Sunday, March 29, 2009

Free Write Friday on Sunday, AGAIN.

Springboard: My writing partner Faye and I picked these random words and phrases out of random books: dragging, forest, inheritance, fiddle neck, floor boards, balancing, emerge, branch, turtle. We wrote for 10 minutes.

Dragging my brother John, forest to forest, tree to tree, in search of the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect fall leaf, a crystal, a geode, some moss to sit on, to dream on, to take home in a bag, make a terrarium. The smell of spongy forest floor, that fragrance of humus our only inheritance. Fiddle neck ferns sprout through and around the bowing floorboards of the old Beck House porch. Out back, the fading remains of once glorious gardens, stone arches crumble into a luscious field of daffodils & paper-whites, narcissus & stray grape hyacinths. We gather them up, loading each other’s arms overfull, balance on sloped feet along the lip of the stone fountain, scoot through the leaning coach house, splat through the trickling branch, spill some flowers for the sake of catching a turtle, sprint home laughing, noses yellow with daffodil pollen.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Free Write Friday - on Sunday

Since I was a kid, I've had a thing for seed catalogues. I used to pore over them for hours. Still do. If you’ve never spent an afternoon with a seed catalogue, I highly recommend it. You will be amazed at the wealth of fascinating words. The same goes for field guides of any sort; trees, insects, rocks & minerals, birds, etc… I also comb estate sales and thrift stores for vintage books, and I have found several lovely old books with magnificent illustrations. Two of my favorites have dozens of paintings of Wildflowers and North American Water Fowl.

For the following Free Write, I used my book about wildflowers and a music dictionary. I randomly chose four words from each book by closing my eyes, opening the book and pointing. The flower words I picked were Delphinium, Night-smelling Epidendrum, Cranesbill and Fireweed. From the music dictionary I picked samba, flutter tonguing, plectrum and finger pluck. The parameters were to write 4 two-line stanzas.

Here’s what surfaced for me:

The Delphinium, blue breath of afternoon,
peek over the hedge, bob and samba

Night-smelling Epidendrum thrum,
flutter tonguing the gorgeous lilies

Pining Cranesbill swish, beg,
tempt and worry Queen Anne’s plectrum

Till Fireweed obliges
with a tickle and finger pluck.

Springboard du Jour: Using a seed catalogue, field guide or the like, randomly choose four words. Using a music dictionary, dance dictionary, cooking dictionary (or the like) randomly choose four more words. Write 4 two-line stanzas, each stanza using one word from each list. Remember – this is a free write – write as fast as you can and with abandon.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Free Write Friday

Choose a word, any word – APPLE for instance – and as quickly as you can, write down five words for each letter in the word.

A – aggregate, agile, agony, actor, Augustine
P – pomegranate, poo-poo-pee-doo, pompadour, prickly, pop

And so forth. Then do it again. Same word, only this time list verbs. You can do this with any sort of limitation – just nouns, just verbs – whatever strikes you. I try to include verbs every time. Verbs make interesting things happen.

After you have made a couple of lists, go through – very quickly - and circle one word in each line that really zings you. Make a list of these words – keeping them in the same order. Write a paragraph, using the words in order, tweaking the tense if necessary.

Here is a recent free write that sprang from this exercise. My words were: Agile, poo-poo-pee-doo, Persian, lick, everlasting, assuage, pare, pricked, larder, etched.

The agile pubescents pull a succession of blouses on and off, waiting for perfection. When it struck – it was poo-poo-pee-doo, three girls in a row, as satisfied as Persian cats. They all but licked themselves, reveling in their tightly held belief in their own everlasting youth. Never, yet, had they known the aged feelings that flag, requiring assuaging. After the lovely parade, they stopped to pare themselves down to barely lingerie. The entire department was pricked up and alive, waiting to see what the lovelies would do next. Shockingly, they headed straight for the larder, to gobble down sausages and brined pickles. Still, the image of their morning stretch was etched into our eternity.

OK So, most of the stuff in free writes is pure crap, but still – there are things happening here. For instance, this line “They all but licked themselves.” That’s interesting. Might see that in a poem of mine some day. Even if nothing particularly usable pops up, free writing gets the writing bones lubed up and ready to go.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sharon Olds Springboard

Springboard du Jour:

The doctor said to my father, “You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That’s what I’m telling you now.”

From the poem “His Stillness” by Sharon Olds, from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Free Write Friday

Last week, my writing partner, Faye Quam Heimerl, cooked up a delicious free write based on her Steak Dianne recipe, which calls for steak, butter, mushrooms, lemon juice, parsley, and Worcestershire sauce. Faye posed this question: What would Steak Faye or Steak Debbie call for? Steak Gratitude? Steak Disappointment? Here are a couple of my word recipes from that writing date.

Steak Dubya
Dry cutlet of horse's ass, dredged in a pinchy rub
No Sauce
Mushy Peas
Chitlin cornbread, dry as a popcorn fart
Tootsie Roll on a stick
Mint Toothpick.

Steak Merengue
Side step of pork
with Cha Cha Chorizo
Thrum the edges with cumin
Sizzle the rack over high heat
Zip the sauce with a Thai chili swish
Bump and grind until hot and tender

Springboard du Jour: What's your word recipe for Steak You?

Give it a rest, Ma!

“Is that blouse starched and pressed, missy? Sit still now, we got company in the parlour, and I gotta git you presentable. Stop fidgeting, honey, and let me get that cowlick mashed down. Oh, lord, there’s something sticky on your patent leather, holt still a minute while I polish it up. NO, you cain’t go outside and play with cousin Walter, he’s got his mud shovel and he’s flinging dirt as fast as a dog digging under a fence. NO, you cain’t play with your Sludge & Goop chemistry set, neither, I don’t know what Nana was thinking when she give you that. Awright, stand up straight now and go on in there. Ya’ll ready now? OK. Everybody’s a’watchin. Go ahead now, sugar, and say something purty!"

Are these the kind of expectations you put on your writing? Does everything you write have to be “purty” and “presentable”? Don’t it make you just want to wither up and die?

Give your self a break from perfectionism. It’s a certain death knell for creativity. It’s too much pressure to perform. Writers need to spend a good deal of time just playing with words and language. Remember why you started writing in the first place? How a certain turn of phrase took your breath away, set you to wailing, or made you laugh so hard that it hurt? Sometimes language is so delicious, you just want to wallow in it. That’s what you need to do at least a little bit every day; wallow, frolic, snort around in it. When there is no pressure to be “Great”, your deepest creativity feels safe enough to poke its’ head up and join you, because the “nasty critic” is off duty and writing is actually fun. Then, when you are sitting down to produce something “presentable”, your creative voice will be available for you– and not in a grudging way, but full of joy and ready to breathe life into your writing.

So, go and play, now. You hear me? Write the way kids finger paint – all gloppy and with all the colors. This is supposed to be fun!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Paring Down

Check out Six Word Memoirs on NPR

You'll be amazed how much can be said in just six words.

Here is my first impulse:


Motherchild, separate cling separate cling, wings

Springboard du Jour: Pick one of these topics and boil it down to six words: Your Love Life, Your best friend, Your Mother's (or Father's) Life, Your childhood, Your work...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Free Write Fiday

Structured free writes can force interesting imagery. Create strict parameters, choose a subject and let go. I like playing with the form of Etheree - a poem that is ten lines long. The first line has one syllable, the second line has two syllables, and so on. There are no rules as to rhyme or meter. I like to write it as fast as possible, still keeping track and adjusting for correct syllable count.

For this Etheree poem, I closed my eyes, opened the thesaurus and pointed to the word "jazz".


don't work here
jazz is fresh juice
electric voice writhes
clarinets wail, wriggle
keening saxophones give wings
to embedded joys and sorrows
Wrested from their cells, their voices soar
tripping the clouds, diving into our mouths

Springboard du Jour: Try an Etheree about stormy weather.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Free Write Friday

This free write was sparked by a wonderful woman I saw driving by.

She was a spindly neck with a thrusting jaw & airy hair,
blasting by in a battle ax of a station wagon
I bet she smokes Kools, makes Jello molds every holiday
red & green for Christmas, pink & yellow for Easter

She holds a yard/craft sale every late October
potholders, crocheted southern belle skirts for plastic dolls
beads pinned in snowflake patterns into Styrofoam balls
decoupage Jesus ornaments, toilet paper cozies,
frog bags with wide-open mouths for stuffing plastic grocery sacks into

She has a porcelain poodle collection on a mantle

She tole painted her TV trays & has plastic flowers in her widow boxes – hanging wisteria and daffodils

She goes to the Dollar store every time her Social Security check comes and picks out five dollars worth of clearance stuff for her only grandchild: bubbles, jax, giant foam noodles for swimming, flip-flops, Spongebob underpants. She hides the noodle & flip-flops n the back of her closet until summer, hope she bought them big enough.

Springboard du Jour

Watch for an interesting character - in the grocery store, at a burger joint, walking in you neigborhood - anywhere - and free write for 10 minutes about their imaginary life, quirky habits.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Springboard du Jour

The memory of you emerges from the night around me.

From The Song of Despair, a poem by Pablo Neruda
Translated by W. S. Merwin

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Springboard du Jour

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

by Rumi, from The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Springboard du Jour

Grasshoppers popped under tires,
the trees swelled with grackles,

a line from the poem Dead Center, from Ice, Mouth, Song by Rachel Contreni Flynn

Friday, January 2, 2009

Free Write Friday
Free writes are an excellent way to loosen up your writing bones. Choose a springboard, set your time (I like 10 minutes), put your pen on the paper and don’t stop writing – no matter what crazy things pop into your head. If you get stuck, write “I’m stuck, I’m stuck, I’m stuck” or I’ can’t think of anything, I can’t think of anything, this paper is cheap, this paper is cheap, where’d I get this pen, oh yeah it was Foss drug, that great old fashioned store with an actual Soda Fountain, just like Rexall Drug in Clayton….” You get the idea - eventually, something else will creep in and you’ll be off again. Trust yourself to write down everything you think – no matter how freaking weird. You'll be amazed how many little jewels will burble up out of your subconscious, little kernels of ideas that may blossom into your next poem, or spark a new story. You won’t believe all the quirky characters puttering about in that head of yours. I love this quote from Flannery O’Connor: “I write to discover what I know.” Free writing is an excellent tool for dislodging some of the more interesting matter that lurks below.

Here’s one of my recent un-edited free writes. I don’t know where this fellow came from.

My Springboard: “I wouldnt go by nothin he said.” From All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

“I wouldnt go by nothin he said.”

Sallow cheeked, yellow wax bones and teeth. Fur-lined Fudd hat with flaps. He won’t look you in the eye without you give him explicit permission.

He’s a nod, a scrape & bow, a shuffle, a perpetual apology.

But he’s right, nonetheless, whether she gives him credit for it or not. He’s spent so many years tuning in to the subtle cues of those around him; he’s a master of the right word, a master of pushing the button that drops a dime in his gritty palm.

He’s a listener, a gatherer, a pocketer of details. He knows when Sam, the cattleman, gets paid out on the sale of a bull and prone to get loosed up and easy at the pool hall.

He knows when Larry Dryman’s wife is getting bitchy loud enough to pester him right through the open window till Larry’s gotta step out and breathe. Larry gets sympathetic when his wife gets bitchy.

Even Lois gets sympathetic, like she will be later for having picked on him in front of a stranger.

Springboard du Jour: “I wouldnt go by nothin he said.” From All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Writer’s Block – NOT, Part II

Where was I? Oh, yes. Wad-O-String, the other variety of rough patch I sometimes hit that is not – I repeat – NOT – Writer’s Block”.

Wad-O-String is unrelated to inspiration. I can be plenty inspired, and still find I’ve written myself into knots. Like a literal tangle of yarn, the harder you pull, the tighter the knots. Whatever it is that I’m trying so hard to say becomes convoluted, prickly, wadded up, my original thread inextricably tangled up in….goo. (Forgive me, Bob)
And, like the knotted yarn, you have to loosen up, work from the other end for a while. If it’s a short story, work on a different scene, flesh out a different character. You might find fresh insight from a different part of the story. Another trick is to work on something else, altogether. If it’s a short story that’s binding you, work on a poem, or children’s story, a personal essay, a journal entry. Often, while you are keeping your brain occupied with something else entirely, your subconscious either gets the knot out, or finds a solution you’d never even considered.

One more word on the Shy Toddler Syndrome I mentioned yesterday. One other cure is simply to write anyway. Even if it’s nothing but driveling crud, keep writing. Eventually, you’ll bore yourself to tears with your own whining and get over it. In any case, don’t; turn a rough patch into a clinical diagnosis. It ain’t nothing but a thang, so SNAP OUT OF IT! and get back to work.

Oh, and Happy New Year.