Writing Prompts

RUST REMOVAL: DAY 4

Continuing with the Writer’s Digest 12-Day Writing Plan.

A follower was kind enough to point out that WD also has weekly writing prompts as well. Based on the way I’m fighting, clawing, carving out writing time just for the 12-Day plan I definitely will focus on that next.  In the meantime…

A 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises

Day 4:  Write a letter to an agent telling her how wonderful you are.

######################

Dear Ms Clappingbotthom,

I strongly believe that what makes an enjoyable memoir or nonfiction essay is not that it’s so unique, but that it’s common enough that it resonates with someone.  Everyone has high and lows, up and downs, good and bad days, and so on.  It’s the story that connects that writer to that reader that’s important.  As the church folk say, “If I could just touch one” is good. This is in my mind as I share my stories.

I’m your classic people person. Never met a stranger. Yes, it has cost me a few times, but I refuse to let those few occasions trump all of the wonderful experiences in this great life I’ve lived.  Yes, my stories may contain sadness, but isn’t that life, and I would certainly be “unique” if I am the only writer who has never encountered grief in some form.

I can’t control misery happening, but I can control how much I talk about it.  Thus, my stories that  I share are not just “The Wonderful Life and Good Times of Dennis Young.”  They are “How I Lost My Wallet on Vacation and Still Had a Great Time.”

The enclosed story “One Night in Oz”, talks about my first visit to New York City as a young teenager, describing the sights and adventures my younger cousin and I lived during that night.

######################

Ok, that was quick and dirty.  I don’t know if that makes me “wonderful” or if I really got into the spirit of the exercise, but I enjoyed writing it nonetheless.

I’d appreciate any feedback, especially from  any agents or those of you who have done query letters before.

Next week’s exercise is going to be a bear: write a 20 line poem about an event in my life.  I think I’ve created, oh, about two poems, in my life!  ‘the hell I’m going to write a poem about my life?

Advertisements

RUST REMOVAL: DAY 3

Slowly but surely, haltingly but patiently struggling forward, working with the Writer’s Digest’s writing plan:

A 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises

Day 3:  Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen.

########

I was never what you call a nature person. I like astronomy and space travel. Correct that: I love and I’m fascinated by it. The NASA channel is first one up on my cable’s Favorite list.

The physical things here on the ground were another story. I never went camping, grew up in a seaport city, so the beach was nothing special. My trips to the zoo were ok. Or as Dom De Luise as Caesar says, “Nice. Not thrilling, but nice.”

My attitude is changed now. Here we go…

It’s a rainy Friday night in Cupertino, and Ron is absolutely giddy about it. “That means it’s going to be snow over there.”

There is Yellowstone National Park. We’ve flown to San Francisco on a Friday to get in a weekend of sightseeing before our Hewlett-Packard training class begins Monday. It’s been a full day of riding all over the city as soon as we checked in, and with lots of things to do on our agenda (yea, we’re here for training, but come on, our first time in San Francisco?) Ron wants to move the Yellowstone visit up to tomorrow.

I’m not much of a nature person, but I love flying, especially to California. I spend the entire journey looking at the changing landscape, and the memory of seeing landmarks in real life will never be forgotten. The Mississippi is a big-ass river! The Rockies are awesome! Maybe that’s how I like nature – at 30,000 feet.

We’re joined by Linda, a flight attendant for Delta that I’m dating, and that Saturday the three of us make the journey. It’s a clear day, and as we go along I see what Ron was talking about. The amount of snow gradually increases, and soon it’s a winter wonderland. I’ve dealt with lots of snow before, so nothing dynamic happening here.

After we park the car and begin to walk the first thing that gets my attention is the sound, like a building collapsing. Ron notices the look on my face, and grinning he tells me “That was blocks of ice and snow falling.”

Suddenly I’m really paying attention to where I am. The snow and trees and the sounds are different. It’ s not just a park anymore, not just trees and snow. Now I’m putting them all together, looking at the whole picture. Now I’m not in the city, throwing snowballs in the yard. There’s a little bit of fun happening here.

Now I’m looking at a mountain that goes straight up, there’s no gradual slope. It’s a gray wall that goes up forever. Take a rectangular piece of rock, stick it in the ground vertically, and then enlarge it a million times. I’m staring, and it freaks me out when I realize that I’m standing here staring.

Nature ratchets it up on me – clouds start to roll over the edge of the top, like someone’s dumped dry ice up there, turned on a disco fog machine. Spilling over, the clear blue sky giving sharp edges to them, like someone coloring within the lines, the contrast making them seem so much whiter. I have my camera with me and I take a few shots before another rumble gets my attention again. I go back to staring.

I’ve seen mountains, seen snow, seen clouds. Been on a mountain in the midst and clouds, never giving a second thought to the world around me. Now, it’s all that I see. Ron and Linda are off somewhere, I’m still looking up, in my own world.

The moment in everyone’s life, the moment some place or person or event tells you right then and there that this is special, a good special, happens to me. The moment that’s seared into memory forever.

I feel… small.

For the first time in my life, I’m awestruck.

I don’t think about anything except what I’m seeing, and I recognize now how someone can describe nature as peaceful, beautiful, enjoyable, awesome… and the handiwork of God. The rumble is His voice, the clouds His breath.

“Yea, David. I can see where you’re coming from.”

RUST REMOVAL DAY 2: RETRY

As one of my followers correctly pointed out, I totally missed the intent of last weeks exercise:

DAY 2:

Create a character with personality traits of someone you love, but the physical characteristics of someone you don’t care for.

I fell into a personal trap of getting caught up in why the person I don’t care for made that list.  My writing mindset is focused on nonfiction, and I stumbled too deeply into the poison swamp of hatred.  As they pointed out, it’s FICTIONAL!

Get over the hate and get a grip.

Thanks!

So, let me continue as I planned, just letting the words flow, no revisions, spell check only.

=====================================================

She’s like most grandmothers of that time – the undisputed leader of the family.  She’s the personification of  the old saying “If Momma ain’t  happy, then nobody’s happy.”  Sure, her husband acts the role of the strong, silent patriarch, yet looking at him you know that when the time comes he’ll take charge.  In the meantime, it’s usually “ok, honey.”  For the other 95% of the time, it’s her world, we’re the subjects,  and she’s knee-deep in all our lives.  Unquestioned love for us, strongly balanced with a no-nonsense attitude for foolishness.  Child or adult, you’re going to get her opinion about what you’re saying, what you’re doing, even what you’re thinking.  Oh yea, the same for the “not” word you can put in front of the action.

She has the knack for reading faces.  Mom tells us as kids it didn’t matter how they tried to hide it, she’d come home from work and not only tell them she knows they had an argument but she’ll damn near tell them exactly what it was about and what each one said to the other.  I used to think it was just one of those old family legends until the Thanksgiving day she confronted my brother and me about an argument we had at the grocery store during a last-minute run for a few things for dinner. I’m basically “How the hell did she know about that?” when she tells us  “looks like y’all been fighting again.” We had laughed and joked our way out of it on the drive back home, so it wasn’t like we came back angry.  At least I was pretty sure I wasn’t still upset, so it couldn’t have been my face that betrayed us.

She’s no exception to the jokes told about the shortest  person always trying act the baddest.  Barely over 5 feet, she has  the long, straight silver-streaked black hair handed down from the Native-American blood of the family from back in Mississippi.  Thick bodied, but not what you’d call overweight, and when she walks it’s like she’s carrying something on her back, slightly bent forward, with a pronounced lean to each side as she steps.  It’s a walk that, if you don’t  see her face, makes her look older than her 66 years. She’s blessed with smooth, copper skin with few wrinkles, and could easily pass for, oh I guess, mid fifties.  She has a thick southern accent, and sometimes I tease her about sounding like an extra from The Color Purple.  I often do it when she gets into her lecturing mode, unsolicited opinion time.  It’s always signaled with the opening words “You need to…”  It gets on my nerve when she says that to me, and that’s my way of taking the misery out of it for me and whomever else is the target.

But when it comes to how she dresses,  that’s another story. Grandma is serious about clothes,  and she puts her money and time into it.  Even if something isn’t that expensive she makes it look like it is. One of those people everybody knows who can make the ugliest outfit look good. She’s no fashion snob – she’ll shop Wal-Mart’s clearance rack, but at least twice a month at a minimum though, she’ll make the trip to the upscale places.  

All it takes is one phone call to one of the ladies in the family announcing her next shopping trip, and then she’s heading out in the SUV packed with any random assortment of daughters, nieces, sister-in-laws, daughter-in-laws, granddaughters, all eager for a touch of her fashion magic.  Those who can’t go demand to be the one to receive the first call for the next one.  She is their Goddess of Fashion – she wears her credentials everyday –  and as they shop they look to her. A slight frown if they even so much as look at a rack or display is all they need, an interaction they all love.

So needless to say that when she passes on a chance to give her thoughts on my brother’s decision to sell his house and move into a condo we think that maybe she’s just distracted.  Then my wife tells me that the ladies are talking about how long it’s been since the last shopping trip together.  Apparently she told them about her last two journeys after the trip.  No clarion call.  Now, everyone’s antenna is up, trying to figure out what this sudden deviation in behavior is all about. 

===================================================== 

So there, free-flowing and only checked for spelling.

RUST REMOVAL DAY 2

RUST REMOVAL CONTINUES:   DAY 2 WRITING EXERCISE

Last week was fun, creating titles for books/articles/etc. I’d like to write.  What i wanted to do was create spontaneously, first thing to come to mind.  Not spend anytime formatting or editing.  Main  goal was simply moving the thoughts from brain to “paper.”  The whole point of the exercise is to get the creative juices going.

So here’s the next one:

DAY 2:

Create a character with personality traits of someone you love, but the physical characteristics of someone you don’t care for.

Glad they didn’t use Hate.    The remaining vestiges of the Christian in me IS not (supposed to be) comfortable with hate, but, gee,  I can do this using the phrase “don’t care for” as an excuse (yea, I know, can’t fool God)

So as I begin to think of two people on opposite ends of my affection scale I discover  that a huge part of me absolutely refuses to mix the two.  Sad to say, I’m struggling separating hate from “don’t care about.”  Hate’s running pretty strong at this moment in my life – that is, it generates the stronger emotion much, much more easily. I can’t talk about my grandmother while giving her the features of the most “not care for” person in my life: a former co-worker whom I will not speak to ever again,  even at gunpoint.  Biggest joke in office during that time was the teasing I got about showing up at her retirement luncheon.

Did not go!!!

Everybody has limits, she stomped over mine!!

SEE!!! Now I’m all pissed off again!!!  😡

And I don’t want to put this on those I Iove.

Wow! Suddenly this exercise isn’t the piece of cake like I thought it would be.  I can’t separate the personality of the bad from their physical makeup.  Nope, nope, and no.. can’t do it!

Damn if this isn’t turning into a psychological exercise.  Couch time, free of charge.  Hmmmm…   post this, and then regroup.  The only spontaneous thing that’s happening is mental combustion!

======================

12-DAY RUST REMOVAL

OK, I haven’t stopped writing at least something every chance I get. It’s the posting.  I feel I have to “blog with a purpose” but I keep forgetting this is MY blog and I can write whatever the heck I want, dammit.  I’m supposed to be capturing and sharing my growth.

Alrighty then, a nice little exercise to wake up my Muse, courtesy Writer’s Digest.  They have a good idea to kickstart the new year:

A 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises

Ahhhh, a loophole the lazy/busy part of me can manipulate – they didn’t say consecutive days. Still, a good way to get the posting rust removed.

So no more thinking, plotting, wondering. Let ‘er rip!

Day 1:  Write 10 potential book titles of books you’d like to write.

I know my heart leans more towards magazine articles, and the true ones I have in mind  I think I’ll keep in the safe.  But in the spirit of the exercise, here are articles, essays, and maybe books I’d write:

  1.  Whiskey, Women, and Prison Time: Country Singer or Rapper?
  2. The Untold Stories of African-Americans and WWII Espionage
  3. The Making of “Me”
  4. When You Can’t Catch a Break
  5. Proving You’re Saved
  6. Power Couple
  7. Three Chains and a Cane: The Story of the World’s Oldest Rapper
  8. The 21st Century Prophets: Street Preachers
  9. The First Inventor: The First Person Who Discovered How to Create Fire
  10. Paths Not Taken

Hey, that was fun !

Whaddya think?  Which should I tackle first?

stack-of-books

SWAMP WATER, QUICKSAND, and NINJA MOVIES

Ahh, that time in a life when creativity is challenged. Calls to My Muse are sandwiched between calls to handle life issues. The transition from legal words to lyrical words is a challenge. Thoughts of creating things are replaced by thoughts of rebuilding things. I’m spitting out all of this fetid swamp water I swallow as I’m dog-paddling to ground I can stand on. I get there and It’s only a moment’s respite. Here come the mosquitos, going for the ears first. Why does the buzzing around in my ear bother me more than getting bit?

“Just bite my ass up and be on your way!”

Swatting at them, I take a step and sink knee-deep in quicksand! Oh great! What’s the saying, “the more you struggle the faster you sink”, or something like that? Everything in my being absolutely rejects that crap. Just stand there and sink? Nah, I’m going to pray (loud and long) but I’m
turning into one Indiana Jones-acting fool also. Just trust God to make that low-hanging branch strong enough to help me pull myself out!

The temple sits shrouded in fog. Dark green and black mold covers the doors and bricks, so thick and expansive I can barely see the mortar in some spots. Sections of carvings peek out through the mold – dragons and devils and snakes and scorpions and other unpleasant creatures. I wonder… How much can I charge them to pressure wash this place?

I enter. Sections of the ceiling have fallen ages ago, scattered over the stone floor of a vast, round hall. There are what appears to be doors every few feet, their entrances shrouded in darkness. Moonlight filters in through the remaining rafters, making a pattern of lines on the floor that resemble cell bars. Cobwebs are everywhere, and where the moonlight touches them they almost seem to glow. The only other object in the hall is a circular pile of loosely placed stones, forming a seat for a thin, bald, white-bearded man. He’s wrapped in white and green cloth, and sits with his legs crossed under him. He’s resting his elbows on his knees, hands propping his chin. Across his lap lays a very long samurai sword. I’m thinking, somehow, someway, I’ve stumbled into Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Part 3.

I’m just a few steps inside the temple, wondering what to do when he points a gnarly finger at me and shouts,

“Nǐ huì fàngqì ma?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat the question, please?” (Ever polite, am I, imitating the very proper British chap)

He takes a long, sorrowful sounding sigh.

“Nǐ huì fàngqì ma?”

“Come again?”

A third time, “Nǐ huì fàngqì ma?”

Now I’m getting pissed, the improper Carolina chap. “WHAT?”

Now he’s pissed off way past my being pissed! He grabs the sword and hops off the stone. As soon as his feet hits the floor I turn around to run, and I see the door I just came though…is no longer there.

A bony hand on my shoulder spins me around, a wrinkled face is thrust into mine!

“Will you give up?”

Sounding like a four-year old kid who sees his bedroom closet door opening by itself in the middle of the night I scream, “Oh Jesus!”

“HE sent me! WILL YOU GIVE UP?”

… to be continued?

Writing Prompts

Ok, I’ve got my blog going now, so it’s time to reign in my giddiness, stop the Snoopy happy dance, and get back to work.

One common writing advice I’ve seen so far has been this:  you need to try to write something daily.  One way to do that is via writing prompts.  There are no shortages of them out there, and I have a few in the books here.  So I’ll put that practice into good use here on the blog.  After all, this is primarily all about sharing my writing experience!

As I’m still learning how to drive this 21st century vehicle I’ll see how often I can post it here.  Next month classes start and I don’t want to commit until I get settled into some kind of rhythm.

So, with that in mind here’s my first.  It’s just an exercise, just shaking the rust off, and it’s raw like fresh meat.  I just read the prompt, started the clock, and started writing:

PROMPT:  You get into work and find that your boss has left a voicemail message on your phone. The message is urgent. Though, what’s peculiar is that the message is not work related. Write this scene. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing, drives me crazier than to leave for work earlier than usual only to run into a traffic jam caused by a wreck. I just absolutely lose it as I sit there and watch a fifteen-minute lead-time morph into a 45-minute late arrival. So now here I am getting off the elevator with a look on my face that would scare a serial killer into turning himself in to the police and mentally telling the calm side of my brain  – the side that’s whispering “it could have been worse, it could have been you in that wreck” – to shut up.

Luckily, everyone’s either on the phone or not in their cubicle so I don’t have to talk about being late.  As I drop my backpack into the visitor’s chair by my desk I see the voice mail light is on. I just know that this not going to be good.  I check the caller ID for recent calls and wouldn’t you know it… it’s my boss.  OK, if I jab the letter opener into my thigh will I wake up from what I pray is just a nightmare.

So I take a deep breath and dial into the voice mailbox.  After listening to the standard welcome message I get:

“You have one urgent message.  To listen to your messages please press one.  To use other options…”

No need to prolong this, I’ve already lost two promising clients this month and was late preparing a presentation for a third client last week and now I’m late this morning… might as well get it over with. I press 1, little knowing what I hear next will eventually lead me to wish it was me in that wreck.

“Hi Dennis, this is Stu.  As soon as you get in I need to talk to you.”

I start wondering if my best friend from college is still the General Manager of that grocery  chain and if he can get me a job mopping floors.

“It’s real important my man, and I gotta tell you it’s real personal, and I wouldn’t bother you with this if I didn’t trust you. Thankfully it’s got nothing to do with anything here at the job, but I really need  a face to face with you before I say anything more.  I should be available up to 9:00 so come see me as soon as you get in. Got to take an urgent call at 9:15.”

All right, the day just took off in another direction, and now I really feel like I’m not in control of anything. Doesn’t make me feel any better when I look at the desk clock and see it change from 8:55 to 8:56.

In an office record two-minute sprint up the stairs, bypassing the elevators that took  five minutes to bring me up from the ground floor  earlier, I made it to Stu’s office.  I am wondering how many more logs are going to be added to the fire that’s consuming my job, as now I also have to remember to apologize to Polly for knocking her files and her man-eating plants off the edge of her desk during this mad dash.

“Yo Stu, sorry about the timing. God’s truth I ran into that wreck by the Hillside exit. I – “

Stu raised a hand to silence me then motioned me to sit down, all while  flipping through pages of a red folder  that definitely didn’t look like the ones we’re using.  I look closer trying to see if I can make out the words on what appears to be a business card inserted into the lower right corner of the folder front. While I couldn’t make out the words I was about eighty percent certain it looked like a card you’d get from an attorney at some very heavy law firm.  Serious embossing we’re talking here.  Yep, there’s a name and another name and an ampersand there sure enough.

So now the gears in my brain are starting to resemble an  old Looney Tunes cartoon, you know the one where the brain has all these gears grinding and sputtering and springs popping out.

Stu, half glasses perched on the end of his nose and wearing the worse frown I’ve ever seen on him, closes the folder, sighs heavily and lets the folder just fall out of his hands onto the desk.  Was it my imagination, but it sure seemed when it landed it sounded like it was volume S of  the World Book Encyclopedia, even though it looks like only about ten pages max.  Giving another big sigh and rubbing his eyes under his glasses, Stu leans forward, crossing his arms on his desk, and I don’t recognize this man I thought I knew for ten years at this moment.

“Dennis, this is seriously personal, and seriously deep.  I need your help but I gotta tell you before I say anything else you can walk away from this and it’ll be like we never talked as far as I’m concerned.  Not going to get mad at ya, hell I won’t blame you for walking.  But at least let me know right now if I need to stop talking.”

Ten years I’ve known this man.  I was his first hire after his promotion into management, and stayed with him as he rose up the ranks.  While I don’t count him among my innermost circle of friends, he’s right there in the next circle.   Still, I didn’t think we were at the place where he’s now drawing me into something sounding so urgent.  But I’m thinking there’s got to be some real trust going on here to even come to me with this, and he’s a man of his word.  If I walk, there’s no payback coming from him.  Well I could at least hear what’s going on.  If nothing else, the morbid side of me’s saying “dude, you’ll know stuff no one else in the office knows about your boss.  That’s cool!”

“Stu, you know I’m not going to leave you hanging like that.  At least let me hear what’s up.  I gotta tell you, I mean, if I think it’s too deep for me I gotta tell you I’d at least want to give you any advice if I could.  Does that make sense, can we run with that?”

The longest minute of my life crawls by as Stu stares at me over his glasses.  Sighing yet again he leans back in his chair, and there goes my imagination again as the creaking sound from the chair sounds like one of those doors closing in an old black and white horror movie.

“Ok Den, let me at least give you the highlights.  Gotta deal with this call in a few minutes.  I’ll give you enough to at least see if I need to move on, and you have to trust me on not being upset if you can’t help me.  Hey, what I tell you should guarantee I can’t touch you!  Ok, here’s a couple of names you need to remember:  Booger Johnson and Itchy Philips.”

… to be continued