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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 43

The Red Wheelbarrow

This is the forty-third 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:

William Carlos Williams was both a modernist and imagist poet. Imagism called for precise imagery and direct, clear language. By focusing on one single image and describing it with “luminous details” as imagist poet, Ezra Pound, called them, the reader can experience the image’s essence. “The Red Wheelbarrow” is one of Williams’ most famous imagist poems:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends 
upon  

a red wheel 
barrow
  
glazed with rain 
water  

beside the white 
chickens.

With a phrase like “so much depends upon,” the reader is left to fill in the blanks. Williams’ success is not only what he chose as his “luminous details,” but also that he picked an everyday object that, for most people, has many uses, connotations, and memories packed into it. 

In this week’s exercise, you will also describe some everyday objects that have been lying around your house or your backyard, and choose one packed with the most meaning to create a poem modeled after Williams’. Your creative play will be the “luminous details” you choose.

Your Turn!

  1. Choose five tangible items from your home or wherever you are doing this writing exercise. Observe them closely. In writing, describe each briefly. 
  1. Choose one item from your list and write a poem based exactly on “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by coping the lines "so much depends/ upon" and keeping the line and stanza lengths. Fill in the rest with your description of the object you chose.  
  1. “Red,” “glazed with rain water,” and “beside the chickens” were the only three details Williams included. Your poem need not have more than three descriptive details, and they can be just as simple. Notice that Williams chose a color, a visual detail about its texture, and what the item is juxtaposed next to. Feel free to use these categories to guide you if you are stumped.
How did you do? Did the “luminous details” you chose, in fact, shine? Did following a model, in terms of phrases and line/stanza lengths help you focus on and isolate a few simple, yet, powerful details? Were you able to pack enough connotation into the particular object you chose?

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!

Source: Inspired by teacher Stacy Chestnut’s exercise from her creative writing class at East High School, Wichita, KS, September 2017.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 42

Symbols from the Past

This is the forty-second 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 this week’s exercise, you will write about a symbolic object from your past for symbolic audiences. You will use the physicality of an actual object as a prompt to recall an experience in your past. Then, you will retell the story to various audiences, because the implied presence of others will affect your thoughts and ultimately, writing. This activity might yield different styles and voices than you’re used to – it’s creative play! And linking symbols to the past can clarify the experience’s meaning – an added bonus!

Your Turn!

  1. On your desk, put a physical item that is a symbol from your past. It should be something you naturally associate with a certain event (letter, clothing, picture, toy). 
  1. Freewrite for 5 minutes about that time. How did it affect you in the past and how does it continue to influence you now? 
  1. Now write for 5 minutes about that same general time, but for a different audience.  Choose an authority figure, someone you have a formal relationship with, but who was not in that story (judge, boss, FBI agent, parent). Explain to him/her this event. What were your thoughts and feelings then and now?
  1. Finally, write for 5 minutes imagining you will share the story with a close and compassionate friend. This friend should also not be connected in any way to this event.
  1. Now analyze how the stories are different.
How did you do? Did you feel different as you were writing them? Did some writing feel more genuine than others? Did one give you a new perspective on your experience?

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!


Source: Inspired by Pennebaker, James W. and John E. Evans. “Writing in Different Contexts,” Expressive Writing: Words that Heal. Emunclaw, WA: Idyll Arbor, Inc., 2014, p. 87-92.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Curious Creative: Week 41

“Why Did You Decide To Get Married, Buy a House, and Have Two Kids?”

This is the forty-first 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:

Anytime we don’t follow social norms, we end having to justify ourselves repeatedly to curious people. People are always asking one another about the out-of-the-box choices they’ve made. We never ask people who have followed the status quo questions like, “Why did you decide to get married, buy a house, and have two kids?” But as soon as we do something out of the norm, we end up having to explain it to others our whole lives. In fact, you might already be bored of telling your out-of-the-box story, but I am sure you have it memorized as a schpeel you tell those who ask. For this week’s exercise, we’ll use your memorized script as a jumping off point for fresher storytelling.

Your Turn!

  1. Choose an out-of-the-box thing about yourself that people are always asking you to explain. 
  1. Tell this story in paragraph form (prose) in the third person (she/he not I/me) as if you are explaining yourself as this other person you know.
  1. Think of 4-6 different possible titles for this story. 
  1. Choose the most compelling title and write it at the top of a blank page.
  1. From this title, tell another story. Give yourself permission to have it be about something totally other than your out-of-the-box story, as long as it still fits the title. This time, write in the first person (I/me) even though it’s no longer about you. 
How did you do? Did writing your own story in the third person give you any insights or unexpected emotions about the choice you made or the situation you found yourself in? Did the title you chose inspire an interesting new story, and did it feel refreshing to break free from the rehearsed story to telling something totally different? Did changing the person from third to first again help trigger a fresher voice for storytelling?


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!