Category Archives: Creativity

Writing Exercises and Prompts

By Lawrence Wilson

Whenever I experience a lack of motivation, ideas, or energy (which sometimes occurs daily), I look over my collection of exercises and prompts to help get started.

Going back to my high school typing class, I did manage to type 40 or so words a minute without looking at the keys. Using this tool as a writing exercise, I sit quietly for a few minutes and then begin to type. Eyes closed. Letting any and everything that fires through the neurons wind up on paper.

If I don’t lose my place on the keyboard, it usually ends with a jumble of words and phrases that may or may not resemble a theme. It really doesn’t matter. It’s spontaneous, gets the mind and fingers working in synch. Most of the time, it gets deleted afterward. 

Another exercise is the six-word memoir. One of the more famous of these, “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” (Ernest Hemingway). My own: “Hearing the call, afraid to answer.” Or “I married up, she did not.”

Word prompts are much the same kind of mental exercise for writing. These can either be timed or have a defined word count. I try to make it to 500 words.

 I have just perused through some old prompts and found some that are rather good and could be developed.

‘Pitching a Frog’, for example. I don’t even remember what the prompt was, but it has the makings of an excellent short story. Another I found, ‘The Secrete Planet’. I called it “Orangetang”, a collection of all the citrus fruit drinks the astronauts couldn’t stomach and thus, jettisoned them so NASA wouldn’t find out. All prompts do not a story make.

Others have made it into the collection of my book, ‘Catching Chickens’. ‘The Door’, ‘Friends’ (the prompt was something about seeing a man on a ledge).

There are many sources of prompts and exercises available on the Web. Here are just a couple of them.

  • ‘The Author’s Publish Compendium of Writer’s Prompts’, http://www.authorspublish.com/writing-prompts-compendium/
  • Writer’s Digest Magazine has many links to prompts. In one contest, they provide the photo, and you write the first storyline.  The winners are published in the next issue.
  • As with anything else writing, all you must do is enter the keywords, “writer prompts,” and AI will find more than you ever wanted to know.

Cover Art

By Terry C. Misfeldt

In this day and age when naysayers believe print books are going the way of dinosaurs, it is ever more important that the cover art of your book grabs a potential reader’s attention.

Print on demand (POD) publishing today demands even more that your artwork is appealing since your book will most likely have a soft cover. That means paper instead of a stiffer, non-printable binding.

Now, if you are getting published in hard cover, there will be a wrap-around cover which will still require cover art. Even E-books have a need for cover art.

How do you create cover art that sells? I have long held the belief that copy sells while art enhances, but selling books with cover art requires both.

Romance writers know their cover art needs to show couples in a passionate embrace. Poets have more latitude in what graces their covers. Science fiction writers need “out of this world” artwork to entice potential readers.

Elements of strong cover art include: 1) Attractive color schemes; 2) Text (like your book title) that stands out from the background and uses an appropriate font; 3) Images that convey the essence of your book and entice people; 4) Catchy blurbs to garner attention; and, 5) a Professional image of you, the author.

Consider hiring a professional graphic artist to create your cover. Many publishing companies have cover artists on staff to assist you in that process…often at a steep cost. An option I employed with my first novel was contacting the local university’s graphic arts department to see if any students wanted to attack my cover. After several drafts and a few hundred dollars, I got an excellent (IMO) cover, thanks to Angela Collier. Can you guess what the novel is about?

Keeping a Journal

By Terry C. Misfeldt

When we were younger it was thought of as keeping a diary. As we have gotten older, that diary is now considered a journal. With age, keeping a journal is one of the best ways to keep track of the special occasions and life moments you experience.

Like my grandmother who started her journal when she was 10 years old and kept it up until 10 days before her passing, i have consciously kept a journal for most of my life. The exception was 2019 when I chose to intentionally skip keeping track of minutiae and just live my life!

The Corona virus pandemic of 2020 has proven to be an excellent reason for keeping a journal. The panic of being close to someone who might be infected. The anxiety of being quarantined. Waiting for test results. Listening to information and wondering whether it is accurate or manufactured. Doubt. Emotions provide insight to what you have gone through it you have shared them in a journal.

You are not obligated to share your journal with anyone. It is your personal property. It can also be a legacy to your loved ones when you leave this existence for the other side. I am fortunate to have some of my grandmother’s journals and the secrets they have divulged about growing up in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Being able to decode her symbols, I was able to determine when my father was conceived.

My fifth grandchild recently joined our family and, in my journal, I have shared my emotions and feelings about my third grandson. Being able to go back and review dates and events enables me to reminisce about his birth when I am older and grayer with a mind less likely to remember details that are fresh now.

If you travel, journal about it. A friend of mine who has been a professional photographer during his entire career has traveled extensively. When he shared images with me about his trips, i encouraged him to create journal entries and share them with his followers. It created a permanent memory of his exploits for himself, his family, and those of us who have always admired his work.

If you consider yourself a writer and wonder what to write, journal. Keeping a journal provides inspiration for that great American novel.

Editing Your Writing

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Part of writing is getting the words out. Another part is editing. Editing is an essential tool for every writer. It involves word choice, story flow, grammar, punctuation, and readability. Let’s look at those elements of editing, or should it be writing?

Word choice. When you write, the words you use are important. Some are useless and unnecessary and editing takes care of them. “That” is one of those words that can often be eliminated. Here’s an example with the previous sentence: “That” is a word you can eliminate. The other aspect of word choice is thinking about which word is most descriptive for the scene you create. The right words can be powerful in your story, creating an image in the reader’s mind describing emotions, building tension, or adding stress.

Story flow. Editing for flow involves reading the copy from a reader’s perspective. Is there a logical progression from one scene to the next? Does a gap exist causing your readers to give up on what’s going on? There are occasions when you are editing requiring you to move sentences, paragraphs, and perhaps even chapters to a better location in the story. Edit for your reader.

Grammar. There are software applications available to catch and correct grammatical errors when editing your work. As the writer, however, ultimate responsibility for grammar changes if yours. By the way, “the” is another often unnecessary word. Think about it.

Punctuation. Readers can be turned off my missing or incorrect punctuation—such as a dash instead of a comma, semi-colon; or misplaced colon: End a question with a question mark? End an exclamation with an exclamation mark! Use parentheses for (parenthetical expressions) in your work. Periods are the end of a sentence. Punctuation is a form of expressing yourself, so edit accordingly.

Readability. Scholars write at university level. Average reading levels for cognition suggest writers craft their writing at a third of fourth grade level. Editing for readability is about knowing your audience and writing for them. It can discourage a reader if they have to stop and look up a word they do not  understand, so keep that in mind when editing. It is okay to add a definition or describe intent to keep the flow going for your reader. Oops! In the second to last sentence, the words “have to” should have been edited out as unnecessary.

Editing is a constant challenge. There are occasions when a professional editor is beneficial.

COVID Motivation

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writers I converse with regularly seem to lack motivation to write as a result of COVID-19. They are isolated from other writers, family members, and friends, so it is hard to write about anything without human interaction. So here are my thoughts for writers who lack COVID motivation.

  1. Dedicate time each day to writing. Just write! It matters not what you type into your document or scribble on a note pad. Write about your day’s experiences if nothing else. What is essential is that you are writing, whether it’s at 7:00 in the morning or 11:00 at night. Write!
  2. Find something to write about. Your favorite food and why you relish that delicacy. Your best friend and how you get along with that person, even if your best friend is yourself. Write about your favorite time of year or the season that inspires you, such as the colors of autumn.
  3. Correspond with someone you care about. Find a blank note card and send a friend who lives far away a message about why you miss them or what you treasure most about your relationship and your hopes of rekindling it when you can get back together again. Open your heart to them.
  4. Find a writing contest and enter it. There are many magazines and writing groups solicting entries in their writing contests. If you find one you feel qualified to enter, study the rules and write that winning entry. It may cost you a few bucks to enter, but the satisfaction of competing…and winning…can be motivating. And last…
  5. Set a daily goal and write your novel. If you want to write a 90,000 word novel, you can do it in 90 days if you set a goal of writing 1,000 words every day. Perhaps you write 500 words in the morning and another 500 after dinner or all of them at once. The key is to set a goal and keep working at it. It can be your motivation.

Character Descriptions

By Terry C. Misfeldt

How you craft descriptions of your characters is an important element in gaining and maintaining reader interest in your story. Character descriptions vary from quick sketches to detailed revelations that can include emotional states.

An example of a quick sketch would be describing a female character wearing a sleeveless top with colorful tattoo sleeves from shoulder to wrist on both arms. Main character? Perhaps, but more appropriate for a passing stranger in some scene.

The more detailed character description might be something like this: “The plump four-year-old towhead with sparkling blue eyes and out-turned feet plodded barefoot through the mud with his tossled hair clinging to the back of his sweaty neck. His bleeding hand was wrapped in his blood-soaked t-shirt that he held tight to his chest with his belly hanging over the waistband of his too-tight shorts.”

The point of the examples is writers need to create believable characters with precise descriptions. The scene in the second example is used more to describe what might be going on in the towhead’s brief existence, but you learn he is blond with blue eyes and is overweight for a 4-year-old.

Beware: You can divulge too much information about a character in a single description or scenario. This may force you to repeat traits or descriptions at other points in your story that could potentially conflict with your original picture of them.

Suggestion: Identify your characters and write character descriptions on each of them before you dig too deeply into writing the story. This enables you to sprinkle some of their traits throughout the story at appropriate times rather than all at once.

Observe people who may model the type of character you want to create. Take notes about how they move, what they wear, and, of course, what they look like. Writers call it research.

Cleaning Leads to Writing Inspiration

By Ruth Granger-Wellens

At the beginning of my Corona virus isolation, since I had so many hours of unscheduled time, I decided to tackle some huge cleaning projects that I had put off for, well, years.  When we moved 16 years ago, during a week long spring break, I packed all my nonessential “stuff” into boxes.  My “stuff” eventually was cornered, literally, in the basement, and I hadn’t touched it in, again, years. With all the time I had ahead of me, I decided to clear out the corner by going through boxes to see what I had.

Wow!  I am a saver, I will admit, but some of the items I saved were a puzzlement even to me. Letter and cards, some from high school friends, but more from college buddies became inspiration to write about occasions from long ago. I could put twists on some of the letters I had saved – maybe a story about unrequited love? Why was that card never answered?  What happened? Why did I save some of my correspondence in a special box with a ribbon around it?

I did read everything before I threw out the majority of it, but not before going through many emotions.  Of course, if I didn’t remember the particular event, fiction writing would come in handy.

Then the pictures were discovered.  So many pictures of friends, family, and even a few strangers.  I did hang onto some of them, but others I tried to look at through my son’s eyes and wondered what he would think when the time came, and he needed to go through my things.  I became a new me in part and actually threw out some pictures.  But others, of people wearing vintage clothing, hats, with solid, serious stances, became inspiration for writing.  Who is that stranger in the picture? Remember the dance performances and the drama surrounding them in college?  What was the occasion for this picture?  How did the subjects feel about the picture being taken?  Were they standing next to people they enjoyed or not? The pictures provide ideas for both fiction and nonfiction.

Then came the preciously saved mementos. I found a large red button that had made me an official member of the Beatles Fan Club.  Upon seeing it, I felt a memoir coming on.  So many memories and feelings to capture in writing.     

This deep cleaning created a win-win situation for me.  I not only came away with some inspiring ideas for future writing, but that corner in my basement looks great!

Inspiration

By Rhonda Strehlow

Inspiration

Someone once asked me where I get ideas for my books. Some have been in my head for years. Take the premise for my first book, Second Act. All 70,000 plus words are based on a sixty-minute encounter that took place more than twenty years ago.

It started like this: my sisters and I took a long weekend break in Chicago. We had just seen a play and had an hour or so before we were expected at a nice restaurant. The evening was gorgeous. We talked and laughed as we wandered down the street. I was carrying a tiny evening bag. Feeling free and silly, I was swinging the purse in circles when a blond gentleman grabbed my arm.

This is downtown Chicago. We’re from a town with a population of 499 in northern Wisconsin. My sisters and I freeze.

He says, “It’s not safe to swing your purse in this city.”

En masse my sisters and I back away from him and his large bald friend we hadn’t noticed earlier.

He smiles and starts telling us about Chicago, its history, and famous residents. Within minutes we were captivated by his insights and barely noticed when we reached the restaurant.  We invited them to join us. They pointed to their shorts and sandals and declined.

“Thank you…” I hesitated. “We don’t know your names.”

The blond man smiled enigmatically, hugged me, and walked away.

I gave the bald man a quizzical look.

He leaned in and whispered, “If I told you his name, you would recognize it.”

In minutes they disappeared into the crowd.

If you want to know what could have been the rest of the story, you’ll have to read the book.

A Shot

By Benjamin Hock

A shot. It’s all we as writers ask for. We believe if the right agent read our manuscript, got to know our characters, their story, their life, that agent would fall in love with them as much as we did. Then we’d be off to the races. In pursuit of that book deal that might change our lives forever. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you haven’t heard of #PitMad. That’s what it is. ​A​ shot. One of a handful of ways to get your work in front of agents without the initial hassle of drafting a semi-custom form letter that can feel halfway between an E-Harmony and a Linked-In profile.

So when it came to pass the next pitmad contest was just around the corner I decided to take my shot at this once every three month opportunity and throw my hat in the ring as they say. Like any contest there are a few rules, which I won’t go over here. If you want to try your hand at PitMad you can find the rules and times at ​www.pitchwars.org​. But in true PitMad fashion I’ll describe the entire contest in 280 characters or less.

PitMad is like going to buy a scratch-off ticket. Most of them are losers. There’s some luck involved. The more you play the better your odds, and everyone wants to win the jackpot, however most of us go home a dollar poorer but can say it was a good time. That said the hardest part of PitMad is not the rules but the idea of taking the entirety of three plus years of work, 62,000 words, and summing it up into what amounts to a fortune cookie fortune.

How is this even possible? I agonized for days, writing over and over and over again this tiny billboard advertisement for my book that hopefully would stop an agent, if only fora moment, in their infinite scroll through Twitter. And if I did my job right, that agent would hit that ‘like’ button to tell me they are willing to take a look at my work. That’s right. All this for a chance to stand in line to get into the door. When the day of the contest arrived and the clock struck 7 a.m., like the morning bell of the stock market, a buzz of social media activity began to fly.

Writers littered the twitter-sphere with their own tiny billboards, including myself. My phone buzzed. A retweet. That must be good. More retweets equals more chances for agents to see it, right? A few hours pass. No likes. I post again, this time a revised version of what I essentially now consider micro-flash fiction. A few minutes go by and nothing. An hour. Nothing. Then ​ping​. The sound of a chime rings from my phone. I have a like. It’s from a small press publishing company.

Did their butt accidentally like my tweet when they sat down? No. They would like me to email them my first10,000 words. I followed up with my one and only like in less than twenty-four hours. My mind rushed with both hope and skepticism. Seventy two hours later I received a request for the full manuscript and a new excitement had risen within me, one of possibilities. I hit send and my book is on its way, zipping through fiber optic cables at the speed of light, to land on someone’s digital to-do stack.

Would I say taking part in PitMad was worth it? I can’t say for sure. This is still an experience in progress as I wait for either that next step into the door or that all too familiar email–thanks but no thanks. However, one thing is for certain, it was a good time.

Writing Challenge

By Terry C. Misfeldt

One week into July 2020 I decided to challenge myself on writing. I believed I could write 1,000 words a day, so I established that as my realistic goal. My rationale was two-fold:

1) If I wrote 1,000 words a day I could craft a 90,000 word novel within 90 days; and,

2) I could hold myself accountable by documenting how many words I wrote in my daily journal. I did not intend to count the journal words in the daily total.

Through the first 18 days of my challenge I have written 22,336 words for an average of 1,241. There was only one day when I did not write anything, and some days when I fell short of the 1,000 word goal. The most words in a day were 2,995. The key, in my estimation, has been accountability.

There have been days when I was motivated to sit down at the keyboard early and crank on the sequel to my novel, Shevivor. And there was at least one day where I did not want to go to bed without sitting down and cranking out something.

How did I determine what to write?

If I was working on the sequel, I went to bed thinking about the next few paragraphs and where I wanted to take the story. If I hit a snag or blockage, I worked on a chapter of my memoirs and found it easy to craft 1,000 words about one of my life’s experiences. In other words, I always had something to write about. And there were days when I wrote in two different stints when I was motivated to write.

Enough about me.

Challenging yourself to write involves setting a goal. It is less important to establish how much you want to write as it is to maintain a regimen that keeps you focused. If you can accomplish writing 500 words a day, make that your objective. If you find it difficult to commit to a daily schedule and believe you can write 2,000 words a week, that should be your goal.

You must set your own standard because, ultimately, you must hold yourself accountable.

Keep track of your achievements. It is how you measure progress.

A lesson learned long ago is that goals must be written, or they are never attained. They must also be realistic, so even if it is 100 words a day and that can be achieved, you can accomplish it.

Goals need to be timely as well. I have been focused on mine for 18 days out of at least 90 planned, so I need to infuse persistence into my regimen to complete what I have in mind.

You can do it, too!

Writing this piece alone generated 461 words toward today’s goal.