Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to Writing Prompt Pit Stop! This week we’re going to use our noses to sniff out images, places, and things: observations that we may have forgotten about or that we might overlook in our everyday lives.

We have already taken a look at sights and sounds and, no doubt,  they are two important senses, but even though those two are powerful – the sense of smell is perhaps one of the strongest tools we have – it can save of us from danger such as gas leaks, fire, rancid meat, etc., and it can bring us pleasure as when we smell “comfort” foods or catch a whiff of a loved one’s cologne/perfume. And speaking of loved ones, it’s often attributed to our Pheromones…the odor of a loved one that attracts us to them, and even pheromones attract us to our friends. Pretty powerful stuff, huh?

What does smell have to do with your writing? Well, if you can capture smell in your words, you can capture an audience. Who can’t identify when you write about a first date going into the movie theatre and smelling the popcorn? The description of just that one smell is going to put your audience, right there, in that movie theatre with you or with your characters.

Another good food example: our smells that we associate with our childhood memories. Maybe it’s grandma’s homemade cherry pie cooling in the windowsill – we may not know your grandma, but most of us can sure identify with that smell…or it gets us to remember our own grandma’s kitchen…the ham and beans, the cinnamon pinwheels, the oyster stuffing at Thanksgiving… it not only takes us back there to grandma’s kitchen…those images in writing have the power to make an audience hungry!

It doesn’t always have to be food that our noses know…you could walk past a stranger on the street and catch the smell of that cologne your high school sweetheart used to wear…something that you hadn’t thought about in thirty years…but with that one whiff…you remember everything.

And, it doesn’t always have to be pleasant smells that show up in your writing – sometimes it’s putrid descriptions of a bad meal, mold or mildew,  an overflowing kitty litter box,  a co-worker who doesn’t use deodorant…those images may turn-up noses but by the same token that audience won’t soon forget those descriptions. They’ll identify whether they want to or not.

So with this week’s prompt I’m asking you to get nosy! Put your nose to good use. What whiffs bring back memories? What smell makes your stomach turn? What smell makes you smile? What smell makes you immediately hungry? What is your all time favorite smell? What do you never want to smell again? You could ask yourself these types of questions all day – and in doing so you will have a plethora of images for poems, or you will find a character that has a quirky affinity for sniffing onions; maybe you’ll remember some smell that makes a good chapter in your memoir…again, like sights and sounds, with smells the possibilities could go on forever. Get some smells in mind, and use your tenth prompt:

“Smell This!”

1) Take a deep whiff. Go outside smell the new-mown grass. Get into the kitchen, smell what’s cooking. Go to the mall, smell the perfumes/colognes. Go to the movie theatre…and try to resist that smell of popcorn. In your daybook make a list of all of the smells that you’re aware of on a day-to-day basis.

2) Sit down and make a list of all smells that remind you of your childhood, what did your elementary school smell like? Do you remember that smell of salmon on Fridays or the school pizzas? What smells remind you of your high school days? The gym locker room? The oil paints in art class? The smell of wood from shop class? Go through different parts of your life and keep a list of all of these smells in your daybook – you’ll have so much to write about you won’t know where to start first!

3) After getting a substantial compilation from all of the smells above, decide what genre you want to work with, and then pick one or two smells (don’t overwhelm yourself) and write for ten minutes or until you run out of steam.

4) As always, tweak your work, add/delete – keep your best stuff and then revise, revise, revise!

With the lists that you generate from this one smelly prompt, I believe if you wanted you could write an entire manuscript of poems based on smell alone, or you could write a series of short stories or flash fiction. These exercises will naturally lend themselves to a lot of ideas for memoir/creative nonfiction, and you can always use smell as a basis of a play.

I don’t like to say this over and over, but I will…because it’s true…the possibilities are endless! Who says there’s such a thing as writer’s block? Not me.

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!

Lylanne

Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to Writing Prompt Pit Stop! This week we’re staying in tune with our keen sense of observation. Last week we looked at the advantages of seeing what is around us; this week we’re going to listen a little harder to the sounds going on around us.

It’s true, sometimes we can’t (or don’t) really listen because there is too much noise. Noise from external sources, such as phones, people’s voices, traffic, TVs, and so on.  Besides all of that, our internal noise can drown out a lot of things too – such as our creativity (when we allow our inner critics to get too loud). We do hear a lot of things going on all around us,  but we don’t always listen and there is a difference.

Sound is one of those senses that many of us take for granted. It would be hard to imagine not hearing a loved one’s voice, a favorite song, a purring cat, birdsong, waves of the ocean – you know the things that we really long to hear, especially if it’s been a while since we last heard them, but don’t always think much about. We need to remember that like sight, sound can really lend itself to getting into our writing. Here are a few examples:

When I was in high school, my English teacher brought in Carole King‘s album Tapestry for us to listen to, and as we listened to the songs we were encouraged to write what we felt. All these years later, I’ve never forgotten that exercise because it left an impact, not only because of my love of King’s songs but because of the imagery her words conjured up as I listened. My poem, “Our New English Teacher” reflects on this memory:

               by studying the lyrics of Carole King, / we unraveled the canonized poets,

               / and with each unfamiliar assignment / we wrote our way out of ordinary.

The poem can be found in its entirety in the book: Company of Women: New and Selected Poems (Chatter House Press, 2013).

Another example is something that inspired a freewrite, and then found it’s way into a new poem that I’m writing. Not far from my house is a lot of road construction; sitting in my home one day, with the windows open, I heard a constant clanking sound…for whatever reason that sound took me back to Eaton Elementary School where the chains from the Maypole rattled and clanked in the wind…or when played on at recess. I had not thought of recess, or that weird piece of playground equipment in years – and probably wouldn’t have if a simple sound hadn’t returned that memory to me.

So with this week’s prompt I’m asking you to take the time to really listen to what’s going on around you. What sound brings a memory from your past back into focus? What sound inspires you to write a poem, or takes you right into a new short story? Could it be a song that comes on the radio – “an oldie but goodie?” Could it be some unexpected noise that unlocks an unrelated memory like happened to me? The possibilities, again, are endless – it just hinges on how hard you want to listen. With that in mind, here’s your ninth prompt:

“Did You Hear That? Write!”

1) Listen. Turn off the technology and sit in silence. What do you hear that you’ve not noticed before? Accidentally, on purpose, eavesdrop on conversations going on all around you. Jot down what you hear. Go out into nature, listen to the different sounds you haven’t paid attention to – what does wind really sound like? Can you tell the difference in the sounds of a Northern Cardinal and a Blue Jay? In your daybook write down all sounds that you hear. Do they remind you of anything? Write that down too.

2) Select a favorite CD or an oldies station and listen to the music as you write in your daybook. What feelings do these songs, or this artist, conjure up? What images do you see when you really pay attention to the lyrics? What memories do you have when a song comes on that you haven’t heard in a while? Write it all down.

3) After you’ve selected what you’d really like to listen to from the above suggestions, and have written your observations – now go back in and add in more detail. Do you see a poem possibility? Have you given yourself an idea for a story? A character? A setting? Write for 10 minutes or until you exhaust your images/energy of the piece.

4) Revise, revise, and then revise again. I know of what I speak. It works.

Again, I feel that this exercise will lend itself well to any of the writing genres; simple everyday active listening will lead to a good poem, or an interesting essay as long as you interject the details, share good imagery, and take time to revise. By the same token, writing what you hear will give you great ideas for a piece of flash fiction, a short story, or even a 10 minute play. Listening to what’s going on around you can help you create a plot, a character’s personality or attire, a charming setting, and so on. Once you get writing you’ll see the possibilities.

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!

Lylanne

Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to Writing Prompt Pit Stop! Last week I said for at least the next few weeks we will pay close attention to our keen sense of observation. Why? So many go through life without ever noticing their surroundings, or if they do, they do not give what they notice a second thought. Is it any wonder with everyone’s face glued to some form of technology – be it the TV, Smartphone, Facebook, Twitter, you name it, there’s a lot of devices clamoring for our attention. And, I’ve fallen “victim” of using it all myself – the difference is: a) I grew up without the majority of it, b) I’m involved in the arts enough – both visual and literary – that I’ve taught myself to take notice of my surroundings.

 Just this past Sunday, I went for a leisurely walk through one of the Metroparks that we’re so lucky to have here in Toledo, OH. I go for these walks armed with my camera and my daybook, and I never put in earbuds to listen to music as I want to hear the sounds of nature – it’s inspiring! Walking is not only good for one’s health, it’s good for the soul – if you’re open, you can see, listen, smell, or use any of your senses that you need to write and paint creatively. Speaking of senses, it’s no secret that all five (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) are key to your creative output.

So, when I say that not many people are tuned in when they’re out in nature, I can give you a good example – as I was strolling up a path at the park, keeping my eyes and ears open, I heard a snap and a crackle sound come from the woods to my left. Curious, I stopped and looked thinking maybe it was just a squirrel or a chipmunk; I walked a little further up the path, still watching the woods, and looking right at me was a doe. Behind her was a fawn in all its splendid spotted glory. I was able to get several good photos of the doe, and of her baby:

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 Instead of hurrying along, I decided to hang back, and observe – what I saw was family after family, teen after teen, jog or walk right past this sight without even knowing how close this deer family was (upon further examination there were about four more fawns lying in the brush near this path) – these other people were talking on cell phones, had earbuds inserted, or were merely looking straight ahead, unaware.

 Here are a few other sights from my walk Sunday:

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All I’m saying is if you want to write, and write well (and it works with art too), you need to open your eyes – see what is in your surroundings. It might not be a bird or a doe that catches your eye – maybe it’s your true love’s eyes, maybe it’s that sculpture in front of the library, maybe it’s that shade of blue sky that you just can’t name, or can you? What is it you really see? With that in mind, here is your eighth prompt:

 “Seeing: the Possibilities!”

 1) Look around you. Don’t just go through the motions; don’t keep your eyes on your computer screens/handheld devices – really see what’s happening. If it’s only for 10 minutes, that’s a start! Take the time for a walk, or sit at the mall or in a coffeeshop and watch the people, look around your desk, what’s there that you could write about (or sketch)? You get the idea.

 2) Keep a camera and your daybook handy – they will come in handy for recording your sights and every little detail that you can jot down.

 3) Next, choose something that you saw while consciously being observant and freewrite for 10 minutes, or until you’ve exhausted the subject. Now choose something else and repeat. When done see if the two freewrites (or more, if you have time and are inspired) have any connections you could combine or if maybe they have tension with one another. Surprises are always fun to discover…seeing those connections or seeing the tension build that you hadn’t planned.

 4) When you’ve made the discoveries in your writing that you’re happy with, then set aside time to make your work cohesive in some way. As always, make time for revision of your work – it doesn’t matter if it’s a poem, an essay, a flash fiction, or a play – as I’ve written before and I will continue to say – revision is the true art of writing. It’s pulling those images out that are so strong, so realistic, that your audience can see them jump off of the page; it’s making good word choices and then pushing even further to make the best word choices possible, it’s avoiding the cliché and redundant, of course! Revision is key!

 Again, I feel that this exercise will lend itself well to any of the writing genres; simple everyday observations will lead to a good poem, or an interesting essay as long as you interject the details, share good imagery, and take time to revise. By the same token, writing about your observations will give you great ideas for a piece of flash fiction, a short story, or even a 10 minute play. Your observations could make it into the plot, a character’s personality or attire, a charming setting, the possibilities are endless! Once you get writing you’ll see the possibilities.

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!

Lylanne

Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to Writing Prompt Pit Stop! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – writing ideas are all around you everyday, even the mundane things you think might be boring to write about may have a hidden surprise waiting for you, you just have to be observant – I tell that to my students all of the time and I do practice what I preach. So the next few weeks we’ll tackle some prompts that call on your keen sense of observation.

I generally have my daybook with me everywhere I go, but sometimes I just don’t have the opportunity to write things down anyway – so I have to be extra vigilant in observing, and in using my memory of those observations when I finally get a chance to jot things down. So you should get in the habit, too, of being aware at all times, being in the moment so to speak, and you can always have those images/insights to choose from.

For example: this past Sunday I had the opportunity to go down memory lane with my daughters, who are grown now, with kids of their own. They invited me to go to the New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) concert in Indianapolis (which turned out to be the last night of the tour).

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I admit, the only reason I decided to make the four hour trip was not for the concert, but to spend time with my daughters, and teenage granddaughter, and to make some new memories and build on some old ones. You see back in 1990, when my daughters were 10 and 13 years old, they were New Kids crazy – posters on the walls, clothing, bags, playing their music, etc.  So, when the New Kids on the Block came around on tour I took them to their concert, not once, but twice.  What does this experience have to do with a writing prompt you ask? Many things! During the day Sunday, and the concert that night, I couldn’t sit and write down everything I wanted  to as it was happening – so I focused on remembering the images (sometimes a camera helps!), or on things that were said. When I got back to my daybook I made a list of all of those things. Some of which were as simple as: ’80s dangling earrings, sparkle shirts, “Hanging Tough,” how all of us have changed in 23 years, laughter, Donnie & Jordan – their favorites, music as memory maker, and so on. With just those simple prompts I can get several poems, or maybe one long one.  Plus, I’m sure I’ll be adding to my list of images and dialogue even these few days later.

So because I’ve discussed images, dialogue, music, and memories – four power-packed ways to get into writing, this week’s prompt is going to ask you to utilize memories/images/music using your own concert experiences.  If you’re set to go to a concert in the near future, great! It’ll give you a chance to get fresh images in real time. If not, just think about a favorite concert – or even a bad concert experience, and let that get you into your writing.

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BTW – I wasn’t expecting much from the NKOTB Package Tour concert (with Boyz II Men and 98 Degrees) but they put on one of the best concerts that I’ve been to – and I’ve been to too many concerts to count, enjoying my own favorite bands and singers! It just goes to show: Pleasant surprises can turn up anywhere! With that said, here is your seventh prompt:

“Step by Step”

Step 1: Attend a concert, or brainstorm a concert or two that you’ve attended and write down a list of any images or dialogue that strike you as interesting or that you keep going back to when you’re thinking of the experience.

Step 2: Revisit the songs from the concert – perhaps there’s a title that will work into your writing, or maybe even the title itself will be what gets you writing.

Step 3: While you’re working with your images/dialogue from the concert, have that same music playing in the backgroundyou’ll be surprised how hearing the songs can seed imagery & energy into your writing (well, maybe not if you write a lot – music is an excellent trigger!).

Step 4: When you have your music going and your list in front of you – write for 10 minutes or until you’ve run out of steam. As always, revise what you have written in that time: find better word choices, add to, or cut out, etc.  – whatever it takes to make your writing sing!

I feel that this exercise will lend itself well to any of the writing genres, it could lead to a good poem, or an interesting essay about a specific experience or by capturing different experiences through the years. By the same token, writing about your concert of choice could make its way into a piece of flash fiction, a short story, or even a 10 minute play. Once you get writing you’ll see the possibilities.

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!

Lylanne