cool Whip and put the mixture back in the refrigerator. When it’s all set up, smooth the other ½ container of Cool Whip across the top.   Serve to rave reviews.

Now that you’re energized, jump right into a very short, make-yourself-think-and-take-a-challenge writing contest. Remember several months ago when I published a blog that included a 10-word-max. writing contest. (Remember Hemingway’s 6-word story: “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never Used.”)

Well this contest gives you much more room to write. Create a piece of prose between 20 words and 40 words that tells, shows or evokes a complete story idea. Oh, and anywhere in the story–just once and ONLY ONCE–use the word “refrigerator.” 

Oh, wow! This ties in with the refrigerated Jello recipe, too! Is that serendipity or what?

The salad can be served any time. The story deadline (submitted online) is next Friday, December 5, before midnight (Eastern Time). No entry free. Cash prizes. Details at: www.OnThePremises.com

Before her dementia, this is the kind of the thing Mom and I used to do long-distance.  Now she’ll still love the Jello, but she won’t know who I am or that I fixed it. And she’s not writing any more, not even 20 words. But I’m doing both the Red Hot Coke Salad and the mini-writing contest, and I hope you’ll try either one—or both—with me!

One of my mother’s favorite writers, Erma Bombeck, once said, “I am not a glutton ~ I am an explorer of food.”   What a magic combination: exploring both food and writing opportunities!

 

Another thanks to the Brits for the "Keep Calm" philosophy; I say "have a cupcake and WRITE!"

Another thanks to the Brits for the “Keep Calm” philosophy; I say “have a cupcake and WRITE!”

Need something besides Red Hot Jello to buzz you up for writing?  Stay calm and try cherry-Cherry-chocolate-fudeg cupcakes!

Need something besides Red Hot Jello to buzz you up for writing? Stay calm and try Cherry-chocolate-fudge cupcakes!

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, special quotations, writing, writing contest with cash prizes, 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