If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book next year, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our March author interviews: Karen Pullen (3/1), Lowcountry Crime authors: Tina Whittle, Polly Iyer, Jonathan M. Bryant, and James M. Jackson (3/8), Annette Dashofy (3/15), Maddie Day (3/22) and Barb Ross (3/29).

Saturday Guest Bloggers in March: Maris Soule (3/4), and Virginia Mackey (3/11). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 3/18--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 3/25--Kait Carson.

Julie Tollefson won the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter's Holton Award for best unpublished manuscript (member category) for her work in progress, In The Shadows. Big news for a new year. Congratulations, Julie.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for pre-order.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monday, October 3, 2016

Scales for Writers

by Linda Rodriguez

Pianists know they must practice every day, playing scales and various exercises that stretch the fingers and give them the flexibility and dexterity that they will need to play complicated compositions. Long ago, I read in one of Madeleine L'Engle's wonderful journals of life and writing about this need for writers.

Nobody can teach creative writing–run like mad from anybody who thinks he can. But one can teach practices, like finger exercises on the piano; one can share the tools of the trade, and what one has gleaned from the great writers: it is the great writers themselves who do the teaching.” –A Circle of Quiet

For years now, I've created my own finger exercises, as well as borrowing from other writers who've written books about writing, and used them in my journals. I turn to these when I have only tiny stolen moments to write, such as while waiting for a doctor/mechanic/meeting, or when I find myself facing resistance on my current project, or when I've finished one thing and don't know what to work on next (this rarely happens to me anymore since I always have a long list of projects to tend to). Here are a few of the ones I've found most helpful.

Invent a character. I do this when in a public place, such as that doctor's office. Choose a stranger and invent an entire backstory, personality, name, and occupation for that person. If you have plenty of time, go on to put them in dialogue with someone.

Describe a person or a scene in detail using only metaphors.

Describe a scene through a character's consciousness, using all five senses but not one sense verb (“saw,” “smelled,” “heard,” “felt,” or “tasted”). Extend this by also omitting any pronoun referring to your viewpoint character (such as “he,” “him,” or “his”).

Write an action scene entirely in short, quick sentences to give a sense of a fast pace. Then, write it again in a few long, involved sentences so that the action builds in a reckless, headlong pace.

Write a paragraph or a scene entirely in simple, plain words that come from Anglo-Saxon (such as “walk,” “yearly,” “leaf”). Then, rewrite it entirely in Latinate words (such as “amble,” “annual,” or“foliage”), and notice the change in pace and tone.

Describe a landscape or the decoration of a room without using any color names.

Write a scene in dialogue between two people who want opposing things and who are hearing only what they want to hear and speaking to that, as if it had actually been said, instead of what the other person is saying.

Write a scene where one person in a marriage is afraid the other is having an affair while the other is actually afraid they have cancer and keeping their medical appointments secret. Each of them is trying to appear as if nothing is wrong and cannot tell the other what they're afraid of.

Describe yourself, using only specific objects or sayings and songs from your past. Do this now with a fictional character.

As you can see, I could go on and on with these writers' finger exercises, and I have through the years. They're a part of the way I keep my writing brain nimble and dexterous and develop my skills. I have used them in teaching creative writing classes, as well, and the students have found them helpful. Give them a try, and then invent your own.


Do you ever practice your writing, other than work on your current project?

23 comments:

Kait said...

What a wonderful use of time, and great suggestions, Linda! Something that must appeal to every writer in how to use those tiny chunks of non-productive time to keep stretching the creativity muscle. We have to talk about using all five senses but no sense verbs. That has me flummoxed. Intriguing post.

Jim Jackson said...

I will do writing exercises when I want to work on improving a particular area. I don't do daily exercises. I am never between projects, as I always have multiple going. I always have something I am writing new or revising, and I don't find all the time I need to do that without feeling pressure.

This, of course, says loads about me, and very little about the value these writing exercises might be if I actually did them!

Art Taylor said...

Linda, I do so love this post and these exercises. These are good things to do--good ways to keep those writing muscles limber, so to speak. Sharing this for sure!

Margaret Turkevich said...

I send a daily morning email to my kids which is my writing warm-up: news from the political front in Ohio, the dogs, weather, the boring parentals have a life.

Juggling multiple projects right now: new writing in the morning and revisions in the afternoon.

Tina said...

Interesting! I think we'll try some of these at the YA book club at my daughter's school. They're wanting to start sharing some of their own work with each other, and simple practice exercises are a fun way to start. Thanks!

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, Linda, for the exercises. Anyone who thinks writing is easy hasn't gone through what it takes to improve the skills needed to produce a good written piece. I'm still working on it.

Carla Damron said...

These are great exercises. I forget that my imagination needs a workout, too--- and this kind of thing keeps writing fresh.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kait, using all five senses without sense verbs is a exercise I often give students to teach about "show, don't tell." It helps put your mind in the space to show more vividly. "A siren's klaxon wailed in the distance" vs. "He heard a siren in the distance."

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Great exercises - and suggestions for even the most reticent of writers

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, I use these for bits and pieces of time when I might not have a chance to work on the current project(s)--like you, I tend to have multiple. When i'm really under the gun and writing all day and into the evening to finish a book by deadline, these sometimes fall by the wayside, but I always pick them up again.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Art! I'm glad you find them useful. They're especially helpful when I hit an area of resistance--good for getting me writing.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Margaret, I love the idea of a daily letter as warm-up. I've often dreamed of writing a daily "diary of daily life-type" blog that I could later publish as a book--rather like May Sarton of beloved memory. But I never seem to do it. :-( Sometimes, however, I do write a daily poem as warm-up for weeks at a time.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Tina, I think helping your daughter's book club begin writing is a fabulous idea! Yay, you!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Grace, I'm a firm believer in constantly working to learn my art and craft better, not only through exercises but also through reading and analyzing great writers and those who are great at one particular aspect. Life is short and art is long, as someone famous said (I can't remember who right now).

Linda Rodriguez said...

Carla, that's also why I write different kinds of things--to keep all the imaginative muscles exercised and not just a few of them.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Debra! I have a huge trove of these that I've developed to use for myself over the years and in teaching. One nice thing about getting old is that you tend to collect useful things. ;-)

Gloria Alden said...

Linda, what wonderful suggestions for increasing our writing ability. Thank you, so much.

Warren Bull said...

Thank you. You are a great teacher.

Shari Randall said...

These exercises are fabulous! I just used the Anglo-Saxon v. Latinate exercise to get me back into writing a scene that had me stuck. Great tools for the writer's toolbox. Thank you for sharing them.

Molly MacRae said...

Following Margaret's idea of writing a daily morning email, I sometimes ask my protagonist to write me a letter telling me how she's feeling, what she's thinking about, what's going on, etc. I often hear surprising things.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, I'm so glad you found it helpful.

Thank you for your kind words, Warren. We miss you here in KC.

Shari, that's a particular favorite of mine. I find it so versatile, and it helps us remember how complex and flexible the English language, our primary tool, is.

Molly, I adore freewriting to go deeper into characters (as my students will tell you). I didn't put any freewriting into this list of exercises because I usually teach it as an elemental basic tool in the writer's kit.

KM Rockwood said...

What fun exercises!

I have to admit I often make up stories when I have to spend time waiting, but I'm usually the protagonist in them.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, I started this exercise with my youngest son when he was small (and very precocious). We would choose a person we saw as the car drove past and make up a name and a whole backstory for that character, often funny. (But never cruelly so.)