This past week, my students explored the wonderful use of personification in their writing. When not overused, this form of figurative language can enliven tired writing. The trick is knowing when to employ it.
December has been a month of writing exercises. We've written about who we are not and--with the assistance of Kobe Bryant--taken time to say goodbye to something in our lives.
This week, let's play around with personification (attribution of a personal quality or human characteristic to something nonhuman; representation of an abstract quality in human form).
As soon as my new crop of young writers turn in their permission to be published forms, I'll share their clever lines. In the meantime, it's your turn to try.
Before you tackle the usage in a current piece of writing, practice. Our parents and coaches told us "practice makes perfect," and they were right. Nearly. Practice makes the game easier. Perfection is a whole other story.
1. Have a seat in your favorite writing space with your favorite writing tools (pen and paper work well for this exercise).
2. Create a T-chart on your paper (or simply draw a dividing line down the middle).
3. Look around the room and select one object that's not alive (a book, clock, floor tile, painting, curtain, chair...).
4. Record that object at the top of one side of your T-chart.
5. Beneath it, list the item's traits and/or actions (one per line). For example, if you choose a clock, you might list: face, hands, quiet, numbers, glass, ticks, tocks, hangs.
6. On the other side of the T-chart, list human traits and actions--again, one per line. It helps to think of one person when you do this. For example, using myself, I might write: laugh, stand, cry, listen, ponder.
7. Now, consider the two lists, and find a trait from each side that complement each other. In my examples, I might pair face and ponder: The quiet clock listens to the children's conversation.
Some examples to get you started:
The tired leaves dropped to the ground.
The empty paged mocked me.
The angry sea tossed the boat.
Still stuck or want a challenge? Study the picture above and write your best personified line. Share it below.
Considering sharing your personification practice or other writing tips with us.
A few weeks ago, Laker phenom, Kobe Bryant, announced his retirement from basketball. While I was not a huge fan of the sport or even the player, I am now. Kobe wrote a lovely tribute to his passion in a goodbye poem published on a sports website. (Of course, he's not the first athlete to put pen to paper. Check out this book.)
I shared this poem with my writing students as they viewed highlights of his career. They were equally impressed with the man's words.
Then we wrote our own goodbyes to past-times, passions, or activities in our world that we will soon give up. For them: middle school, friendships, sports, hobbies, habits. A girl wrote goodbye to horse tournaments, another said so long to a K-pop musician, a quiet boy wrote a moving tribute to cross country.
This week, I continue a month of writing exercises. Today's is inspired by a professional athlete.
we part ways.
Time for a
You offer me
Once, we cried together
over MASH, the goodbye.
with the Wonder Years.
Sitting with my dad and Marlin Perkins
we marveled at
animals in the Wild Kingdom.
Now my time
Not with you.
Thanks for the memories.
What will you say goodbye to?
Share yours below.
“There is freedom in being a writer and writing. It is fulfilling your function. I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
As I wind down my energy from the amped up NaNoWriMo writing sprints of November, I return to my usual routines. One of which includes my own writing exercises courtesy Natalie Goldberg's book, "Writing Down the Bones."
One of my favorite exercises in that book is one that has you focus on who you are not. I will be using this prompt with my new batch of creative writing students this week, so I thought I'd share the exercise with you as well.
Grab your writing notebook and favorite pen. Goldberg says the heart speaks best through a flowing pen rather than a computer. I often write on the computer because it's easier. Plus, I'm a messy writer. However, when it comes to writing exercises, I write freehand in my journal.
You have your notebook and pen. Now find a quiet space and set a timer for at least ten to twenty minutes. Get ready, set, write.
Who are you not?
Here's my unedited flow of words:
I'm not the kind of person to own a snake, ride a unicycle, be an astronaut when she grows up, order a burrito with extra hot sauce, dance naked in the street after midnight like my neighbor in college, wear orange tights, get a full sleeve tattoo (or any tattoo?), spank my child, not care what people think of me.
I'm not the the person who complains all the time, laughs when someone is hurt, or orders a different ice cream flavor every time she visits the ice cream shop. I am not loud or very quiet. I am not the smartest or dumbest person in the room. I am not sophisticated nor pedestrian.
I am not obscene or rude. I am not perfect or happy not being perfect. I am not the person you sit next to on the plane who talks nonstops or doesn't give you elbow room.
I am not likely to hurt myself, drive recklessly, or dive off a cliff. I am not likely to scale a building or walk a tightrope higher than one-foot off the ground, sky-dive, or learn to fly a plane.
Who I am not says as much about me as who I am.
Who are you not? Share with us.
When I joined the NaNoWriMo crowd 23 days ago, I had little hope of achieving the 50,000-word count by the end of the month. As of today, I've written 36,099 words. No rounding; every word counts.
That's why I'm not going to spend too much time writing my blog today. I need to get back to my novel.
First, three things I've learned about goal-setting.
1. Setting a daily word-count goal gives you a visual target. Your inner writing-ego won't let you leave the project if you don't achieve that number.
2. Setting a daily word-count goal pushes your creativity into a corner that you must escape from. This requires more creativity. If you think the chapter's finished, but it's under your word-goal, how about beefing up that description of your protag's jacket or the sound of the rain or make it rain.
3. Setting a daily word-count goal exercises your writing muscles. It's like taking up running. At first, your goal is to get around the block. After a few days, you up to two blocks. Before you know it, you're jogging across town and back. Set reasonable goals then push yourself a little more each day. (Warning: don't set a goal so high that writing becomes a chore. Keep it fun.)
Want more inspiration? Try these articles from the experts at NaNoWriMo:
Tackling the saggy middle.
Putting the fun into your story.
If you're writing, good luck. Have fun. You can do this!
This is my first official year joining the throngs of crazies who attempt to write 50,000 words in November. Are you one of us?
First, some history...
Despite its Viking Helmet which suggests the phenomena began in Sweden or Denmark, NaNoWriMo started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999. The lyrical title stands for National Novel Writing Month. The fist one took place in July begun by founder Chris Baty. Starting in 2000, the event moved to the chilly hibernating month of November.
Now there's a whole team of people who run the website and support coffee-guzzling authors.
Writers are challenged to pump out 50,000 words in thirty days. That's about 1,667 words per day. There's even a challenge for young writers.
Yesterday, November 1, I managed 2100 words. That was a Sunday with that extra hour of sleep, no work, and no kids running around asking for anything.
We'll see what I manage during the work week.
Join in the maniacal fun, and be my buddy! Cheer me on, and let me cheer you on.
I look forward to connecting with you at NaNoWriMo. If you need help getting started, drop me a note below.
What happens when you have nothing to say but you've committed yourself to saying something?
That's when you write crap.
That's when you need to write like you're at the edge of a cliff, like you're scared, like you're about to die, like you don't know what's going to happen next.
This isn't about writer's block. This isn't even about finding your muse. This is about unleashing your passion, firing up your writing, releasing that sludge of unimaginable creative juice clogging your critical writer's mind.
However you do it, whatever you call it, every artist--writer, poet, painter, sculptor, etc.--needs to find a way to stick his hand down his throat and withdraw that hairy, slimy, gritty clog of filth that's blocking the juice of his work.
Try it. Close your eyes. Shut out the world. Hide inside a closet. Drive to a remote patch of dirt far from lights, sounds, people, animals. Crawl inside a cave. Whatever you can manage. Get there. Go there. Now.
Are you there?
Did you bring a journal?
No. No. No. Where we're going, we don't need any journals.
Sit inside your proverbial cave, melt within the darkness, shut out the world. What do you most fear? See it. Smell it. Go further. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Go deeper. Get pissed. Fight for your life. Fight for your family. Fight for what you love. Curse, yell, scream, punch, spit.
Keep your eyes closed.
Unmelt. Find a light inside. Who is it? What is it? Feel its warmth. Offer your gratitude. Sense a peace. Let this love, warmth, and calm wrap around you. Feel yourself as whole.
Open your eyes.
Find your way back to your writing place. Tell your story to you. It may be a few sentences, a few paragraphs, a page or more. It may be a poem, scraps of sentences and words, or an essay. Structure and form are unimportant. This is for your eyes only.
Now go back to your project. Who wants this energy? Who needs it? Let your experience breathe new life into your writing. Don't judge. Don't expect. Let it have its own path.
Make this part of your writing ritual.
Share your journey.
When I was younger, people told me that I should be a writer because I was a good speller. Today, I laugh at that. I know so many amazing storytellers who can't spell to save their lives. And you know what? We've got spellcheck. You don't need to be a great speller to write a great story.
The same could be said about grammar. Don't know an Oxford comma from a comma splice? That shouldn't keep you from writing the next Great American Novel.
For more thoughts on grammar, read the sage advice of my amazing editor, Jane MacKay.
Grammar Tips by Jane MacKay
People seem to use the word “grammar” very loosely, as a sort of all-encompassing term covering anything to do with language and how it’s used, but grammar refers specifically to “the system of inflections, syntax, and word formation of a language [and] the system of rules implicit in a language, viewed as a mechanism for generating all sentences possible in that language” (American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed.). In basic terms, the rules and guidelines of grammar govern how words and punctuation are used in relation to each other to convey a desired meaning. Of course, that’s still a very broad category.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my years of copy editing is that few of the rules of grammar are hard-and-fast rules. There are some that must be followed or you risk looking uneducated or, worse, causing misunderstanding -- e.g., “you’re” means “you are” and “your” means “belonging to you” – but many others are open to interpretation, such as comma placement, hyphen usage, splitting an infinitive (e.g., “to go boldly” vs. “to boldly go”), or that persistent Thistlebottomism, ending a sentence with a preposition (up with which I will put).
How to improve your understanding and knowledge of grammar?
Honestly, some people’s brains just don’t work that way and no matter how hard they try, the rules of grammar just aren’t going to stick in their head. And that’s fine. Use your creative talent to create and do your best during the revision and editing phases to make your writing as clean as possible. Then ask a grammar-adept friend, fellow writer, family member to correct errors they find, and then, if possible, hire a copy editor to polish and put the professional touch on your manuscript.
A few tips for becoming more grammar adept:
1. Pay close attention to the corrections made by your editor, and ask for explanation if you don’t understand why a certain change was made. If the editor makes a particular type of correction over and over again, make a note of that error (with before and after examples) and keep it where you can easily refer to it so you don’t keep making the same mistake.
2. Read high-quality and well-edited writing. Pay close attention when reading. Osmosis is an underrated method for improving the quality of your writing. It obviously works negatively – we all absorb poor habits of speech and writing from what we encounter every day – but it can also be a powerful positive influence.
3. Study grammatical rules and guidelines in bite-sized pieces. Don’t overwhelm yourself. The Purdue OWL (online writing lab) website has a well-organized section of explanations and examples. Search around and find a resource that works for you. (Hint: a reference librarian can point you in the right direction.)
4. Know your weaknesses. Triple check those things when you’re revising and editing your work. Use reference books, reputable online reference materials, ask a reference librarian for help.
5. Study a foreign language. I gained most of my formal knowledge of grammar from studying German for nine years.
Thanks, Jane! You can contact Jane directly, visit her website, or find her on Facebook to learn more about the world of an editor.
More grammar tips soon.
In the meantime, if you have a comment or question for Jane, share it below.
Let's start May with a writing contest!
What do you know about beginnings and endings? A great story might begin with a brilliant thought, random line, or quirky character, but at some point you'll need to get organized. In the meantime, just write. Regurgitate those ideas swimming about your head. Splatter every thought on the page. When you're ready, when the well's dry, step back and begin that plan. Mold the pieces together into a beautiful tale.
Writing challenges are a great way to practice your writing skills. This week, we take an opening and closing and craft a short tale. Call it flash fiction, mini tale, bitesize story, or whatever.
Below, you'll find three beginnings and three endings. You mix and match. Fill in the middle with a compelling story (as compelling as a few hundred words can be). Have fun!
Rules: choose one beginning and one ending, fill in the rest; keep it to 300 words or less.
1. (Landscape) The summer sun faded and night set in...
2. (Dialogue) "Stop it, Josh! You never listen."
3. (Meet the hero/heroine) She never loved winter, but it was different now since the events of the past summer.
1. "I know. It's not really what I expected at all, but I sure am glad you're here."
2. A single apple tree stood on the burnt hillside.
3. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and walked out the door.
Open to all ages!
This site is filled with many ideas. Feel free to search through my Blog for tips. Try these ones about sensory writing.
You have until May 15 to submit your entry. Paste it in the comments below or add a link with the entry on your own site.
The winner will be featured on this site and receive acclaim on Twitter and Facebook.
Everyone can write. Everyone can run.
It's true. However (yeah, you know where I'm going), just as not anyone can run a marathon, not everyone has a gift to write clear, lyrical prose that entertains and engages readers. That's why you need to treat writing just as you would any other sport.
You need to get up each day and practice. And just as with running, you will need to warm up, stretch and find inspiration. A running partner can help, too.
I have a friend who runs. She runs every day. She runs because it makes her happy, keeps her healthy and because it feels good. Whenever she can, she enters a mini marathon or fundraiser run. When I asked her why she does it, she said, "It's fun, and it makes me a better runner." When she runs these races, she runs to win. She doesn't train extra for them, but she makes sure she's prepared to go the distance.
Such is true for writing. You need to make writing a routine, and you need occasional "races" that are fun to be part of and make you a better writer. Go ahead, challenge yourself. Brave yourself for some feedback, even some criticism. Believe me, it will make you better at what you do.
If you are a teen writer, here are some places to submit your work. Be sure to read their submission guidelines.
New Moon Girls - online and paper; girls ages 8 - 14; accepts poems, articles, stories.
One Teen Story - online and paper; publishes stories for the teen audience.
Teen Ink - online and paper; teen audience and writers; publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photos, art.
The Writing Conference Contest - once yearly; open to students in elementary, junior high, high school; accepts poems, narratives, essays.
Oh, and don't forget the ThisGirl summer writing contests!
After you've viewed the above sites, set a target. Plan to submit at least one piece of writing by the end of the year. In the mean time, practice.
Please post links to any of your work online, or just give a personal shout out for your achievements. Good luck. Write on!
Something different this Sunday. My first ever young adult writing contest.
June Writing Contest for Teens
School’s out, so now it’s time for your own assignments. When I was a teen, I loved the freedom from homework in the summertime so I could write. I kept a journal for my own wonderings and observations, but summer allowed me to write poetry and short stories. I didn’t submit them to anyone. I wrote them for myself, typed them and glued them into my creative writing journal (which I still have).
The unstructured sunny days allowed me to take the time to ponder, observe, fantasize and dream. My writing blossomed in summer because there wasn’t anyone telling me what to write. It was all me.
I’d like to give you that chance.
Here is the first ThisGirl Summer Writing Contest.
In 200 words or less, describe a best friend. Could be your real BFF, or it could be a fantasy. In prose or poetry. No other restrictions than the word count. Oh, and you must be 13 to 18 years old. Submit your entry by June 28.
Paste your entry or link below. The winner will be featured on this site’s homepage and receive acclaim on Twitter and Facebook. Each monthly summer winner will be in the running for a free signed copy of “This Girl Climbs Trees” in September.
UPDATE: CONGRATULATIONS, EMILY REEVES OF TENNESSEE FOR YOUR BEAUTIFUL ODE NOW FEATURED ON THE EXTRA BITS PAGE.