Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Inspiration... For Writers!

by Rhonda Browning White

You’ve heard me say before that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do, however, believe in writer’s laziness, writer’s excuses and writer’s procrastination. I’ll agree—albeit grudgingly—that you might sometimes need inspiration in order to put fresh words on paper. When you feel you have nothing to write about, often it’s because your internal censor is telling you that you can’t write. You have nothing to say. Well turn that sucker off, and stop letting it run your life! Seek a tiny bit of stimulation, and start stringing words on paper. You don’t have to attempt a bestseller today; you simply need to encourage ideas to flow from inspiration. You may ask where you can find that inspiration. (You’re kidding me, right)? It’s all around you! If you feel the brain-pipes are clogged, here are a few ideas and prompts to get the ink flowing, again.

Newspapers –

  • Pick up any random newspaper and write down three headlines. Any three will do. Now link these headlines into a (somewhat) cohesive story. Hint: Tabloids can provide crazy story ideas that just might turn into a saleable piece!

  • Look at a photo in the newspaper, but don’t read the caption. Write your own caption for the picture, as if you were in that photographed scene. Now write the article to go with the caption.
  • Circle twelve random words from different articles or advertisements in the newspaper. Write them down. Now write a short-short story using all of those words.

What if? –

  • You wake up in jail. How did you get there, and why? Who will you call—and who will you hide this incident from?
  • You open a box and find something that will change your life forever. What is it? Tell the story.
  • Your character is a really bad guy. Really bad. But today, he knows he’ll never again commit another crime. How did he come to this point, and what was his wake-up call?
  • Your character is a near-perfect person. Today she commits a felony. What happened?

From literature –

  • Pick any scene from Shakespeare and re-write it with modern characters in your hometown. Think of the story of Hamlet occurring in downtown Boston.
  • Mesh a modern-day story with an old fairy tale. For instance, a friend wrote a hilarious story of “Forrest Gump and the Seven Dwarfs.”
  • Write down the first line of any novel. Now use it to begin a new, completely different story.

Other sources –

  • Choose a scene from one of your own stories. Write it from a different character’s point of view.
  • Look in the Yellow Pages for any random company, and think of the career of a person who works for that company. Write a scene based on their job.
  • Think of a song you enjoy and read the lyrics. Now write a story based around those lyrics.
  • Think about a rumor you have heard. Change the names and setting, then write the story.

I encourage you to try at least one writing prompt each week, even if you’re in the middle of writing a novel or nearing the end of your memoir. Often when you allow your creative mind to switch gears and play with something different, new ideas will form that can enliven your current work. Consider writing prompts your “throw away” work. Don’t worry about revision as you write—just write! If the story turns out to be amazingly good, and this will happen from time to time, then you can go back later and tighten, revise and build upon the initial draft. And when you’re ready for an edit or proofread, you know where to find us!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Slice of Writer's Life: Stress Less

Stress Less
Joy Held
Writer Wellness, A Writer's Path to Health and Creativity
Who Dares Wins Publishing

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
Chinese proverb

Writer Wellness workshop participants always have a wide range of suggestions for what it means to relax. Reading, video games, bubble baths, sleeping, and listening to music are popular ideas for down time to many people. One definition of relaxation is “to obtain an equilibrium state.” Relaxation in a pragmatic sense is the ability to align oneself with the chaos of life and to appreciate a new level of acceptance as the result. A conscious process of mindful relaxation should create a sense of security that spills over into all the areas of life.

Essentially, relaxation is gently guiding the mind from several thoughts to just a few, directed thoughts. Relaxation techniques are usually very simple and involve physical stillness, mental focus, and attention to breathing. Meditation is main stream now as the health industry is expressing support of a practice that thousands of individuals throughout history have known relieves physical and mental stress.

“The Relaxation Response” is a phrase and a book based on the work of Harvard physician, Herbert Benson, M.D. The 1975 publication explained how Benson studied the brains and nervous systems of people during a state of meditation and determined that all humans are capable of calling up the relaxation response at will. With a few simple steps, the ability to rest the mind, body, and breath is within easy reach of everyone. Benson’s process lists these requirements:

“From those age-old techniques we have extracted four basic components necessary to bring forth that response,
(1) A quiet environment
(2) A mental device
(3) A passive attitude
(4) A comfortable position”
(The Relaxation Response, pp. 159-160)

1. “A quiet environment”: Find a secure space. If necessary, notify others in the house that you want some privacy and quiet for ten minutes.
2. “A mental device”: As you inhale, repeat to yourself, “Breath in.” As you exhale, repeat to yourself, “Breath out.”
3. “A passive attitude”: When your mental repetition is interrupted by other thoughts, do not follow the new thought but return to repeating the words, “Breath in, breath out.”
4. “A comfortable position”: Sit comfortably in a chair with your spine gently supported in an upright position. Don’t cross your legs. Close your eyes all or half way, whichever is the most comfortable. Identify your breath and pay close attention to its flow into and out of your body. Notice its quality (steady, shallow, or soft). Identify the parts of your body involved in the action of breathing (stomach, chest, ribs, and nostrils).

Start with five minutes a day and slowly build up to 20 minutes once a day.

Relaxation Tips

1. If possible, choose a time when you are alone in the house for better quiet.
2. Loosen tight clothing.
3. If your breath becomes choppy or difficult, stop, open your eyes then start again.
4. Keep a positive attitude.
5. Accept that it will take time to appreciate this simple practice.

Be well, write well.
copyright 2010

Blog: http://www.writerwellness.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


By Rhonda Browning White

No, I’m not talking about skirt length, but about a form of fiction that’s growing in popularity. The short-short, a.k.a., sudden fiction or flash fiction. What exactly is flash fiction, and why should you consider writing in this form?

Flash fiction varies in length from 250 to 1500 words and can be written in any genre. Instead of spending days or weeks plotting and fitting together the chapters of a novel or book, you can easily pound out a work of flash fiction in a matter of minutes. Another bonus of writing sudden fiction is that it can loosen so-called writer’s block (though I don’t believe in that condition—but that’s another article). It will cause your mind to shift gears and can often be a form of welcome relief to keep you writing while you’re taking a mental break from a longer piece of work.

Is it easy, then? Not always. The strict limits of word count will challenge you to create tighter, sharper prose. The goal of sudden fiction is to provide the reader with a flash of insight or illumination that may provoke deeper or longer thought. Even a super-short piece of fiction should have a climax and resolution to feel satisfying to the reader.

So what are some tips for creating exciting sudden fiction? Here are the basics:

  • Limit the number of characters. One or two are usually enough.
  • Use only one scene or setting. Think of a snippet of life as viewed under a microscope.
  • Include vital information only. Detailed back-story has no place in flash fiction.
  • Use sparse dialogue. Save lengthy conversations for a regular short story or novel.

It’s good to know, too, that there’s a growing market for flash fiction, so it’s a valid way for beginning and experienced writers alike to build a resume of bylines and publications. Collegiate and literary magazines like Glimmer Train Press often publish shorter fiction pieces, as do online literary journals. Romance magazines like True Story and True Romance publish dozens of short-short pieces each month. Weekly supermarket magazines like Woman’s World pay well for sudden fiction. Be on the lookout, too, for anthologies like Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories that specialize in flash fiction.

Short-short fiction will likely continue to grow in popularity, thanks to our busy and hectic microwave lifestyles. Most pieces can be read in less than a minute, but enjoyed for much, much longer. Remember, the best things often come in small packages, so try your hand at flash fiction today!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Avoid Clichés: Get Past the Mundane Use Your Brain!

by Stacy Tritt

Her face fell. Fear gripped her. She was all bent out of shape.

Clichés are everywhere. They infect our writing, and make what we thought was a fantastic, captivating piece of work… well, boring to our readers. So how can we fight the pandemic of clichés? There are several approaches to this battle. First we must know how to identify clichés. Next, we must learn to guard ourselves against them. And last, we can use the basic idea of a cliché against itself in order to eradicate it. Here’s how:

Many of you may be wondering, how can I tell whether something is a cliché? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to find out:

1. Have you read those words or actions in the same context you are writing them in before? If your answer is yes, then the phrase is either cliché—or you’re plagiarizing. Either way, you want to avoid it.

2. Can the words you’re writing be considered a common figure of speech? For instance, in “her face fell,” did her face really fall, as in trip, tumble, or slide off of her head? Of course not! That would mean something entirely different. It’s a figure of speech, one that the majority of English speakers know, and is therefore considered a writing cliché. A good technique to get rid of clichés from your writing is to go back and read your work aloud so you can better recognize whether or not you have heard a specific phrase before.

So, you’ve found the clichés in what you’ve already written, and you’re ready to move on, but you want to break the habit of naturally writing clichés into your work. But how? Second guess yourself. If the words flow from your fingers like you didn’t even have to think about them, then chances are you didn’t, because you already know the words you’re writing, because they are cliché. Clichés are often the result of writing the way we speak in everyday life. The problem with this is that people don’t want to be told things they already know, they want to read what you have to say because it is exciting, and lets them see the world (whether this one, or a world you created) in a fresh, new way in which they’ve never seen something before. The hard part is giving them that fresh new take on the world.

One great technique to eradicate clichés is to use them—but not as they are. Take the cliché that is giving you problems, and change it to make it surprising and different; something the reader can’t see coming. Something that makes it your own. Here are a few examples:

“Her face fell” could become “His words shoved the smile right off of her cheeks.”

“Fear was gripping her” could become “Fear embraced her like a small child who refused to let go.”

And “She was getting all bent out of shape” could become “Her rage peaked at a new high, forcing all other emotion from her body and bending her once soft demeanor into a callous giant.”

Actions and reactions can also be cliché. Something scary happens when the storm begins, or a fight between lovers ends with a huge, sappy kiss. In those cases, do you really want your reader to know what will happen before they experience it on your page? I don’t think so. What is the point of reading? Throw in a few twists, lead them down one road, then force them to take another. Get past the mundane, and use your brain! As Nathanial Hawthorne once said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” You just have to have to keep trying until you get it right.