Posted tagged ‘writing exercises’

To Drafts! Revisions! Community! Poetry! Wine!

October 12, 2011


Kind of a funny evening after a very tense day.  The tension I think was chemical–well, partly–modern life is so so busy it makes for tension even in the near comatose.  (Also, in this day and age, if you are lucky enough to be employed, you tend to have an awful lot to do.)  But I also took an herb this morning, Gingko Biloba, which is meant to protect against brain dulling, but I think, in my case, may have caused brain hypersensitivity.

Then came the evening, which was subsumed in several long and worrisome telephone calls.  The great part of having aging parents is having aging parents; the difficult part is having aging parents.  The great certainly far outweighs the difficult, but where there is a significant risk of loss, there is the significant fear of loss.

And then, for some reason, I started looking through old draft poems that are on this blog, but virtually in no other file of mine.  Although I spent some energy on the drafts on the days I wrote each of them, I then virtually forgot about most of them, never refining, editing or even looking at them.

But tonight, perhaps because I should be working overtime on something else, all those unfinished poems suddenly beckoned.

Partly, this interest in old drafts has been sparked by my recent involvement in various online poetry websites and blogs, which really has been very inspiring.

The  glass of wine I had with dinner also seemed to make the call of these old draft poems somewhat more eloquent.

Still!  To old notebooks!  Drafts! Unfinished manuscripts!  Poetry blogs!   (Here here!)

Nanowrimo Update – The Saving Sidelong Glance – Tips For the Headlong

November 23, 2010

What's Going On There?

Like Pearl, I have great faith in the sidelong glance.

When her legs are working, she uses it mid-charge, mid-frolic.  It’s a feint.  She darts to one side and then another, then absolutely stops, her gaze fixed at an intense angle away, then whoosh, starts up again in what seems (to her, at least) an unanticipated direction.

When the legs are stiff, there’s the more passive sidelong glance.  This one that comes from the apparently resting Pearl, the glance that secretly watches the kitchen, always always always on the look-out for the opening of the fridge door, and then, for that distinctive swoop of cheese.

What I’m talking about here are ideas.  How to get them when novelling, especially when doing headlong unplanned novelling; when in other words, you are stalled.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a bit stuck in my “novel”; the bi-furcated plot refusing to “unfurcate,”  my two sets of characters on separate, unfeeling, trajectories–never, it seemed, would the twain meet.

And then, finally, yesterday having just passed through the old Helmsley building trying to shut out the sounds of UPS’s morphed version of “That’s Amore”, having just congratulated myself on my maturity for not checking my email when walking–I glanced it: the connection–closer than Kevin Bacon–and more importantly, with emotional heft.

I kept walking, not really daring to think–well, of course, I was thinking furiously–like Pearl darting around, but all the time also trying to keep my peripheral mental vision clear.

Sidelong ideas creep over the edges of consciousness unexpectedly,  the “eureka” moment often surprisingly off-point.


  1. If you want an idea to swoop down, you have to leave an open runway, that is, a brain that is not actively digitalized.
  2. When I don’t want to just wait for an idea to just swoop down, I find it helpful to think of random images of characters, and especially, dialogue.  Yes, I do go through repeated plot possibilities, but these can have a very arbitrary feel.  I am more successful (or at least excited), when I just let myself hear characters talk.   Amazingly, all kinds of flashes of people and dialogue will arrive, which are somehow “writeable” even if I don’t know yet exactly how they will fit in.
  3. It is also helpful to give characters certain physical and vocal characteristics based on people I know, even if the characters are not really like these people.  (They grow farther and farther away as the story progresses.)
  4. The sidelong doesn’t really like the “headlong” – either the rush of the intensely driven, or the overly-cerebral.   Try to be a little less pragmatic with your characters; let them have a little space, wasted time.  (Don’t tell them you may cut all of that.)

Draft Poem Process – Blocking Writer’s Block

September 15, 2010

Okay (to the regular readers of this blog), I admit that the draft poem posted at about 1 a.m. this morning is blank verse in the truest (and possibly, worst) sense of the word.  I’d like to dignify it with some epithet like Creelyesque, but I’d hate to do that to the wonderful Robert Creeley.

Instead, I’ll explain away the poem by giving it as an example of an effort to block writer’s block.  If you want to write, you have to write.  It really is as simple as that.   You have to do it without being too precious about every single result.  That’s probably an elemental rule for getting yourself to do anything creative.

Waiting for the right conditions, the right mindset, even a modicum of brain power, may put you in a queue of one forever;  if you wait for inspiration, there you might be–in the abandoned mind bakery–holding a ticket that is never called.  (Even if it is called, all those wonderful half-baked goods may have gone completely stale by the time you actually get to the counter!)

Sure, an inner voice may tell you urgently that you are  a writer, an artist, but it’s unlikely to tell you in the hurly-burly of every single day exactly what to set down.

That’s where doggedness comes in (and not necessarily the doggedness of the wiggly happy dog that greets you at the door every evening.)  It’s more like the dog that is pawing pawing pawing at the zipper of your backpack because it is sure that somewhere inside nestles a treat.   Sometimes that treat is the old remains of a bagel; sometimes it’s chocolate!

Which, I know, yes, is terrible for dogs.  (More for us.)

For the Inspirationally Challenged – Writing Exercise for Harried Poets

October 22, 2009

For those, like me, who want to write but have limited time and mental space, inspiration can be difficult to come by. 

In large part, this is a “limited mental space” problem.  Your “free” moments may be free of immediate obligation, but your brain may still be tangled in worry, chores, regret, lonliness. 

The problem is that you don’t want to just whine.  Whining in print may offer some relief to the writer, but it’s  a  lot like the relief that vomiting offers to a person who is sick to their stomach.  It’s not all that great for the person doing it;  it’s even less appealing to their audience.

 So how can you make good use of your writing time when inspiration is otherwise engaged? 

 Here’s a trick:  try something that’s both completely arbitrary, and yet carefully defined.  In other words, a writing exercise!  The arbitrariness of the exercise can nudge you out of your over-trod groove, while the structure turns into something like a game, reducing both decisions and ego-involvement.  (It’s only an exercise!)

 In July and August, I wrote about exercises aimed primarily at prose writers.  This one is for the inspirationally-challenged poet.

 Before reading on, please set side aside snobbery.   The exercise below is a bit stupid, but it is offered as a springboard.  It relies on the fact that many poems involve tropes (a wonderful word I hardly ever get to use), that is, metaphors.  The exercise sets up a structure which is intended to turn an extended metaphor into something resembling a poem.  And it’s intended to make you think about verbs. 

 The specifics:

 First, choose an occupation, preferably one that involves some physical craft.  (Carpenter, fisherman, cook, for example, not stock analyst.)  Now, list all of the verbs that are particularly associated with that chosen occupation.  (Usually, “crafty” occupations have strong verbs.  Cook, for example: “braise, broil, boil, peel, sauté, fry, deep-fry, mince, cube, slice, skewer, stab.”)    List at least ten of these verbs.  This list is called Column B.

 Second, make a list of nouns which will be called Column A.   These nouns should be fairly randomly chosen and NOT specifically associated with your Column B verbs.  (For example, if you’ve chosen “cook” as your occupation, you can choose “mother” as a random noun, but not “chef.”) 

 While it’s nice to choose some specific nouns – such as “lilac” rather than “flower”–choose at least a couple that are very flexible  (examples:  “mother,” “father”,  “ocean”.)   You should list at least ten.

 NOW,  imagine you are at a Chinese restaurant ordering a luncheon special in which you are allowed to mix and match items from Column A (egg rolls or dumplings) with items from Column B ( bean curd homestyle or General Tso’s chicken.) 

 And NOW,  write a poem of at least five lines, using a noun from Column A and a verb from Column B in every line.   (Example:  “the ocean braised the shore.”)  (Sorry!) 

 Clarifications:  (i) Verbs from Column B can take any tense;  (ii) you do NOT need to use every word listed in Column A and Column B, just one from each Column in every line;    (iii)  line length is up to you (meaning you can use some long lines with lots of extra  uncolumned words.)

Finally, remember the two most important rules of any writing exercise:

 1.  Follow the rules.   

2.  Cheat.  (Remember that you’re trying to write a poem, not an exercise.)  

And, NOW, get going. 

Tomorrow, I’ll post some samples of my own.

Love Poem (Tangentially) Inspired By Federer’s Defeat

September 14, 2009

This is a poem I wrote the last time (or at least ONE time, one of the few other times) that  Federer lost an important match.  In that case, it was to Nadal at one of the French Opens, which because they are played on clay, appear on a bright orange surface, when televised.  (If you have read any of my posts re writing block, you will notice that it also centers on the trials of trying to come up with a writing exercise on one’s own.)

Would-be Poet

I, who must be purposeful at every minute,
even when lying in bed miles away, call to ask you
for a prompt, something to write about, something
outside of myself.
You are watching tennis.  You’ve taken the phone into
the TV room, but, far
from its home cradle, it emits a steady cackle.
Earlier, out of love for me, you left the TV, but this is
the second call of the morning, and Federer, the champion for umpteen
seasons, is being trounced.  In my mind, I see your leg
ticcing with compressed intensity as you sit
on the edge of the bed in that far room, eyes glazed by the brilliant orange
of the beamed clay surface.
But Federer is never his best
on clay!  I want to shout.
Don’t you know that already?  Doesn’t the world?

You speak slowly, squeezing words
out of the small part of you not glued to the screen.
I think of ‘static’ not as in the phone line, or even
our relationship,  but the electrified ash of my own TV growing up,
my brother sitting in the only good
chair, his huge bare foot blocking my view, his
big toe like a weird fleshy centerpiece on a table meant
to be intimate.  Crazy-making.  But in my image,
my brother and I are still, complaints and taunts
temporarily silenced by the buzz of the Emergency Broadcast System,
ninety seconds in which we were both awed
and irritated by something other.
How about ‘Photosynthesis?’
you say.

You are not a poet; you don’t pretend to be a poet; why
do I even ask you, a non-poet, for such help?
I groan.
you say. How about ‘ love and photosynthesis?’
I groan again.
‘Asparagus’ then,
you laugh, making some inane
remark about how it’s like your love for me, endlessly growing.

I am so jealous suddenly, of the clay, the ball, the trounced Federer, but most of all, of your ability to just sit there and watch,
guiltlessly, lovingly, full
of bright orange beams.

(All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson)

Blocking Writer’s Block – First Assignment – Sample “I remember”

August 9, 2009

In yesterday’s post, I suggested “I remember” as a writing exercise.  It’s a place where almost anyone can start writing any time.

I did my exercise in a beauty salon waiting for a hair cut.  I have to confess I cheated a little.  Because I knew I’d assigned it, I started the exercise in my head en route to the salon;  I also had to write down the last few sentences after they finished the haircut.  (They wouldn’t let me hold my notebook once the shampooing began.)

I did try not to erase or cross out when I wrote, or since this is an exercise, to edit, when I typed (though I did change names.)

Finally,  I didn’t intend to make the exercise itself about writing exercises and writing buddies, but because I was thinking about the blog, that’s what came to mind.  Which was fine.   The point of the exercise, if you try it, is to write about what you remember at the moment you sit down.  So here’s what I came up with 1:30 p.m., August 8, 2009.

“I remember”–

I remember when I first started these writing exercises.  It was years ago now;  I was invited into a group, a women’s group; I guess it was inherent back then that it was partly about writing, partly about “empowerment.”

There was Barbara with frizzy black hair and a dark green minivan; Helena who was Finnish, made documentary movies about anti-abortionists, and lived in a heavily subsidized mouth-watering West Village apartment right next to the Hudson.  (I never could figure out how she finagled that one.)  There was Evelyn who had long Auburn hair and a fey Pre-Raphaelite pout to her lips and who already, she told us later, borrowing sunblock, had had a melanoma removed.  There was Carrie, who I think was my original contact and who later came up to my house in the country one summer weekend with new husband in tow.  It was an unusually hot weekend and she insisted on dragging a mattress from the atticky bedroom I’d assigned them, down the stairwell and onto the screened porch that was just outside my window.  It’s an old house; it was an equally old mattress.  Mouse droppings littered the stairwell marking the path the mattress had lumped down.  The next day, still hot, she walked around most of the morning in a loose sweater with no underwear (pants either) making coffee for the new husband.  I’d recently gone through a wrenching separation from my own husband.  Suffice it to say, I never invited Carrie back again.

Then there was Agnes.  Agnes who was slender and small and upright in every sense of the word.  A dancer, an editor, a reader, a disciplined person, her back was straight at all times; her clothes trim and unwrinkled even if somehow vintage, her wavy hair pulled back, sometimes with tortoise shell combs which seemed in my mind to have the authority of reading glasses.

Helena, the one doing the documentaries about anti-abortionists, seemed to me to write about blood;  Evelyn, sex, Carrie, irritations, Barbara, the family life, Agnes, the physical and mental world, accreting images with great precision.  And me, probably pain at that point in my life (wrenching separation, remember?)

It was fun.  We usually met at Carrie’s or Helena’s since they’d managed the best apartments.  We ate chips, but since this was New York and either the West Village or the Upper West Side, they were special chips, like Blue chips (blue organic corn) or vegetable chips (sweet potato or taro), served with, you know, hummus.

Slowly, somehow, I don’t know how long it took–maybe Carrie’s bottomless weekend in the country precipitated it, it ended up being Barbara and Agnes and me.

We met at coffee shops, restaurants, choosing places for their lack of, or low, music;  their lack of, or slow, service; their lack of, or little interest in the fact that every few minutes we would each read aloud.

Barbara died a few years ago.

I remember her writing about braiding her daughters’ hair, the luck that her own was so curly (the girls were half African-American, she wasn’t), what that gave them in common.

I remember her writing about the slap of her feet in her Karate dojo.  There was a host of square shouldered men at her funeral—black belts, I thought.  The sweat that gathered in the crease inside her elbow. The joy of a kyaii.

I remember her writing about sex; her husband coming home too late, proffering her his cock.

You get to know your writing buddies very very well.

You know about the times they fought with their parents, their boyfriends in back seats, the times they lied to themselves and others, the times they told the truth.

I remember a last writing session.  I don’t know what we wrote about.  Barbara made mango-scented green tea.  She was drinking a lot of green tea those days though the cancer was irretrievably advanced.  She dragged equipment behind her around the apartment, black plastic sacking on wheels.  She’d always been someone with dimples.

Agnes and I still write together when we have time.

Blocking Writer’s Block – Part VI – Be Brave – Read Aloud

August 8, 2009

I want to begin with apologies for my last post to those who are not interested in Robert Pattinson’s struggle with paparazzi.  I find the subject fascinating – the part about the struggles with the paparazzi, that is — but I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  So let’s try blocking writer’s block again:

Rule No. 8   –  Be Brave.  Read Aloud.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you may remember Blocking Writer’s Block Rule No. 3 –  Get a Friend.

By “friend,” I mean writing buddy, someone that you actually write with, meaning right next to, someone with whom you do writing exercises.  Your writing buddy may also be someone with whom you share finished, or nearly finished work, but the exercises I’m talking about are the ones that you do on the immediate spur of a new topic, the ones that you write for a set period of time (ten to twenty minutes usually) without stopping, erasing or crossing out.

The next step- after your set time for each exercise is finished –is for you and your buddy to read your exercises aloud.

To each other.

Right then and there.

(I’m not joking, and I want to take advantage of this break in the flow to give credit to Natalie Goldberg,  Writing Down the Bones, who originally popularized these types of writing processes.)

Yes, I know.  Reading aloud is a bit like taking off your clothes in a crowded room.  Only worse.  Because the crowd may be so busy, people may not even notice your nakedness.  Okay, they’ll probably notice.  But it’s a crowd, right?  There may be no one that you know, no one that you need ever see again

Your writing buddy is presumably a friend of sorts.  He/she is staring (i.e. listening) right next to you.  At/to just you.  You hope to know each other for a long time to come.

Plus, you’ve just done an exercise that absolutely proves how idiotic you are.

But here’s the trick of it.  Your writing buddy has to read aloud too.  You might even be able to make them read aloud first.  They too have written an exercise that exposes their idiocy.

When you each start removing the clothes… ahem… reading aloud, it’s a tremendous feeling—of freedom, exhilaration, acknowledgement, even if coupled with acute embarrassment.

I don’t know if it helps, but usually my writing buddy and I preface each reading aloud with some well-worn warning such as “this one is so stupid.”  Or “I don’t know where this came from.”  Or a simple heartfelt groan.  This type of introduction is not obligatory, but it does tend to clear the throat.

Natalie Goldberg sets a few ground rules for the listeners of read-aloud exercises.  These include a prohibition against evaluating the work—against saying anything akin to either “I really like that,” or “eeuww.”  In Natalie Goldberg’s workshops, she urges the listeners simply to echo the phrases that they remember from the piece, a practice which encourages closer listening, but also tends to emphasize what was most vivid about the writing.

That’s probably a good idea.  Even praise can be stultifying in the case of exercises;  soon you are distracted, writing your exercise for the praise, and frankly, you can’t always do a good one.  (Then, when you don’t, you feel horrible.)

But for me and my buddy, Natalie’s prohibitions are hard to follow.  We really don’t have the short-term memories anymore to repeat too many phrases  that we’ve just heard.   And we know each other too well not to guffaw, or say “wow” or “whoops!”  So we are usually quite free with our commentary.  This makes our writing time more fun.  I would warn you, however, that beginners at these exercises might want to be a bit more circumspect.

Still, the question of evaluations raises an important point.  One of the greatest things about reading an exercise aloud is that you are putting your work out into the world.  You are exposing your work in a very intimate way;  it’s not just your words you are putting out there, it’s also your voice.  It could hardly be more personal.

But what’s great, what might even make it possible, is that you’re only doing it for a minute or two.  You’re reading aloud, and then you are done.  No one’s taping you.  No one has your printed page to peruse.  You’ve put it out there, then grabbed it back.

Besides, it’s a DRAFT.  You did it in ten minutes, fifteen minutes.

It’s relatively easy under these circumstances to follow the first rule of blocking writer’s block which is simply not to care too much.

Nonetheless, they are your words, it is your voice, it does take courage.  So be brave—read aloud.

You’ll be very glad you did.

(To be continued with Rule No. 9Don’t be too brave too soon!  Know your limits.)

Also, sometime soon, I’d like to write about the benefits of reading drafts aloud to yourself, and reading at public readings.  But that’s for the future.

For now, please check out the link for 1 Mississippi, my counting book for children who like elephants (and watercolors) on Amazon.  See the link above.

Blocking Writer’s Block – Part IV

August 2, 2009

Rule No. 6.  Go into yourself.

Yes, I know.  Yesterday’s rule (Blocking Writer’s Block – Part III) was get out of yourself.   And yes, if you are following this blog at all, you probably see a certain pattern emerging. (Other than the pattern in which I write a few serious blogs and then sneak in some commentary on Robert Pattinson.)

But my advising you to go into yourself right after I’ve told you to get out of yourself is really not a contradiction.  Because what I’m advocating is that the two steps be taken at different times.  (Also, remember that I am writing about writer’s block here.  If things are flowing, do whatever you want.)

Getting out of yourself means getting out of your normal grooves. Getting a fresh starting point.

But once you have that starting point, you need to have something to say, right?  Something not generic, something unique.  You have one great big source of the non-generic right at your fingertips.  This is yourself.  Your own set of experiences, which if observed with precision and care, are inherently unique.

Now, I really do not push the idea that all writing should be memoir, or confessional, or navel-gazing.  Besides the huge danger of self-indulgence, self-justification, martyrdom, in that kind of writing, your friends and family will never speak to you again.

But it really is helpful in getting out of writer’s block, in writing exercises, in loosening up your writing sinews, to feel free to write from your own experience, to write of what you know well.

This does not have to be directly about yourself.  It can be the mood of your childhood kitchen summer mornings, or Sunday mornings, or Sunday nights—each one way way different.   It can be the geometry of light on the bottom of your community swimming pool;  it can be the lines on the bark of a locust tree you used to lean against, counting, when “it” in hide and sick.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love plot, narrative.  And I love things that are created and fantastical.   (I’ve written a fantasy novel which I hope to publish soon.)   And frankly, getting too caught up in your own experience can inhibit invention, and can be very very limiting.

But in an exercise in which your primary goal is to simply learn how to think with your hands, to let words flow through your fingertips, it is usually easiest at first to focus on what you know.

It actually takes a lot of courage.  The subject is there, but grasping the details, and then putting them on the page, can take real fearlessness.  Especially when writing with a buddy.  Especially if ever actually re-reading on your own.

But be brave.  Take up the thread you’ve been given, that surprising thread that you got from someone else—that topic, or those random words—and follow the thread into yourself.  Follow it through curve and cranny.  Take a Rube Goldbergesque approach to your exercise.  Put in the leaky bucket and the grandmother in the rocking chair, don’t worry about sleekness–whatever works is terrific, whatever gets the job done.

Remember always, if not now, when?

And if you do follow the thread to something that actually happened to you, then sit inside that happening and look at it freshly.  Can you see the pores in your Uncle’s nose?  Tell us about them.  Were there fireflies blinking right next to the laces of your husband’s hiking boot?  Make them blink on the page.

Pretend that a brain surgeon has accidentally stimulated that place in your brain where all that particular data are stored.  Was there mica in the dust in the curb?  Did your friend hold out her hands as she balanced on the brick wall?  Did her fingers lengthen in the grey air?   Use memory, but feel free to mix in invention.  And if you’re stuck, look around the room you are writing in.  Or rustle further around inside.  You’ve had tons of experiences.  Mix it up.   You don’t need to stick with just one.

And remember always always, that this is an exercise, a draft.  Is your time really so precious you can’t spend a bit on something that you might end up throwing away?  Oh please!

To be continued. …

Check out my children’s picture book 1 Mississippi  on Amazon:

Blocking Writer’s Block – Part III – Get Out Of Yourself

August 1, 2009

Rule Number 5 – Get Out of Yourself.

Sometimes all you can think when you sit down to write is that you can’t write, you hate writing, you have nothing at all to say.

Jotting down this litany can be a legitimate way to get started.   At least, it gets your pen or fingers moving.  Pretty soon, though, it’s boring—or in the case of the variation used in The Shining – ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ – seriously creepy.  In other words, you are putting something down on the page, but you are still stuck in a rut, a rut of your own stuckness.

One way to avoid this stuckness is to try to get out of yourself, your typical grooves.  If I were more Buddhist, I would probably suggest looking around yourself, feeling your connection to the greater world.  But since I am a dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist (who likes the idea of Buddhism but is not so good at its practice), my advice is to get someone else to give you a topic (or, even better, a simple set of words.)

By “topic”, I don’t mean a paper topic, something to mull over and explicate.  I mean a writing exercise topic, something to use as a jumping off point; a stepping stone into your stream of consciousness.  But a new stepping stone, not one of the habitual ones that’s become a boulder sealing off flow.

Writing exercises are a wonderful tool for breaking down writer’s block.  They deserve their own posts, which I hope to write.   As a brief introduction here, I’ll just say that the exercises I prefer are short, sweet, and relatively low risk.  They have three basic parameters (derived again from Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down The Bones):

1.  Pick a set short time period for each exercise in advance.  Use a clock, and make yourself and your writing buddy stick to it.    (Ten minutes is a good amount to start with.  If you want to be anarchical—try seven, twelve or thirteen minutes.  Five is a bit short.)

2.  Keep your pen moving or your fingers typing throughout your set time.  (Meaning don’t stop and think about what you are going to write next, just write.)

3.   No crossing out; no back-spacing, no deletes.   (Not during your time limit.)

So back to your topic (someone else’s topic).  Choices are infinite.  It can be a single starting point:  “I remember” can be a good one, or “I don’t remember.”   Something about grandmothers often works (almost everyone has something to write about their grandmother.)

But although that kind of single topic can be interesting, you can also get stuck all over again trying to pick the “right” one.

To skip that quandary, it’s sometimes best to just use a list of 5-7 random words as “topic”.   The advantage of several words is that none has to be ideal.  The requirement is that you simply have to use the words, not actually write about them—they are not your theme (unless you want one of them to be.)

It’s best if the words are not chosen by you, or at least not by you alone.  (Choosing with a buddy is fine.)  This is because it can be very very hard to make a fresh channel through your own head.  The mind is just so tricky—it tends to cling to the old grooves, comfortable with the familiar, even the painful, tiresome familiar.  The mind is also a master of self-justification; it loves to set up situations in which it can say, ‘I told you so.’

A quick example:  let’s say that you’re stuck trying to write about your cousin’s wedding last year (or last decade) when you suddenly realized that everyone in your family thought you were too bossy, too demanding, to insecure, to ever feel loved.  You’ve tried to write the story, you may even need to write the story, but you just haven’t been able to.

So maybe you need to put it aside for a bit; warm up those fingers with something completely different.  But if you’re picking you own random words, you may still end up with “rice, veil, resentment, glare, daggers, heart, tin cans.”  Pretty soon you’re stuck all over again; you may be writing, but your subject may also be the same old thing–how lousy you feel about yourself and your family.

But if your buddy, or if you have no buddy, your friend, your child, or even your dictionary, picks the words, you might end up with things like” drill, jackhammer, whammo, smudge, chocolate cake” words that have a better chance of taking you into unexplored territory.

You may not initially feel like exploring that territory.  Let’s say you’re completely disinterested in drills, only mildly interested in chocolate cake.   Your exercise doesn’t need to be about drills; it just needs to use the word.  It can come out as metaphor: “the chords of Wagner’s wedding march were like a jackhammer, drilling into her brain.”  Or, “the icing formed a snowy veneer, but she knew that her cousin, who truly was the bossy, demanding one in the family, had insisted on a chocolate cake beneath it.”

So maybe you can’t leave your groove.  Still you can at least approach it from a different direction.  The direction may just feel like a detour but, like the classic detour, it may also help you bypass the closed lanes of your normal route and to miss all those pesky orange cones.

Please check out my picture book, 1 Mississippi, at