Tag Archives: master’s degree

Day 4: 12 Days of Blogmas

Welcome to Day 4 of  Blogmas minions!

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Today I want to share the first of a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of a writing prompt.

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It is difficult enough for a writer to decide on a story’s beginning, its main conflict, or its content without outside influence. It can be even worse with the wrong kind of prompt.

In terms of origin, I believe the prompt was developed as a form of guided free-writing. That seems like an oxymoron, but when a writer is operating at lower creative speeds or at a full stop (writer’s block to those who believe in its existence) a guided free-write, in the form of an idea or beginning phrase to help inspire a new, unusual, or wacky story.

 

While this may seem like a cute, quirky little exercise to help young writers to learn how to develop character or the importance of place, it’s grounded in a lesson every writer can learn from.

Sometimes creativity needs a little help. It can come in the form of a suggestion from a beta reader, a new character or inspiration, or thinking of a story from a different angle. And this is where the prompt comes in. A good prompt can be used one of two ways: as the inception of a new idea or to help open your mind on your current work in progress.

And the quality of the prompt is how you optimize your use of the prompt. Take for example my first prompt: Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…

It’s the beginning to a new story or simply a new scene. Depending on your style and content it could fit into a current work in progress or begin a whole new set of characters for you to fall in love with.

So, back to the prompt. It’s specific in its imagery, the descriptions of the snow and the moon, setting up a place, a tone, and even a character. It also brings you into a bit of action moving the blackbird in the second sentence. And at the same time it’s not too specific. It could be the beginning of a typical winter for Massachusetts  or a fantastical alternate universe where global warming causes snowfall in the Amazon at the time of the harvest moon. How ever you interpret the prompt, it should allow you enough information that you’re not staring at a blank page, but not confining you to someone else’s idea.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes a prompt well-written and useful. When it can guide your creativity towards a single focus (maybe not on your current work in progress), but something new and fresh to get your mind going. And if you’re lucky, it can turn into something helpful for your work in progress. For some it’s just in terms of getting the creativity working. For others, it can be just the medicine they needed in order to get their mind back to their work in progress.

For me, prompts have been most effective at bringing me new sides of a story I’m struggling with. Dollhouse Daughter (my Master’s manuscript)  has several scenes that would not be in there if not for writing prompts. The entire prologue is the prime example. The last part of the prologue was written with a prompt (courtesy of my beloved mentor Janice Eidus) that had to use the word animal, bones, and one other word (that eludes me). It was the perfect opportunity to showcase a vodou ritual that begged to be written into my story.

Each prompt may not yield such great results or end up in the final draft, but it will do this: give you something to think and to write about.

So, next time you’re stuck or in need of something new to do. Pick a prompt. Pick a friend and write one together.  And then share it with me I’d love to read your prompts.

Happy reading and writing!

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The Gathering: The Final Review

Well, it’s down to the wire and I’ve finally finished The Gathering for my practicum assignment. There are three days for me to write this 5-8 page paper. Seems silly to wait this close to the deadline when I’ve had over a month to accomplish it. For a writer, you’d think the deadline would be the scary, black cloud looming over my head ready to strike me down with lightening. But I love the thrill of procrastination. There’s something about the deadline that forces my creative juices to work harder. Contrary to the idea that stress creates writer’s block, sometimes the stress inspires your imagination in a way working ahead just can’t provide.

This 261 page book was difficult not in the sense that it was hard to read, but that I was attempting to read like a writer. As I’ve mentioned before, reading can be broken down into three easy categories.

1) Reading as a reader (for pleasure)- It is the most common and easy way to read. You are reading to enjoy the story and not to dissect the writing. Sometimes you just need to crawl away from the world and read to escape the realities.

2) Reading as a student (to analyze)- This is the most familiar for high school and college students. There is an English Comp. or Literature class requiring you to write about a book that you have to read. You read the book knowing what to look for in the words to write a paper.

3) Reading as a writer (to learn)-The action of a writer reading another writer’s work is different than anything else in the reading world. We don’t judge another author’s work, but try to understand how they accomplished such a feat. Especially for a young writer like myself, it is an important skill to learn from experienced authors.

Knowing I had a daunting task ahead to learn how to read like a writer, I took my time. Over the course of three weeks, I labored over this book. You would think it might take a week with how determined I am to get a good grade, but that’s not the case. This book is simply about a woman coming to terms with her closest brother’s suicide. What do you have when you mix an exotic setting (Ireland) with a great tragedy (suicide), and drop in a couple repressed memories from a deranged family? You get one confusing book. Not confusing in the sense that you couldn’t connect the story together from chapter to chapter. It is the viewpoint of the entire books. Going from imaginative memories of Veronica’s grandparents to interactions with her deranged mother, any reader can feel her confusion.

At the risk of sounding cocky, I feel like this could be on purpose by the author. Without the confusion in this woman’s life, we wouldn’t be able to understand where she’s coming from. Death can do crazy things to your life, especially with marriage, secrets, and family gatherings. The ending leaves you wanting more coinciding almost exactly with the feelings of the narrator.

I was stunned, absolutely stunned at the ending. Not because I can’t imagine things that happen when a family gets together, but it is still more shocking to someone outside of the family. Overall, the book was satisfying. It’s relative to everyone in one way or another. Regardless of how crazy your family is, it’s nice to see that other families are worse. My next step is to write this paper. Although it should be a piece of cake, I don’t want it to fall short. There is a need for me to go above and beyond what I did in my undergrad. It’s easier because I’m not analyzing the text to find a certain theme. Instead, I’m asked to find what aspects of the book I like and what has affected my writing so far.

In 5-8 pages, I think I can do this in one day let alone three. It’s easy to find what you like or don’t like about a book. With the sticky notes and scribbles in the margin, I feel like my work will pay off. So, here goes my late night start to the first critical essay!

Make sure you check out The Gathering by Anne Enright!

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