Tag Archives: The Write Time

Winter Time is the Write Time

To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

Many people have asked me to write about my newest book, The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life. I’ve been hesitant, for the same reason that affects so many other authors: it’s much easier for me to promote someone else’s work than my own.

However, I’ve had a change of heart these past 10 days, while ringing in the New Year in one of the deepest freezes the nation’s mid-section has seen since the infamous winter of 1977-78. While stuck indoors, I’ve spent a lot of time writing experimentally, and working on the three books that I will be sending to publishers later this year: my novel, The Voice; a multi-genre book I am writing with literary agent Verna Dreisbach; and my next poetry-essay collection, Backroads Melodies.

In order to get going on a couple of these sub-20 degree mornings, I’ve resorted to The Write Time for warm-up exercises. It’s worked out very well.

Now I’ll share a few reasons why several reviewers, along with me, believe this book might be the most diverse writing exercise collection on the market.

First of all, The Write Time contains 366 exercises – one for each day of the year, plus a birthday bonus exercise. There are a number of series that range from three days to two weeks; however, most of the exercises are stand-alone. For the most part, the exercises are aligned to the seasons, in order to involve the body, spirit and mind of the working writer – not just the mind, a place in which we find ourselves all too often.

Second, The Write Time includes exercises suited for writers of every genre – unique in the marketplace. Here’s why. In addition to suiting fiction, non-fiction, memoir, essay and poetry writers, The Write Time contains material for screenwriters, songwriters, playwrights, letter writers, journal writers, copywriters, bloggers, graphic novelists and business/technical writers. Everyone in the writing universe is included. I didn’t initially plan the book this way, but after pooling together ten years of exercises I’d developed for my workshops, I saw that nearly every one of these categories was represented. So I completed the circle with the final exercises that I wrote.

Third, all of these exercises are true originals, written from the heart. The vast majority contains mini-stories that lead up to the actual exercise. Of the 366 exercises, more than 250 were “test-driven” by participants at my workshops, and/or clients whose books I have helped to develop, edit and promote.

Fourth, the exercises can be practiced by writers of all abilities, from novices and students to multi-published authors. Some of the best feedback has come from authors who are trying to switch genres, most specifically going from fiction to non-fiction, and vice-versa. Since I’m a multi-genre writer, this transition is of particular concern to me at a time when we all need to be fluid and flexible, whether we are writing personal material or shooting for book contracts.

Fifth, I’ve loaded the book with special features and information that give it an integrated feel. This is definitely the only writing exercise book that provides links to top writing websites and motivational quotes from well-known writers, musicians and artists and the most complete list of author birthdays in the marketplace – online, print or otherwise. For good measure, I’ve thrown in Celtic, Native American and Western/Zodiac sun signs, and space within each day to record your ideas, thoughts and self-prompts.

Finally, and most importantly, is the personal touch: You can re-adjust every exercise in this book to suit your own writing needs. My goal was to provide a single book of exercises that would allow writers of all ages and abilities to attain excellence in their chosen genres while also experimenting with other genres – but most of all, to make writing a lot of fun. Whether you’re a junior in high school, an MFA student, a teacher, journaling practitioner or professional writer, it’s important to always maintain dexterity in style, voice and content.

We’re going to sponsor a Write Time contest, to see who writes the best pieces directly from an exercise within The Write Time. There will be cash and publishing prizes for the top three selections; the cash amounts will depend on the number of total entrants. I’ll have more details in the next blog; the details will also appear on my website, starting the week of January 18.

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Writing Sense of Place

To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

I’m trying something new with today’s blog – posting the agenda for a workshop I’m teaching tonight on Sense of Place: Bring Your Settings to Life.

Think of place as nothing less than the stage on which your subjects or characters enter, take the spotlight, enact their part in the plot or story, and exit. Place and setting are the most important background components of any narrative, poem or essay – fiction or non-fiction. Sometimes, place becomes the foreground through its relationship to a character or subject. Countless great books have centered on specific places or groups of places; many others have created descriptions of location that are unforgettable. If reading is partially a matter of disconnecting from the world around us and entering another world (real or imagined), then place/setting in a book is nothing less than that other world into which were entering. How we perceive that other world is up to the author’s descriptions and characterizations.

How important is place and setting to a writer’s overall approach? In my book The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, I devote more than 75 exercises to different approaches to writing place and setting, in part or whole.

All of which makes writing good settings, landscapes and locations – with a mixture of character, color and precise detail – extremely important.

I’m going to write more extensively about each of the sections below in the next few blog posts, so wanted to show the overall workshop presentation as it will be delivered to attendees this evening:

IMPORTANCE OF PLACE AND SETTING: Establishes location/stage of story; creates color and texture for your narrative background; reflects pace of narrative; reflects traits and preferences of characters

HOW PLACE WORKS INTO WRITING: Often becomes a character or central figure in itself; gauges or dictates mood or tone; interrelates with characters; works hand-in-hand with plot; becomes the center of the universe into which you’re taking readers

EXERCISE: Think of a favorite location or place that you frequent regularly. Could be home property. Identify two or three characteristics that make the place so special. Write about those characteristics and how you interact with them. Write essay or narrative.

ATMOSPHERICS: Writing the outer limits and inner breath of your story’s world. Discovering and integrating specific elements of a place or setting that connect to your characters’ senses and sensibilities. In non-fiction, the aspects of place or setting that feed into the event or person on which you’re focusing.

ATMOSPHERIC EXERCISE:
1) Identify your geographic feature (river, lake, ocean, etc.)
2) Write as many synonyms for feature as you can
3) Why do you connect so completely with this feature? How does it make you feel? How does your mood, perception, vision change?
4) Write about a direct interaction between you (or character) and this feature

THE BREATH OF LANDSCAPE: Understanding the sensual relationship between yourself, subject or character, and place – and converting it to living, breathing narrative
1) Personifying the landscape – imagery, simile, metaphor, alliteration
2) Use of extended metaphors to blend character and landscape/setting
3) Use of very specific nouns and verbs to drive specific images
4) Merging movements of a place with the character’s movements

WRITING PLACE INTO INNER WORLD OF CHARACTER OR SUBJECT
1) The anchor of fiction and narrative non-fiction
2) Understanding of subject’s relationship to place – and how place defines the subject
3) Working with senses
4) Connecting outer observations to inner perceptions

EXERCISE:
Write an essay, poem or vignette in which a subject/character has a direct experience with a place or setting. Describe how the place/setting affects the character, both internally and externally. Note colors, moods, contours, time of day, landmarks, that relate to the character’s relationship with both the experience and the place.

WRITING PLACE EVERY DAY: Putting yourself in the center and writing outward.

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Signing at the Book Fair

To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life
As an author, one of my favorite activities is to present my works at book fairs, writer’s conferences and book expos. We’ve got a good one coming up Saturday in Evansville, IN, sponsored by the Midwest Writers Guild and hosted by Barnes & Noble.

I’ll be there to sign and promote The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life. I’ll also bring along my other six books and some promotional literature about the many services Word Journeys provides new and established authors.

Book fairs are wonderful. Authors from many states gather to talk about and sell their works, and to commiserate with each other. I thoroughly enjoy these conversations, because we can compare stories about getting published, promoting our works, researching our subjects, the creative process and so much more. While best-selling authors are always present at book fairs, I always seek out the regional authors, because their works keep the spirits, histories and personalities of their areas alive, and commit them to the printed word. Plus, they are very, very dedicated writers, artisans hard at work with their craft.

As a book fair attendee, I would suggest making it a point to seek out and talk with as many authors as you can. This is a rare opportunity to see the faces behind the voices and words, to pick their brains for their sources of motivation and inspiration – and, likely, to pick up a side story or two about how a certain character or plot line came into being.

For those who live in the Midwest and Upper South, the Evansville Book Fair runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17. The Barnes & Noble store is located on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Green River Road.

We’ll certainly have plenty of stories from the book fair next week on this blog … and an interview with an author or two. Stay tuned.

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Notes from a Writing Conversation: Part One

Blog Note: Beginning Monday, October 19, we will begin posting select writing exercises from The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life on our sister blog, 366writing.wordpress.com.

Enjoyed an hour live on Abstract Illusions Radio last night with host Jennifer Hillman, conversing about the wonderful world of writing and some of its most beneficial applications. Jen and I discussed a number of topics that touched upon the many different professional and personal uses of writing and story:

Journaling: A caller discussed her desire to re-start a journal. I carried it from there to note the three biggest reasons why all writers (and everyone, for that matter) should journal daily, if possible:

1) To get thoughts, feelings, observations, perceptions and experiences on paper. You never know what seeds of future stories, poems, essays, books or lessons lie within everyday words.

2) To plumb our life circumstances or situations, for both reflection and inner healing. Journals are safe havens; by writing deeply about what concerns us, we can uncover solutions, release sources of suffering and reclaim pieces of ourselves.

3) To experiment with new forms and types of writing, or to make test-runs of poems, essays and stories.

Writing the Iceberg: I pointed out one of the core challenges of all writers – to not become too cerebral or intellectual in their work, unless they are academic or topical non-fiction authors. Good writing should reflect life – a combination of emotions, deeper feelings, thoughts, sensory perceptions, actions and responses. Remember that the mind encompasses the entire body and all of your cells – and that, by opening to heart and body rhythms, you actually open huge vaults of memories, experiences and feelings that deepen and enrich stories. Think of your mind as an iceberg: The brain is the tip, while the entire body is the 90% that is often “submerged.” Which would you rather have available when you write? As poet Li-Young Lee said, “We have six trillion potential stories inside us – one for each cell.”

Writing Universal Truths: The goal of personal, introspective writing such as memoirs, poetry and personal essays is to utilize our experiences to arrive at deeper truths, common to all. By doing so, we experience personal discovery and, perhaps, transformative moments, while also creating “familiar” moments for the readers. These are the “A-ha!” moments we experience when reading well-crafted novels, memoirs and other works. Always seek to write so deeply that you shed the veneer of your own personality and tap something much more universal, sacred, primal.

With the Heart Comes Voice: What happens when we try to sing if our heart’s not into the song or the performance? Our voices tend to sound jerky, constricted. The same with good writing. Try to write not so much from the mind, but from the heart. By writing with depth and feeling, we can sharpen our authentic voice, that mixture of style, rhythm, resonance and presence that is our unquestionable imprint on the printed page. Drive voice with your heart. Turn your mind into a willing servant, pulling the words and structure you need to craft the piece, but not directing it.

There’s more to come from our conversation…

Final note: My friend, author/editor/photographer and Cherokee language teacher Brian Wilkes, reminded me on Facebook that, in the Cherokee calendar, we are entering a most auspicious year: Noquis’equa, the Year of the Big Star. The Year of Venus. This is a year of rapid reversals and big change. Here’s to creating some big change in all our lives with a year of great writing!

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Taylor Mali’s Way of Making a Living

There are many ways to make a living as a writer – and many combinations of projects that can be cobbled together to pay the bills. My book The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life is a by-product of the writer’s lifestyle; among other things, the exercises help all writers expand their potential productivity and value in the marketplace.

My daily routine combines original writing of narrative and poetry, book editing, consulting with authors on editorial and marketing matters, collaborating with other authors, developing new projects, setting up workshops to teach, following up on possible leads, writing book proposals, checking emails from writers, editors and agents, and – with all that extra “spare” time – trying to stay up on reading.

That schedule is easy compared to making a living as a poet. Which is why the rest of today’s blog is dedicated to one of my friends, Taylor Mali, one of the top slam poets and spoken word artists in the world.

Taylor left his job as a middle school teacher in New York City to make a living as a poet. Think about that for a second: making a living as a poet? In America? Well, Taylor has pulled it off, and for good reason – he’s a brilliant poet, and a phenomenal live performer. I just saw him three weeks ago at The Ugly Mug in Orange, CA, and he was as hilarious and poignant as ever.

Taylor’s interweaving of the written word, entertainment, the art of teaching (and I mean art – he was and still is a GREAT teacher), humor and intensity make him unforgettable. At any given Mali event, fully one-quarter of the audience consists of teachers. Just 2 weeks ago at The Write Time Teens ‘N Twenties Conference in Bloomington, IN, creative writing teacher and novelist Missy Feller of Bosse High School in Evansville did a brilliant cover performance of Taylor’s famous poem, “What Teachers Make.” It is a hit with educators and poetry fans worldwide. If you have a “hit” as a poet, a poem people always want to hear … again, you stand among the few.

Now Taylor has a new collection out, The Last Time As We Are. It is brilliant, right down to the last poem – one that will leave anyone speechless who has ever experienced an elder family member in failing health.

Recently, I conducted a wide-open conversation with Taylor, entitled “Easy on the Ears: An Interview with Taylor Mali,” for a sharp new literary magazine, The Hummingbird Review. I invite you to read more about this wonderful man, teacher and poet, one who I believe will someday become the Poet Laureate of the United States.

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Your Journal, Your Goldmine

Here We Go!

Since blogging has become the preferred form of open-faced journaling for so many, I will open this blog by sharing some of the ways writers can use their journals to further their skills, ideas and works.

I’ll start with an admission: About 200 of the exercises in my new book, The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, began as seeds in my journal. I jotted down a few words, let them germinate, then worked them into exercises that I later presented to students in workshops. But they began in the safe, quiet environment of my journal.

I teach a workshop called, “Your Journal, Your Goldmine.” The premise is pretty simple: every writer should consider his or her journal not a diary or rote recitation of events, but a chemistry lab of sorts. Only in this lab, you don’t put on the protective white smock; you take it off. Use your journal to practice various forms of writing, test out techniques or character voices, and grow the ideas that you have germinated. I find that writers who test out their countless ideas through journaling sessions avoid much of the later frustration of starting a book or essay, only to see it wither halfway through when the initial emotional steam is gone.

Seven ways in which you can make your journal work for you:
1) Experiment with character voices and dialogue. This includes dialects, colloquialisms, slang and accents particular to your character’s locale.
2) Experiment with words, phrases, similes and metaphors. Similes and metaphors are all about painting visual connections through language.
3) Flesh out your ideas; see if they go somewhere. If they do, write them out!
4) Explore your deepest feelings and observations, and don’t stop if it gets uncomfortable or intense. Go all the way; reveal, reveal, reveal. The deeper you go, the deeper you write – in your point of view, as well as your characters’.
5) Write about something new every day.
6) Experiment with genres. Try writing a poem instead of a short story, or a memoir-like vignette instead of an essay. The more pliable you become with genres, the more you can shape the form your pieces take.
7) People-watch, especially when traveling. Capture their faces, movements, feelings you have when watching them.

You can also use your journal as a way to heal from physical or emotional injury or trauma. Though it was originally written to address survivors of traumatic brain injury, a fine new book by my friend, Barbara Stahura, really captures this mode of journaling: After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story ($30)

Journal every day, if possible. I’ve been journaling in my journal, “A Day In The Life,” almost daily since 1977; it’s now up to about 70 notebooks in size. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is the collection of life, observations, experiences, adventures, riffs on other authors and poets and their works, unfinished stories and poems, people, discovering new means of expression, word experiments, notes from writer’s conferences and workshops, and all the hours of practice that lie within. Once you’ve journaled for awhile – say, a year or two – you will be able to look back and find ideas, or writing “riffs,” that went nowhere at the time … but “hit the mark” for something you seek to write.

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