Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 50

Childhood Play

This is the fiftieth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here

My Thoughts:

I came across this Friedrich Nietzsche quotation when I was a teenager and I held on to it tightly: “Man’s maturity: to regain the seriousness he had as a child at play.” At the time, it was a reminder to stay young and playful, to hold off on “adulting.” Nowadays, as a writer, I often think of creativity as a harkening back to the state of childhood play. As Nietzsche pointed out, play was neither half-hearted nor frivolous; it had intensity and focus perhaps unrivaled in adulthood. When in the flow of creating something, it’s that same dichotomy of intensity and playfulness that often leads me to an inspired piece of art. For this week’s Curious Creative, we’ll do a simple listing exercise to bring us back to our childhood worlds of play.

Your Turn!

  1. Open your notebook to two empty pages side by side. Create seven columns and label them: BOOKS, OBJECTS, FICTIONAL CHARACTERS, TEACHERS, GAMES, ACTIVITIES, and OBSERVATIONS. 
  1. Spent 10 minutes filling in each column with as many examples from your childhood as possible. My own example: 
BOOKS
OBJECTS
FICTIONAL CHARACTERS
TEACHERS
GAMES
ACTIVITIES
OBSERVATIONS
-Anne of Green Gables
-Little House on the Prairie
-Forever
-Where the Wild Things Are
-rock collection
-butterfly net
-pogo stick
-stilts
-Barbies
-Cabbage Patch Kids
-Jem
-Ariel
-Belle
-Anne

-Mrs. Donohue
-Mrs. Brandt
-Mrs. Hofgesang
-Mrs. Polio
-Kick the Can
-Capture the Flag
-Super Mario Brothers
-Tetris
-Man Hunt
-Candyland
-I made clothes out of paper and tape for crickets I collected from the garage.
-I raised Painted Lady Butterflies from eggs my mom ordered.
-People liked hanging out with you if you were funny.
-Playing video games for a couple hours was fun, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t.
-I was the fastest girl runner I knew.

How did you do? Did you enjoy reminiscing about your childhood? Did it feel playful to remember? Did remembering remind you to be more playful?

To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!


Inspired by: Linda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 49

Four-Panel Diary

This is the forty-ninth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here

My Thoughts:

In Lynda Barry’s cartooning class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “What It Is,” about halfway through the semester, she assigns her students “the four-panel diary.” On each diary page, students illustrate four scenes from that day, including “daily things” and “things that stand out.” 

I very much like what Barry writes about the purpose of this activity: “Both writing and drawing lean on a certain kind of picturing—not the kind that is already finished in your head and just needs to be put to words or reproduced on paper. It’s a kind of picturing that is formed by our own activity, one line suggesting the next. We have a general direction but can’t see where we are until we let ourselves take a step, and then another, and then we move on to the third… You don't know what your drawings will be like until you draw them with this kind of picturing in your mind that moves your hand. The trick is just that: Let it move your hand.”

Her directive to “let it move your hand” is very apropos to the generative stages of writing. You must surrender to not knowing what the finished product will be until it appears at the end. This surrender is central to the creative process (and addictively fun!). For this week’s Curious Creative exercise, we will adapt Barry’s activity to writing.

Your Turn!

  1. Divide a piece of paper into four equal quadrants.
  1. If you are an early morning creative, think about the day before. If you are doing this in the evening, reflect on the day you’ve just had. For this particular activity, it’s better to do the latter.
  1. In each panel, time yourself to write a 2-minute description of a scene or image from your day. Do not tell a chronological narrative of something that happened. Simply imagine a scene, a flashbulb memory if you will, and use words to describe what you see. 
  1. These scenes don’t have to be the most exciting moments of your life; you can even focus on “pouring milk on your cereal,” as Lynda Barry suggests. The important thing is that you capture a scene in your mind’s eye, even if the picture is terribly fuzzy, and for two minutes, describe it with words on the page. 
How did you do? Did you let the process sweep you away, not knowing what you’d write until the description appeared in each panel? Were you able to actually imagine a visual picture in your mind’s eye for each panel? Did you notice interplay between image and word?

To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!


Inspired by: Linda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 48

Time Constraints

This is the forty-eighth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here

My Thoughts:

In his book, Cartooning Philosophy and Practice, Ivan Brunetti leads budding cartoonists through a drawing exercise in which students are constrained by time limits. The exercise goes as follows. Fold a piece of paper into quarters. In the top left quarter, first draw a castle for two minutes; next, in the top right quarter, draw one for one minute; in the bottom left, draw one for 30 seconds; and in the bottom right, end by drawing a castle for 15 seconds. 

Through this exercise, Brunetti shows that somehow, in each of these time constraints, one figures out how to fit what’s necessary into his/her drawing. He also demonstrates that a lot of thinking and planning ahead of time is not necessary or helpful. Whereas beginning artists might stare at a blank page with unlimited time feeling like they don’t know how to draw a castle, a ticking clock pushes them to do it without thinking (and discover they can!).

If you are a visual artist, this is a great exercise to try for your Curious Creative exercise this week. If you are a writer, you can adapt this activity to the written word by following the steps below. 

Your Turn!

  1. Choose a family photograph. 
  1. Fold a piece of paper into quarters.
  1. Set your timer to 5 minutes. In the top left quarter, write a description of the photo for 5 minutes.
  1. In the top right quarter, describe the same photo in 2 minutes.
  1. In the bottom left, describe it in 30 seconds. 
  1. In the bottom right quarter, describe the photo in 15 seconds. 
How did you do? Were you able to keep your hand moving the whole time, without pausing too much to think? Did your descriptions, as they got shorter, narrow in on a certain aspect of the photo, such as a specific person, what people were thinking, or the emotional relationship(s) between family members? Did your final 15-second description consist of the most important “lines and shapes” of that photograph? In other words, did it boil down that moment to its essence?

To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!


Inspired by: Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning Philosophy and Practice (Yale University Press, 2011).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 47

Index Card Portraits

This is the forty-seventh installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here

My Thoughts:

One of the best ways to get into the writing mindset for me is to draw. It quiets and calms my mind-chatter, but it also centers me into my physical body and presence. It’s possible that engaging in any right-brained activity would help one access another creative activity- dancing to write, drawing to dance, etc. Personally, I drew a lot as a little kid and am not sure which came first – writing or drawing. But to this day, I place a lot of importance on the act of physically holding a pencil and channeling images or words through my arm, that this physical act is a completely necessary first step in anything I create. 

Lynda Barry, cartoonist and creativity teacher, swears on this as well. In her book, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, she writes “The trick seems to be this: Consider the drawing as a side effect of something else: a certain state of mind that come about when we gaze with open attention.” In the course she teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, “What It Is: manually shifting the image,” her students write, draw, paint and cartoon entirely by hand. In this week’s exercise, we are going to try an assignment she gives her students a few times each semester.

Your Turn!

  1. Take a stack of index cards and a drawing pencil. Go to a public place.
  1. With whatever time you have, whether it is 10 or 45 minutes, draw people, one on each index card. 
  1. Try not to get caught up on perfection, details, or verisimilitude. Rather than spending 45 minutes drawing one perfect portrait, it’s better to draw a handful of portraits, rudimentary ones      like those you drew as a child. Draw characters out of simple shapes (circles, triangles, squares) with minimal features. Barry calls them “quick and workable alternative[s] to stick figures with a lot more soul.”
  1. Later, ink them in with a black pen. You can also fill them in with watercolor or colored pencils.
  1. The purpose of this exercise is purely to exercise your creative muscles, but something surprising might appear on your paper. You might end up using one of these images as inspiration for a future art or writing project.
How did you do? Did you keep your hand in motion the whole time? Were you able to turn your language-brain off and not think too much as you drew? Did anything original appear? Could any of these characters be inspiration for a story?

To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!


Inspired by: Linda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 46

First Lines

This is the forty-sixth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here

My Thoughts:

Poets & Writers magazine has a column called “Page One: Where New and Noteworthy Books Begins.” It consists of 10-15 first lines from recently published books of fiction, poetry, and memoir. I am often introduced to great contemporary reads through this column, when I take a chance on a book because its first line struck me.

At a writer’s salon I recently attended, one of the prompts was to write as many first lines for a short story or a novel as we could in ten minutes. I asked if they needed be ones from books already written that we could recall, or if we were to invent ones of our own. The answer was the latter. 

But I think there’s merit in collecting first lines from already published books. 
I can’t help but think that part of creative play is collecting and gleaning beautiful things, that sometimes this is a necessary step in the writing process. For this week’s Curious Creative exercise, you will both glean and create interesting first lines.

Your Turn!

  1. The first step is to pull a handful of books off your bookshelf and open them to their first pages. Record about five favorite first lines. Here are mine:
The shell collector was scrubbing limpets at his sink when he heard the water taxi come scraping over the reef. 
The Shell Collector, Anthony Doerr
How angry am I? 
The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud
Six days ago, a man blew himself up by the side of a road in northern Wisconsin. 
Leviathan, Paul Aster
He is flying. 
The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin

Notice that some are punchy and succinct, some throw you into the middle of a story enticing you to stick around to find out what’s next, and some ask questions.

  1. Now set the timer for 10 minutes and write as many first lines of your own. Any topic. Any style. Go for variety. Try some starting off in the middle of an action. Try some that ask a question.
  1. If you have the time, the obvious next step, of course, is to take your favorite of these first lines and keep writing! 
How did you do? Did you notice effective strategies in the already published first lines? Did you create any of your own that would entice a reader to pick up your story and keep reading? 


To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 45

Moved by a Famous Photograph

This is the forty-fifth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here

My Thoughts: 

The other day, I came across this photograph of former President Obama leaning over so a little African American boy could feel his hair. Boys at school had told the boy that he had the same hair as the president and so he was curious. He told this to the president, and without hesitation, Obama leaned over so the boy could see for himself. I was particularly moved by the little boy’s facial expression in this moment- as if his eyes were asking incredulously, “Could it really be?”

I had seen this photo before, but something about seeing it again in this new moment, perhaps with all that has happened in our country since it was taken, struck a chord. As a writer, I pay attention to moments like these. Why did I feel moved? What exactly was happening in the photo? And how did it relate to what was happening to me?

In this week’s exercise, you will begin with the feeling of being moved by a famous photograph, and you will use writing to uncover exactly what inspired this feeling.  Once you circle around enough details in the photograph, you will come across what exactly struck the chord, and when you do, you will run with it!

Your Turn!

  1. Find a photograph that moves you emotionally – one you’ve come across in the news or pop culture, not one from your own life. If nothing comes to mind, peruse Life Magazine’s most iconic photos. 
  1. Write about what you see. Describe the body language and facial expressions of the main figures. What are they wearing? Who stands in the sidelines? What are their expressions? Imagine what happened several hours before this photo was taken and what happened later that evening. Write possible dialogue that took place when the photo was taken. Who was standing outside the frame?
  1. Chances are, because you were moved emotionally when you first saw the photo, something you write in this brainstorming stage will strike the same chord. When it does, narrow in on that detail and run with it. If it is something about the facial expression of a certain figure, write his internal thoughts. Write what he later spoke of to his friends that night. Write what he was thinking that morning when he got dressed.
  1. To further this exercise, shape this freewriting into a poem. Cross out all the preliminary writing (what you wrote before you found what struck the emotional chord), and revise what remains. Add just enough details to clue the reader in on what is happening. Then make cuts so the writing is concise and succinct (less repetitive as feverish brainstorming can often be). 
How did you do? Once you found something that struck a chord, did your writing quicken? Did you tap into that same feeling, perhaps uncover its source, and achieve some kind of understanding or catharsis? Does the finished product have the potential to move the reader to feel the same emotion?


To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 44

Writing with a Mirror


This is the forty-fourth installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here

My Thoughts:

In James Pennebaker and John Evans' Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, they write about the power of staring into your own eyes as you write by placing a mirror in front of your writing space. They pose that while making eye contact with yourself, you see yourself as others do, and this new perspective can help you gain new insight on a significant personal issue.

Though the aim of The Curious Creative is not necessarily to heal but to play, the two are not exclusive of each other. Therefore, I am curious how gazing into one’s own eyes can alter the style and content that comes out of one’s pen. For this week’s exercise, we will find out!

Your Turn!

1.   Place a mirror in front of your writing space, either up on the wall behind your computer or on the desk in front of your writing pad.

2.     At the top of the page, make a list of 3-4 things that came to your mind when you first woke up this morning. Circle one that you’d like to try writing about.

3.     Gaze at your eyes. 

4.     Write continuously for 10 minutes. Periodically make eye contact with yourself as you write.

How did you do? Did your writing appear to take on a different audience? Did it seem more or less self-conscious? Did you delve deeper into whatever was initially on your mind, gaining a new insight? Did you feel more centered or connected to yourself?

To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in from a google account so you can share your creation in the comment box below. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box to the right), you will get an email update whenever a new exercise is added. Thanks for playing!



Inspired by James Pennebaker and John Evans' Expressive Writing: Words That Heal