Category Archives: writing exercises

Ten Minutes

So, yesterday while I was wasting time on Twitter, I read another blogger’s post about how she wrote a novel in ten minutes a day.

I mean, I definitely waste more than ten minutes a day.

Waaaay more.

But I have a hard time getting into the writing mindset that quickly–and I often waste a bunch of time staring at a blank screen, trying to feel moved or motivated.

I think maybe I need to cut that out…?

So for the month of March, I’m going to try the whole Ten Minutes A Day thing!

Three days a week my Creative Writing class has ten minutes of freewriting a day, so I’ll join them for that instead of using that time for entering attendance, answering emails, whatever.

The other four days I’ll have to come up with some other ten minutes, but I bet I can do it for a month… right?

Anyway, I’ll be tweeting about it, too, so feel free to join me: #10MinMarch

(And now to go put in ten minutes for today, even though March isn’t till tomorrow… woohoo!)

Lessons from the Classics: Twain’s Dialect

 Note: This is the first in an ongoing series (I hope?) of posts that take what I’m teaching in my 11th-grade American Lit classes and then shows how that could translate into creative writing, using examples of what I’m doing. I welcome feedback, because I’m no expert on American literature–just somebody who’s been teaching it for a couple of years. I would also love to hear how other writers are using these tools! 

This week in American Lit, we’ve been talking about dialect (writing that imitates the way people actually speak, including accents, slang, and idiom) and how writers use that to provide indirect characterization.

The story we read is Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a short, humorous exploration of the type of characters populating a rural mining camp in the 1860s. It’s also a frame story,  with an unnamed narrator introducing and closing out the tale in deliberately prolix style, the better to heighten the contrast with the main tale, told by “good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler” (Twain 1). The version at the link has a different ending than the version in our textbook, but the same general ideas are at play in both.

Obviously, Twain’s intent is to satirize both the stuffy narrator, who can’t see the humor in Smiley’s adventures, and Wheeler himself, who’s a bore and a boor and won’t let the narrator escape. We spend time while we’re reading picking out the words that really help characterize the two of them in order to analyze Twain’s use of diction as character. Some of the students’ favorites:

  • The Narrator: compliance, garrulous, hereunto append, personage, infernal, tedious
  • Simon Wheeler: feller, flume, curiousest, so’s, solit’ry, dangdest, thish-yer–and I was very unsuccessful in convincing them that “Well, blame my cats!” should make a comeback in teen vernacular.

There’s clearly a vast gulf here in terms of diction (syntactically, they both tend to run on, but only one of them does it grammatically). It would be very, very easy to label any sentence from this story as spoken by the Narrator or by Simon Wheeler, based on diction alone, because their dialects are so distinct.

So, how do I use this in my own writing?  Continue reading Lessons from the Classics: Twain’s Dialect

Late for Saturday, or early for Tuesday…?

Sometimes it’s so hard to tell.

The beginning of a new semester is always tricky, but especially when you’re sick (still? again? who even knows at this point).

I have a new bunch of students in Creative Writing this semester, and it’s about half the size of last semester’s class–and 80% male. This is the first time I’ve had enough kids sign up to teach it twice in a year, but with the smaller group I suspect it’s going to be a very different experience. Last semester had a lot of humor and several big personalities, and this semester seems like mostly silent students.

But our first unit is Creative Nonfiction, so I’m looking forward to having them write and design their own Six-Word Memoirs.

I just killed like an hour looking for the one I designed on Canva, but have now given up on that. My six-word memoir: “Learned more from teaching than school.”

What’s yours?

 

Imitation and Inspiration

spoon river anthologyLast week in American Literature we did one of my favorite projects–unearthed from the vault, so to speak–based on Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. It’s a collection of poems, each written from the point of view of a former resident (now deceased) of Spoon River. The poems are intertwined, revealing the connections between the lives of the Spoon River-ers, showing town life from various angles.

What could be more fun, for a roomful of high school students, than to imitate that?  Continue reading Imitation and Inspiration

Starting All Over Again

While I’ve been away from the blog, I’ve had several new starts come my way. I got back from Hawaii–which was amazing–and had to start again at work, teaching/planning/grading, trying desperately to get caught up. I’m still flailing when it comes to catching up on writing–I’ve missed the last few pages deadlines for my crit group, and jokingly-not-jokingly told them that my goal this month is to write “EVEN ONE SINGLE PAGE.”

So far nothing.

However, I am trying to get back on the horse just in time for a perennial favorite: NaNoWriMo.

Fifth time’s the charm??

Continue reading Starting All Over Again

She Hath a Lovely Face: Characterization & Beauty

We’re reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in Novels this semester, and since we’ve been reading about how well Basil captures Dorian’s essence in his portrait, our first creative project is to annotate selfies (or photos of ourselves, for the student who says he refuses to ever take a selfie on moral grounds) to show what our appearances reveal about our true natures*.The Selfie Picture of Ms. Larkin

Portrait of the Artist as a Young (Wo)man – click to see larger!

One of the things that was mentioned in multiple MWW workshops this year was the idea that–to the dismay of Victorians–phrenology has been disproven; that is, there are much more important things about your character than details of appearance. At her MWW one-day intensive session, The Writer’s Survival Kit, Martha Brockenbrough begged us, “Please don’t start with your protagonist waking up in bed and catching sight of herself in the mirror. Isn’t there a whole lot of stuff that’s more important to know about your character than that she has green eyes?”  Continue reading She Hath a Lovely Face: Characterization & Beauty

Bart IWT, rest of the days!

As you may have guessed, I got busy and failed to come update this any more. My writing group was fabulous and I got a lot out of it–I really loved reading what they wrote, and found their critique helpful too! I definitely hope the rest of them will finish their books so that I can read them.

2015-07-24 21.17.30

I also got to do my first public reading (!!!) at the Thursday-night “celebratory reading of works in progress,” invited by instructor Nancy to share what I came up with in our pastiche exercise. And one of my group members taped it!

Continue reading Bart IWT, rest of the days!

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Well, despite knowing perfectly well that the #1 task I need to accomplish as a writer is to WRITE, I keep finding ways to distract myself. Sometimes I distract myself “productively” (laundry, dishes, blog entries…) and sometimes I just read all of tumblr or get distracted by a really excellent blog. Or decide that I really need to spend a long time posting pictures of my kid on Facebook. Or tweaking things that are immaterial.


forgive the language, but this is a very accurate depiction of what I’m talking about.

Anyway, lately I’ve been reading through the entire archives at QueryShark. (This is facilitated by how easy it is to read things on a smartphone while you feed a baby.) This counts as goofy procrastination because you absolutely do not ever query an agent about a novel that you haven’t finished yet, and despite having several projects in various stages, I definitely do not yet have any finished novels to be querying.

HOWEVER… Continue reading Putting the Cart Before the Horse