Week 1 Post 5: Playing With Words


I came to writing not through academic study (my undergraduate degree is in Spanish linguistics), but by taking classes in my San Diego community. I attended drop-in writing groups hosted by Jill Badonsky, and day-long workshops taught by Judy Reeves. I even took a few month-long classes in the community.  It was fun.

Since Sam posted her letter launching the Writers March I’ve been thinking about the JOY of writing.   While I do not at all regret getting an MFA (I learned a ton about craft and made many friends for life) at the end of it I was exhausted.  Yes, writing is work, but it can be FUN too–something I feel the MFA programs forget.  I found myself missing my community of writers in San Diego…  and missing the silly word play at drop-in writing groups, not to mention the opportunity to get to know people at a very deep level through their writing.  So I created my own drop-in writing group here in Albuquerque.

The inspiration (and the format) for my Monday Writers  drop-in session comes from  Judy Reeves and her Brown Bag sessions and Thursday Writers group in San Diego. Many of the prompts I use are inspired by (or outright stolen from) A Writer’s Book of Days (buy this book, it contains tons of writerly wisdom and a writing prompt for EVERY DAY of the year) or The Writer’s Retreat Kit.  I’m forever grateful to Judy, from whom I took my first ever writing workshop.

Another great book on writing comes from another friend, Midge Raymond:  Everyday Writing: Tips and prompts to fit your regularly scheduled life.

While I’d love to have you all attend my Monday Writers group, what I’d really like is for you to try this at home.  I’ve found that writing in this way, with a prompt and a timer, really gets the inner critic and the censor off the page and out of your head.  It allows you to dig deep into your subconscious and get at the heart of things.   Prompts can be found anywhere (including the two books mentioned):  lines from favorite books, newspaper headlines, or a myriad of websites–heck there’s probably even an app for prompts!

I set the timer for 11 minutes.  Sometimes 13 minutes.  There is something poetic about the odd numbers, the way they tilt to one side or the other.  A timer puts an added element to the exercise, a part of tricking your brain, letting the critique in you worry about the clock, so you can WRITE!

RULES FOR WRITING PROMPTS:

1) Change pronouns to fit a character you’re working on
2) Change point of view to fit your story
3) Take one word from the prompt and run with that
4) Ignore the prompt all together! JUST WRITE
5) It’s okay to write CRAP! write messy sentences lush with grammar errors and spelling mistakes

The point is to get the pen moving, get the mind working, and get the creative juices flowing!!

6) There really are no rules– just WRITE

AN EXAMPLE

I like to write words on paint chips (see image above) a trick I learned from Judy…. those words make good prompts too.  At the last Monday Writers, we each selected a word that we were drawn to. Then I made everyone pass the word to the person on his/her right.  I gave up the word “FRONT PORCH” and received the word “OFFER” and here’s what I came up with:

It was an offering.

An offer she couldn’t refuse

The offer was on the table.

How many cliches can I think of that include the word “offer” ?

Special offer.

An offering, a sacrifice. She’d wished she’d  offered him more. Maybe he would have stayed.

There it was. The offer. How strange is it that “offal” has two Fs like “offer” but animal innards, no matter how deliciously prepared, would never be something she would offer anyone.

I wish I kept the word “front porch”. I could write about sitting on the front port, watching the world go by–even if technically it was a balcony and I was on the 2nd floor, which assured I’d not make eye contact with passers by. I’d keep myself removed from city life.

I could write about that weird bald guy who often wore a pink shirt and sat on the front porch of our Chicago apartment building even if technically it was a low wall and not a porch and he would say “Got a match?” then add “How ’bout a toothpick?” a phrase I would later learn was some kind of Midwestern joke. And no matter how many Midwesterners tried to explain it to me….well, just because I didn’t laugh didn’t mean I didn’t get it. It wasn’t funny.

With the word “front porch” I could have written about the farm with its front porch that was technically a wrap-around porch and was far from the main road but was a good place to set a spell on a hot summer day to drink sweet tea and snap peas, take in the view of the garden….

I chose this example from my journal because I think it shows how to keep writing even when you’re stuck, how you can start out rough and end up with something in the end. You’ll notice how I kept trying to find a way IN to the word “offer” and then switched to the word “front porch” which I guess you could say was “cheating” but I would say see rule number 6.

As to what I’ll do with this? Maybe nothing. Or maybe that guy on the low wall outside our Chicago high-rise will make it into my memoir, maybe he’ll add some color, some comedic relief, some setting of the stage. Maybe I’ll turn him into a metaphor for how out of place I felt. Maybe the farm will represent a family home that I long for but that only exists in my grandma’s memory… maybe I’ll make a poem of it. The point is to have fun with words. Revision comes later.

And all that to say, set the timer for 13 minutes and use this prompt:

On the road to Nebraska….

5 thoughts on “Week 1 Post 5: Playing With Words

  1. On the road to Nebraska, my significant (and let’s be frank, she’s very significant) other woke up from her snooze, took one look around and said “for Pete’s sake, Jerry, turn around. I knew you’re directionally challenged, but I doze off for an hour and you’ve got us halfway to Lincoln!”

    Sorry, I just couldn’t keep that one to myself.

    • Bob! great response! that’s awesome Melanie! I strangely had a dream recently wherein the paint chips with words were like Tarot cards, and I could use them to tell your fortune… I wonder what it means that you have a purple “lurid” ? hmmmm.

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