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Building Ideas

Page history last edited by msward 9 years, 10 months ago




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Introducing our Writer's Notebooks:

A Writer's Notebook is a small notebook that a writer uses on a daily basis to write down ideas, bits and pieces of dialog, and other story data. It is a place to reflect on your writing process and gather ideas for a future writing projects.  You might write down interesting words you overhear, descriptions that suddenly come to you, or ideas you want to remember. Ideally, writers carry their notebook with them everywhere because ideas can strike at any time. Maybe while walking through the mall, you see an interesting shopper and want to remember what she looks like, her quirks and descriptions, such as clothes worn, different habits, mannerisms, and other characteristics unique to that individual. A Writer's Notebook is a way of capturing a little slice of life.



Use your notebook to breathe in the world around you. You can write about:

  1. What amazes/surprises/angers you
  2. What you wonder about
  3. What you notice
  4. "Seed Ideas" or "Triggers" to generate stories or poems
  5. Small details that intrigue you
  6. Snatches of talk you overhear
  7. Memories
  8. Lists
  9. Photos, articles, ticket stubs or other artifacts
  10. Your own sketches, drawings or doodles
  11. Quotes or inspiring passages from books or poems 


Once you have gathered a lot of writing in your notebook, try the following ideas:

  1. Reread to dig out the best material
  2. Experiment with new kinds of writing
  3. Try to write something beautiful but don't expect all your writing to be great. Give yourself permission to write badly!
  4. Write about personal things--fears, nightmares, or dreams--that contain strong feelings
  5. Write about writing


Remember these tips:

  • Keep your notebook with you so you can write at any place and time.
  • Pull your notebook out whenever you have a few minutes with nothing else to do.
  • The notebook you keep should reflect you. If you like to draw, draw in your notebook.
  • Writing can be fun. Your notebook is a place to enjoy writing.


Prewriting Strategies For Your Writing:

  1. Write in Your Writer's Notebook. A writer's notebook gives you an easy, informal, no-pressure way to start thinking about a topic. Great for brand-new "seed ideas".
  2. Talk It Out. Sometimes I'll get together with a friend to kick around an idea I'm thinking about. There's a little danger here--if you talk too much you can talk the mystery out of an idea. I have found that a little talk goes a long way.
  3. List Ideas. Lists are a great way to gather material. The idea is to generate ideas. Don't worry if some ideas are better than others. And don't worry too much about getting the ideas in the right order.
  4. Make A Web. You may have done this before. Put the main idea in the center, and make a "spoke" for each connected idea.
  5. Make A Simple Timeline. I find this idea very helpful for writing stories. Jot down when each important event happened. Now, where do you want to start the writing? At the beginning of the timeline? In the middle? At the end?
  6. Three by Three by Three. Give yourself three minutes to write three ideas on three different topics. Great for generating ideas.
  7. Free Write. Give yourself a short amount of time (five to seven minutes) to jot down ideas, words, fragments related to a topic. If you doing this right your pen should never leave the page. One friend of mine calls it "Hot-Penning". Don't think: write! Let your pen go wild. Later you can go back and circle any parts you want to use.

All these ideas come to you from Ralph Fletcher's site, which is full of great ideas for aspiring writers.


About Me


Where Does Writing Hide?

creative writing promptsDuring our first week together, we'll be trying to generate a variety of ideas for potential pieces in our Writer's Notebook.  We'll play with a number of writing prompts and styles in order to give us some ideas for writing more polished pieces later on in our quarter together.


Writer Georgia Heard offers some wonderful advice in her book on writing titled Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Finding Your Way on where to begin your search for ideas. We will begin our search for ideas by reading selection from Ms. Heard's book. Each selection ends with a writing prompt, which we will complete in our Writer's Notebooks.



Where Does Writing Hide? pages 10-12

Many of us grew up thinking that ideas for writing come from the fascinating and adventurous lives of writers. What I love about this poem is that it dispels that myth and reminds us that poems, and all writing, are hiding in the most ordinary and familiar places - if we can only change our way of looking at them.  

At a recent workshop I asked people to list where poems hide in their lives. Here are some of the places they named: in my father's chair, in spider webs attached to the walls of the garage, in the taste of spinach in my mouth, in my mother's silence.  Their catalogue itself sounded like a poem, it was so vivid and surprising.

We don't necessarily have to change our lives around to be writers or to be writing more. We must change the way we look at our lives. By looking at the small, everyday circumstances and happenings, we find ideas to fill volumes.

Make a list of places where writing hides for you. Be specific. Instead of "Nature," say "In the oak leaves frozen in the pond." Instead of "Memories," write "In the papery skin of my grandmother's hands." Check around your life, and you'll find an abundance of writing ideas.

Writers Gather

Front CoverWriters collect ideas, gather them up in notebooks, on scrap pieces of paper, on napkins.  So as we explore where writing ideas come from, we too must be gatherers.  We must gather ideas, gather inspiration, and gather words.


Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge has a great idea for finding inspiration in her book Poemcrazy. She suggests that writers collect words and create what she calls "wordpools".  So let's give it a try!  Here's her explanation for what a "wordpool" is:


"I borrow words from poems, books and conversations. Politely. Take polite. If I’m in a classroom, I just start chalking them onto the board. I don’t worry about spelling or meaning. Curdle. Cantankerous. Linoleum. Limousine. Listen. Malevolent. Sukulilli, the Maidu Indian word for silly. Magnet cat oven taste tilt titter.


I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems." (10)


Let's take some time to read her chapter on wordpools.  After you finish reading, we'll be using the magazines, newspapers, and books on our desks to create our own wordpools.  Then we'll use our gathered words to play around with creating a piece for tomorrow.


PRACTICE, from page 12-13


  • Write words down. Flap tip lob. Elope. Scrounge.
  • Look around and steal some words. Lamborghini. Jute. Wombat.
  • Go ahead and make up a word. Losoonie. Flapoon. Noplat.
  • Be sloppy. Don’t think. You can’t make a mistake, there aren’t any wrong words. Phantom strut tumble porch. Dragoon.
  • Don’t worry too much about meaning for now. Words carry meaning along with them. Put words down and meaning will begin to rush in.
  • Give each word a color. Vermilion regret.
  • List the senses and give each sense a color. Peach hearing.
  • Toss in words from foreign languages. Ciao.
  • Go for sound: hum, fizz, fiddle, fandango, zigzag, ziggurat, folderol, armadillo. Tintinabulation.
  • Collect field guides. I often bring an insect, rock or butterfly book to workshops and we list words like window winged moth, globular springtail or porphyry, a purple rock named for the Latin and Greek word for “purple.”
  • My friend Tom’s Ford pickup repair manual is chock full of great words: luminosity probe, diesel throttle control tool, acceleration pump link, swivel, internal vent valve, choke hinge pin. . . .
  • Look for a Magnetic Poetry Kit of words that stick to the refrigerator. My friend Arielle got a kit and told me, “Things just come out of you.” She wrote about her family’s twenty-one-year-old cat, Jumbo,

white puppy petal

you gorgeous milk fluff

sleep all day lick

tiny love from time

and dream

Writers Take Risks


Good writing, writing that really speaks to us usually connects with us because the writer has made him or herself vulnerable.


Good writing is not generic or vague.  It is specific, it is detailed, and often the writer has taken a personal risk to share something personal with us the reader.  So here's what I'm going to ask you: take a risk.  Good writing comes from a vulnerable place.  Now I'm not asking you to write about your most painful memories or experiences. Instead, what I'm asking you to do is to be willing to step outside your comfort zone.  If you usually poems, take a risk and try rewriting one of your poems as an essay.  If you generally write fantasy stories about a distant future, step outside your comfort zone to write a poem. By taking that risk, by being a bit vulnerable, you may just be surprised about the writing that you can do!


Here's what Susan Goldsmith Woolridge in her book Poemcrazy has to say about taking risks:


Chapter 20: Snowflakes and Secrets, pages 74-75


Listening to our Shadow


Let's try this exercise:


excerpt from Poemcrazy

Chapter 21: Listening to our Shadow, pages 76-79


When I was young my favorite book was Now We are Six by A.A. Milne. My mother tells me I never wanted to turn seven. It seemed like a serious mistake to me. I wasn't eager to become a grownup along with everyone else wearing tie shoes. Before turning seven, I wanted time to stop.


Later I learned that the psychologist Carl Jung suggested (as A.A. Milne and I must have known instinctively) that when we're about seven we separate from and then bury or repress whatever parts of us don't seem to be acceptable in the world around us. According to Jung, these unacceptable parts become our shadow.


If we're shy and withdrawn, it's our shadow who's doing flamenco dances on a table in a nightclub. If we're always doing good turns and being obedient teenagers, it's our shadow who's sneaking out the window at night and coming back muddy and hung over at dawn. If we're rebellious, disobedient and procrastinating, it's our shadow who's on the honor roll.


Laura, with long blond hair, a health food, vegetarian diet and a hand-built house in the pines, discovered her shadow dresses in tight black leather, wears spike heels, has straight black hair, red lips and black nail polish. She smokes cigarettes through a long, metal cigarette holder. Another friend who dresses in baggy sweats has a persnickety shadow in tailored business suits.


I meet often with my shadow. She's a statuesque Greek goddess who sometimes brings me messages through a cool and unavailable grey cat. I've taken the more boring role of wife, mother and responsible citizen (though my daughter tells me not to worry, I'm weird enough).


To become more fully who we are, it's a good idea to invite our shadow to speak now and then. In the meditation/visualization I practice, I talk with my shadow most evenings about the next day. I'm disorganized and she's the master planner. She knows how to give me free time, which I rarely allow. And I try to spend Thursdays letting her inform me and often take me shopping. She's more extravagant than I am.


Once in Santa Monica she urged me to buy an outrageously expensive ocean green, ripply dress like the one she wears, Greek leopard straps. She wanted me to wear this to a high school reunion, but I didn't have the courage. Here's a poem I work to her shortly after our shopping trip,

My shadow wears

leopard shoes

ocean dress

leopard hat

and she knows

the order of things. Her hair

in green vines

and she lives

to drive men wild,

they walk babbling into the sea.

The mousier I act

the more men she drowns.

My shadow is a grey cat

who makes lizards drop

their frenzied tails

and makes me

wear her



Since then my shadow has come closer. I'm listening and we're usually friends. I just shut my eyes and ask her to appear. Sometimes if I've neglected her, she seems negative or angry until I begin to listen. I ask her what she needs from me. Lately she's been telling me to wear white. She likes me to dance. I need to ask her where and when. Often she wants me to shut doors and get to bed by ten to read. She likes to help me cut my writing. She always reminds me to breathe more deeply. She wants to be on the cover of this book in black, leaping.


Recently my shadow has been asking me to follow her through a rocky valley without looking back. Last week she showed me how to dance me how to dance a little jig along the way. She's dressed in white herself in what appears to be a bridal gown. I think she wants me to wed her, the disowned half of myself, and begin to experience the unknown: the feeling of being whole.



Find a quiet place, sit down, shut your eyes and ask your shadow to appear. Your shadow may be angry, weak, sad or frightened because he or she hasn't had a chance for expression. When you bring your shadow to consciousness and begin to meet his or her needs, the figure's appearance will probably change.


Begin a conversation with your shadow. If you're willing, invite him or her to become part of your life.


Describe him or her. Not the changes in appearance as your conversation continues.


Ask what your shadow needs from you to have a positive role in your world.


Where can you meet? What would your shadow like you to do together?


Make a date to meet with your shadow once a week or, if you prefer, every day at a certain time. Let your shadow pick the time and place.


Write all this down.


Let your shadow write a poem.



As writers, we are sometimes guilty of censorship.  Not of censoring others, but of censoring ourselves.  We write what we think others want to read, not what we really think or feel.  Writer Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge writes about this in her book poemcrazy.  One way that she thinks about this self-censorship is as her shadow.  She says that we hide parts of ourselves that we think will not be accepted; they become part of our shadow-selves.  "To become more fully who we are, it's a good idea to invite our shadow to speak now and then," she writes (77).


What does the voice of your shadow have to say?  It's time you give your shadow voice. 

  • In your Notebook, begin to describe your shadow.  Use the prompt at the end of the chapter to guide you as you begin to give your shadow voice.
  • Try turning this description into a more polished piece.  You decide whether that piece will be a poem, a story, an essay, or a play.
  • Post your piece as a blog post to our class website. 




More Resources for Finding Inspiration

 Having trouble coming up with ideas for your writing? Check out these resources:


  • Writing Forward is a website with all sorts of prompts and advice for aspiring writers.
  • CreativePrompts.com has a writing prompt for nearly every day of the year!  It is a fun site to explore all the different sorts of prompts.
  • Creative Writing: A Master Class is an awesome collection of FREE audio and video lessons from accomplished authors.  This online class is available as a FREE download on iTunes. 






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