Writing Exercise #14

One Situation = Many Possibilities

By situation I mean setting, location, circumstance, event, season, and so on. This can be whatever you like… that is, whatever you want to use as the basis of an idea which you can develop into a story, article, essay or poem. You may even use it as the framework for a novel, or to stimulate memories that could become part of a memoir.

For the example to be presented here, we’ll explore the summer season and some of the options this presents for writing.

Write one word in the middle of a page. In this example, the word is SUMMER.

> Draw a circle around the word, and then draw lines outwards from it… like spokes in a wheel pushing out from the central hub.

> Ask yourself, ‘What does the word ‘summer’ conjure in my mind?’ and write one answer at the end of each spoke. You are likely to have words like… HEAT, CLOTHING, HATS, DANGER, INSECTS, FIRST AID, SUNGLASSES, HOLIDAYS, SURFING, DEHYDRATION, GARDENING, WATER SHORTAGE, FIRES… and the list goes on…

> Add spokes as more words rush into your thoughts.

> Take the word that most holds your attention and put it in the centre of another page, then repeat the above steps.

> If the word you chose was SURFING, for instance, your new list may include… SURF BOARDS, BEACHES, SHARKS, WET SUITS, WEATHER, TIDES, SURFING LESSONS, EVENTS, COMPETITIONS, COASTAL SWELL… and so on…

> Ask yourself how you might use any of these topics as a basis for your writing. Chances are, something is jumping out at you and begging to be written. It might be a book presenting a summary of each of the best surf beaches in your state… or an article on learning to surf… the joys of surfing… or the dangers of surfing. You may write from your personal experience as a surfer, or develop a novel in which the main character is a pro surfer. You may even write a potent poem about the freedom of communing with the elements… or a piece from the perspective of a shark watching surfers while it circles below them.

> Sharpen the idea you are most attracted to and use it to develop your next writing project.

> Sign and Date the other ideas stimulated by this exercise and add them to your Ideas Folder for future inspiration.

This exercise stimulates endless ideas and possibilities for writing topics and projects. In the above process, I presented eight examples of what might be written as a result of exploring the word ‘surfing’. This was a quick brainstorm and by no means an exhaustive list. These examples would be a small percentage of the options which would present themselves, if I took each of the words stimulated in this whole process and expanded them as well.

Remember too, this exercise can be repeated over and over, using a different initial word.

This exercise also relates to Writing Exercise #13 ~ Create an Ideas List, Writing Tip #14 and my Blog ~ Writer’s Block – Part B

Writing Exercise #13

Create An Ideas List

This exercise is best done one step at a time, without reading ahead. It is designed to access the subconscious, so for optimum results be spontaneous and don’t stop to think or question the process. The idea is to do the exercise quickly and without hesitation.

  • Take a blank sheet of paper and divide it into two columns.
  • Starting at the top of the left column, write the first word that comes into your mind.
  • Write the next word you think of underneath your first word.
  • Continue in this way, without thinking, without pause, as quickly as possible until you reach the bottom of the page.
  • Go back to the first word you wrote, and in the right side column write a would-be title provoked by that word.
  • Again, continue in this manner until you reach the bottom of the page, working as quickly as you can and without censoring what you write.
  • Put down your pen, close your eyes, and sit quietly for a few moments.
  • Read over your Words List (left column) and jot down on a separate piece of paper any words that may represent a theme on which you may like to write.
  • Read your Titles List and make note of any of the titles that draw your attention.
  • Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Are these titles I would like to write?
    • Is there something underneath any of these titles I would like to explore?
    • Do any of these titles remind me of something, someone, an event..?
    • Do I see a novel, short story, essay, poem, or memoir bursting from any of these titles?
  • Everything you’ve written on your separate page forms the basis of your Ideas List. Re-organise these ideas into categories that suit your way of working and perhaps highlight those ideas that most spark your energy.
  • Sign and date your list. (Sign and date everything, always!)
  • If you are ready for a new writing challenge, you can jump right in and start working on one of these ideas.
  • File the remainder (or all, if you’re not starting straight away) to use as future prompts.
  • Continue to add new ideas as they arise… from wherever they may come!

This exercise relates to Writing Tip #14 and my Blog ~ Writer’s Block – Part B

Writer’s Block – Part C

In Writer’s Block – Part B we considered the concepts of having no ideas for writing, having too many ideas, feeling that we have not enough information and the notion that too much information can also be creatively debilitating. You met Anne (not her real name), an avid writer who undertook a commitment that became so large and involved that she couldn’t find a manageable way to progress, which would also fulfill her brief… both from the person who asked her to write his story and from her own expectations.

Anne agonised for a long time about how to move forward and her other writing came to a halt. Eventually she found her way out of this impasse by setting aside the offending project, spending some time fine-tuning work she’d previously written and then gradually beginning to write again in small steps… a word at a time, then moments captured in poetry. Testimony to her skills and commitment to writing is her involvement with the four year project to honour our returned service personnel http://www.artstudioscooperative.org/australian-spirit.html. She was a contributing poet to this worthwhile venture in 2016 and is again in 2017.

Anne identified what held her back, decided to set aside the project that was causing her so much angst – at least for the time being – and was then able to move on with her writing.

If you have attempted my Writing Exercise #12 ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? you will have some idea of what holds you back and can start to think about how you might overcome these obstructions.

Perhaps you have a similar problem to Anne’s, or one of the other obstacles I’ve mentioned. You may also have a little voice in your head that leads you astray. We all have self-talk messages silently chattering to us as we go about our daily business. Positive self-talk messages engender and reinforce confidence, the ability to achieve what we want, to create, to be successful. Negative self-talk messages create low self-esteem, fear of failure, despair and the inability to move forward.

Whether positive or negative, the self-talk process goes like this…

Subconscious beliefs (our conditioning) >>> thought >>> feeling >>> thought >>> action.

An Example Of The Positive Self-Talk Process…
Belief in self >>> I am capable >>> confidence >>> I can write a publishable story >>> applies self with assurance.

An Example Of The Negative Self-Talk Process…
Self-doubt >>> I’m dumb >>> despair/fear >>> I’ll never be published >>> sets self up to fail.

Think about your own obstacles in this context and it may help you win the ‘Battle of the Block’. For example, do you have a fear of failing? A fear of success? Are you afraid that once your work is public, others will know what you think… may be critical of your work, and you… challenge you to write more before you’re ready? Perhaps you fear public speaking, and abhor the thought of promoting your work. Or, maybe your self-talk messages are telling you your work must be perfect and definitive before anyone sees it… when in reality, in an evolving world nothing can be perfect or definitive.

Do you have a time management problem? If so, why? The inability to say ‘No’? Do you need to prioritise? Plan more efficiently? Do you put things off? Procrastinate?

We all have unique self-talk messages that have an effect on how we live our lives. The trick is to identify which of our own inhibit our writing, and then take steps to overcome the particular attitudes that we use to block ourselves. Some will be easier to conquer and may disappear once named and put into perspective. Others may present bigger challenges, but these are not insurmountable.

The truth is that we all have the ability to hold ourselves back in relation to our achievements. We often call this ‘limiting ourselves’ or ‘making excuses’ not to do something.

The German-born American Poet, Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) contends in his poem Air and Light and Time and Space (https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/air-and-light-and-time-and-space/) that when we say conditions are not right to create, we are making excuses. He suggests that if you are serious ‘you will create no matter what is going on’.

I partially agree with Bukowski, however I think Writer’s Block is more complex than his extreme view recognises. There are, in fact, some situations that impede a person’s creativity at various times in their life, which are not merely excuses… but reality. People have all kinds of horrific events in their lives that shatter their ability to function as they usually do… in many ways. Incidents outside our control can drop on us at any time, sometimes one after the other, and just as a person with a regular job can take compassionate leave, it is reasonable for a writer to do the same when necessary.

Having said this, I want to be clear that I am in no way diminishing Writer’s Block. It is real. It is debilitating. It is shocking… and heart-breaking. It is a very complex demon that can ruin a writing career, sometimes before it even begins, or even lurk in the background to strike in small ways from time to time.

Our task as writers is to recognise this fiend for what it is and how it infiltrates our writing life, and then do our best to disarm it by utilising our knowledge of ourselves and the writer within. Writing Exercises ~ Finding The Writer In You, What Kind Of Writer Are You? and How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? will assist you in this quest.

A final word for now; whatever the reason you’re stuck in your writing, the longer you’re away from it the harder it will be to start to write again. While not denying you may not be able to write anything at the moment, I suggest that you begin as soon as you can to write even just a few words. This may have nothing to do with your current project or your writing goals, and may just be a phrase in your diary or notebook about anything at all… ‘I love my daughter’, ‘I hate the colour orange’, ‘We went to the airport today’, ‘Devastation everywhere’, or whatever it is for you in the moment. You may even have an idea for something you would write if you weren’t blocked… if so, jot it down for future reference. A word, a phrase or a sentence will do.

Don’t feel pressured by this suggestion, but keep it in mind for when you’re ready to wrestle that beast out of your creative channel.

If all else fails, stay with the written word in any way you can – reading, emails, notes, fine-tuning previously written work – until your muse returns.

This Blog relates to my Blogs ~ Writer’s Block – Part A, Writer’s Block – Part B, and also Writing Tips #3, #9 and #13                                                                                                


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