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Saturday, December 6, 2014

We Who Call Ourselves Writers


Once upon a time, in the dreary dark ages before laptops and computers, a form of expression called a typewriter existed. Fledgling and successful writers both sat before this antiquated piece of machinery and, with correction tape and Liquid Paper nearby, produced manuscripts they hoped would be published.

If their words were slashed by editors, they revised their material, because they really wanted to see their words in print. If they mailed off their manuscripts, they waited weeks and sometimes months before hearing from the publisher.

More importantly, they really cared about the craft of writing and spent endless hours learning how to structure their sentences and their stories in a way that would entice their audiences to read the words they so meticulously placed on the page.

   

And when their work was published, they beamed with excitement, because they felt rewarded. 

Today, a lot of people, who call themselves writers, sit at their computers and randomly throw words on a page. They post those words on websites around the world and then rapidly scan through other poster’s words, liking, commenting, and hoping that the recipients of their comments will read their own scattered words. The posts they “write” sometimes make no sense, but they get comments and likes, and they make money.

Those of us who care about our words wonder if any other profession produces such sub-par material. Imagine an accountant randomly throwing numbers on a report and getting paid just because he had the ability to count and now that his work had been published, he now had to gather together with other accountants and share numbers, so they would all get paid, no matter how meaningless were the reports.

How about a wannabe musician who never picked up an instrument, but who bought CDs made by other artists who now felt obligated to buy the wannabe’s cacophonous piece of you-know-what, because he previously bought their music?

Nowhere but in the writing field (today anyway, when people are abandoning the traditional form of publishing in favor of online publication) do people feel obligated to return the favor of reading everything written by everyone who reads what the writer has written.

Writing may be losing its artistry. If everyone calls him- or herself a writer, maybe writing is no longer as prestigious a career as some of us thought it was. Have you witnessed “singers” who appear on talent shows who believe they can sing? Put those singers into the world of the writer. They post their “talent” on YouTube and whoever watches it is now obligated to watch every YouTube talent show created by everybody who watched theirs.

Have we taken equality on a tangent? Shouldn’t talent and skill speak for itself? Can you imagine Paul McCartney having to listen to everyone who ever listened to him?

Let’s go back to books and blogs. Can you imagine JK Rowling reading every single book or blog written by everybody who read her work? And yet that’s how online writing seems to work. You read me – I read you. Some people even expect a return on their comments and get miffed if you don’t return a read, a like, or a comment, like for like, comment for comment.

Well, what if we don’t want to read each other’s work? What if I write something that doesn’t interest you in the least? Will you feel that you have to read my work because I read yours? 

When did one-to-one, read-for-read begin? Not until recently did it occur to me that the whole process was ridiculous. I was, in some cases, reading garbage (I’m going to take the liberty of revising the following content, but keep in mind that what you are about to read is so common that it breaks my writer’s heart to know that people are getting paid to write such things) – “today I slept in and it felt great and now I’m going to go to the couch and maybe I’ll get something to eat and then I’ll maybe go outside or not, but it looks like today is going to be a boring day and I’m just trying to fill up space so I can get paid for this post).

Why? Why would I waste my time reading comments that don’t amuse, entertain, or enlighten me in some way? I can understand, though, why people take shortcuts or post online (I write numerous blogs myself) – due to the merry-go-round traditional publishers force writers to ride.  

In the 1980s, for instance, I wrote a book for children, aged 2-8, to help them recognize signs of child sexual abuse. I found a publisher who loved the book, but my labor of love had to go before the “board” for approval. The publisher held onto the book for nearly a year before telling me – that because I called body parts by their actual names – the board didn’t think people would accept the book. Maybe they would have preferred I call the male anatomy a baby-making device and women’s breasts milk factories. I don’t know, but, according to the publishing house that almost published my book, the world wasn’t ready for me yet.

Rather than publish the book myself or go through another year, I held onto the book, made a PDF file of it, and decades later posted it online. Today you can find it free by clicking the link: You Are The Boss of Your Body: A Guide to Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.


I wrote another book in the 1970s, published it in the1990s, but pulled it for personal reasons, because I wrote it in a rage, and I had created something so destructive I was afraid people would actually duplicate it.

Today another book I wrote sits on Amazon, The Bountiful Book of BLOG IDEAS: Your Guide to Generating HUNDREDS of IDEAS for Your Blog, which you can find by clicking the link.

Despite the fact that I’m competing with possibly MILLIONS of “writers” from around the world, I continue to write. With the advent of independent publishers, many of us have found a new venue for sharing our words and our worlds. Independent publishers provide more one-on-one attention and will tell you whether or not your work is worthy of publication – remember, though, sometimes your personality won’t click with the publisher. If you have done your homework, and you are proud of your “baby,” keep looking.

Of course, you can always publish your book yourself. And if people want it, they’ll buy it. Fortunately, Amazon allows us the opportunity to preview books before we purchase them.

For those of us who truly are writers, whether we scribble our words on paper, type into a computer or on a laptop, or speak into a microphone, let’s give ourselves a break – you do NOT have to read everyone who reads YOU. However, you won’t know what you’re missing if you don’t check out those writers’ works. I have found some very enjoyable bloggers and writers, and I'm happy I took the time to read them. Give those writers/bloggers a chance, but don’t feel obligated to read everything.

And if you’re looking for a publishing house, consider contacting the independent publishers, Humor Outcasts Press or Shorehouse Books.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Frustrations of an Unknown Writer (Or How to Become Invisible)


Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network July 25, 2008.

According to populationgrowth.org, nearly 7 billion people inhabit our planet. I have not made it even to the status of insignificant. You see I have discovered the secret to being invisible. The short answer to the question, "How does one become invisible?" is this: Become a writer.

I should know, because I have the audacity to consider myself a writer. Why? Because I write.



When writers complain that their work is in the slush pile, I'm thinking, you made it to the slush pile? I would celebrate if anything I wrote made it that far. Instead, for several decades, I have been riding a literary merry-go-round.

Here's how the ride works:

# 1 - Spend several hours researching a topic (lets you know you're alive)
# 2 - Spend several more hours writing about your research topic.
# 3 - Revise
# 4-10 - Repeat # 3
# 11 - Mail your manuscript
(Here's where it gets interesting.)
# 12 - Become invisible

Somewhere between #11 and #12, you become invisible. And it is at that point you find yourself spinning endlessly on the aforementioned merry-go-round. You stand in front of the mirror wondering if the reflection you're looking at is actually you or some phantom of your imagination.

Maybe you're not really here.

Maybe you only think you're here.

It's that whole "pinch me" experience, but not because something amazing has happened and you can't believe it's happening to you; it's because you really just want to know if anybody is aware of your presence.

After a while, in exasperation, you start calling people. If they respond, it means at least somebody can hear you - maybe - because maybe you're fantasizing about that too. Your conversations go like this:

To a publisher:

YOU - Hi, I'd like you to publish my manuscript.
THEM - Do you have an agent?
YOU - No.
THEM - Do you belong to the Guild?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

The conversation is slightly different with agents.

YOU - Hi, I'd like you to represent me.
THEM - Have you had anything published?
YOU - No.
THEM - Do you belong to the Guild?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

You see a pattern, so you call the Guild.

YOU - Hi, I'd like to belong to the Guild.
THEM - Do you have an agent?
YOU - No.
THEM - Have you ever had anything published?
YOU - No.
THEM - Sorry.

Even if you get beyond the point of invisibility, you then have to concern yourself with rejection. How many rejections should you accept before you realize you're not the caliber of writer you thought you were - 10, 100, a billion?

Apparently you should accept an infinite number of rejections, because if you consider yourself to be a writer, you never give up writing, even if you, your family members, and your friends are the only ones who read what you've written.

Of course today, we can blog. But again, with so many bloggers, how can I get recognized for my writing?

Poof! Oh! No! It's happening again. I'm becoming invisi...


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Importance of Wording: Misplaced Modifiers and Missing Words


Originally published on Yahoo Contributor Network Feb 1, 2011

For several semesters I tutored English students at a local community college. One of the most difficult aspects for students to grasp was misplaced modifiers. I tried to get the students to understand that if they were describing a person, place, or thing, the modifier had to be as close as possible to the word it modified; otherwise it would appear as if the modifier was describing a completely different person, place, or thing.

Another concept that was important, but also difficult for students to learn, was that leaving even one necessary word out of a sentence could completely alter the meaning of that sentence.

Though I have spoken English all of my life, I've heard that English is a difficult language to learn. Different idioms, dialects, and accents all contribute to language misinterpretation, and some spoken words aren't even in the dictionary.

If you visit Chicago's southwest side, for instance, you'll likely hear the annoying (to me), "Yous guys." Midwesterners who want you to join them will ask you if you want to, "come with." And in the south and southwest, you might hear, "all y'all," their variation of "all of you."


While various word choices can be endearing to hear, especially when they come from the mouth of a 3-year-old, adults who leave important words out of their sentences lack effective communication skills. Their inability to accurately convey their thoughts contributes to carelessness and vague or confusing expressions that leave them wondering why nobody understands them.

Because some people are completely oblivious to the fact that they omit important words or place modifiers so far away from the words they modify that the sentence no longer makes sense, they underestimate the power of proper word choice.

My job was to help students choose the proper words, to prepare them for their English assignments, and to assist them in learning how to detect and correct their mistakes.

But as professional as I TRIED to be, I had to laugh at some of the altered meanings of their sentences.

Even after I left my job as a tutor and worked as an ad designer, I had to stop myself from laughing at some of the misplaced modifiers and incomplete sentences I read, especially when the situation called for solemnity.

One of my jobs, for instance, was to design memorial messages for people on the anniversaries of their departed loved ones' deaths. Mourners wrote thoughtful and meaningful poems that were heart wrenching, heart warming, and so filled with sorrow, they nearly broke my heart.

One ad, though, caused me so much discomfort, I could barely sit still. The memorial, while quite touching, was also poorly written. I wasn't allowed to change the wording, and I didn't want to disrespect the woman who had poured her heart and soul into the memoriam, but the wording tempted me to explode with laughter.

The woman and the memorial tormented me, in fact. I desperately wanted to change her wording, but I couldn't touch the ad that read:

"All we have left is memories of you hanging on the wall."

Though I remained dignified on the outside, my insides were in a state of hysteria, screaming for release.

I immediately pictured taxidermists stuffing people instead of animals.

And my mind wouldn't stop there. I imagined visiting homes where dead relatives hung on den walls to commemorate the lives of loved ones who had passed on.

Once the thought entered my head, it wouldn't let up. I took it even further, thinking of how people might now want to preserve their relatives by taking their bodies to taxidermists instead of mortuaries. (The blog, Dream of Dead Grandpa, will introduce you to what could happen if taxidermists allow us to keep and store our dead relatives.)

The bottom line is this: WORDING IS IMPORTANT. Leaving words out and misplacing modifiers could potentially change the entire meaning of the sentence. Make sure your word choices reveal your intentions.

Unless you're a comic striving for humor and you recognize the hilarity of misplaced modifiers, I implore you to read Funny Misplaced Modifiers to find out for yourself just how easy unintentional wording mistakes can contribute to innumerable misunderstandings.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Talent vs. Skill

Do you think you can write because you've always been told you have talent? Congratulations! 

But listen – just because you're talented doesn't mean you'll be successful. Talent without skill is like being invited to a feast and then sitting at a table with an uncooked holiday meal. You may have been born with talent, but you can't present it properly without preparation. The only way to succeed in writing is to build your skill set. 

To learn more, read, 8 Things that are More Important than Talent for Writing Success, posted on TV Writer. And read the WHOLE article. The article is long, but if success is important to you, you'll take the time to read it. Anne R. Allen provides some very important information regarding skill and talent!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Need Blog Ideas?


Need ideas for your blog? This book has hundreds of them! The Kindle edition is only $4.99 and will give you blog ideas in a matter of minutes. Get a pencil and a pad of paper ready and download a copy of The Bountiful Book of BLOG IDEAS: Your Guide to Generating HUNDREDS of IDEAS for your Blog and you'll get, not only hundreds of blog ideas, but also information on how to generate blog ideas, how to write creatively, how to overcome writer's block, and how to write an intriguing title. If some of those titles sound familiar to you, it's because they appear somewhere in this blog, WritingCreatively.org.


In addition to those articles, you will learn some of my best writing tips, you'll discover the one thing that dramatically improves your writing, and you'll arm yourself with the tools you'll need to avoid eight mistakes that cripple writers!

So order your copy today and let your imagination soar!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writers Block - the Key to Unlocking the Block

 

Originally Published March 7, 2009 on Yahoo! Contributor Network

Writer's block - that formidable opaque mountain of confusion and uncertainty that plants itself in front of you as you sit down to write a book, a screenplay, an article, a poem, or a blog.

You've just begun and already you're stuck. You can't see around the obstruction and you can't see beyond it. You want to write something, anything, but you don't know where to begin. Or you begin, but you stop, because you don't know where you are going.

You've heard about it. You swore you'd never experience it. And yet here it is and there you are, a recipient of writer's block.

But writer's block is nothing more than a pause button on the controller of your mind. If you think about it, it's not even remote. It's right there in your head. All you have to do to prevent writer's block is click PLAY and read on:

What to Write About
The first trick for overcoming writer's block is to come up with a sustainable topic. Not so easy, you say? If the idea of coming up with a subject causes so much frustration that the project seems insurmountable from the get-go, imagine ideas sprouting up everywhere, all day, all night. From the time you wake up in the morning to the time you retire at night, and even into the night, dreams and daydreams alike take shape.
Digital headlines splash across computer screens. Radios play songs that inspire. Television programs stir emotions. Newspapers and the Internet reveal story after story. Compelling conversations engage you. Every bit of information, from the rustling of leaves to the chatter of children, filters through your senses and makes an impression upon your brain.
From the thousands of stimuli you are exposed to every day, try pausing for just one moment and freeze the frame. Pay attention to your environment, to the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the textures, and the smells. Pay attention to what matters to you. One moment can grow an entire book.
You can, as the saying goes, "write what you know" - or you can write what you don't know but want to learn - researching can be fun and challenging.
If you don't know what interests you, but you feel a compulsion to write, visit a bookstore or a library for ideas. Scan the bookshelves. They are lined with titles and subjects so diverse, something is bound to appeal to you (pun intended). Discover what arouses your curiosity.
Are you a sports lover? Narrow your topic further. What is your favorite sporting event? Are you a player or a spectator? What is your favorite position? Why is the game important to you? Does it conjure happy memories? Can you connect the personal aspect of the story to a global perspective?
Maybe a psychological thriller is hiding in the shadows of your childhood. Was your home reflective of television programs in the 1950's, when perfect parents raised perfect children, or was it perhaps a little more sinister? Or inspiring?
Quirky relatives and friends may offer humorous and adventurous ideas for an article or story.
Do you have an interest in third world and other worldly subjects? Try writing about poverty or space aliens. Or link your interests together to write about poverty-stricken space aliens.
How about hobbies - those that engage you and those that interest you but that you haven't yet tried? Visit a hobby shop for ideas.
Has something so significant happened to you that it stopped you dead in your tracks? Write about how it impacted you.
Issues you care about, like child neglect or the nuclear arms race, historical perspectives, medical discoveries, taxes, social security, celebrities and so many more concerns are just waiting for you to explore and share with your readers. Choose one or choose several. Use your imagination and begin jotting down ideas.
Once you decide what to write, you next need to decide how to write.
Methods for Writing
We all have different methods of writing. Some writers set aside time in the morning, some write at night, some all day, and others write when they feel inspired. Some feel more at ease at the local bookstore while others sit in pontoons on lakes scratching sharpened pencils on spiral notebooks. Still others like the comfort of their own homes sitting in front of their own computers.
My writing begins when ideas explode out of my brain at lightening speed. I am the dartboard. Ideas are the darts. One idea after another flings itself from my fingers to the page. They splatter like paint from several brushes at once. The words mushroom like a cloud, forming a mass of potential - that sadly misses its target.
And then the darts stop and the paint dries. I am drained. What I see before me looks like a brainstorm gone awry. I expected the words to flow from one sentence to another, from one paragraph to another in flawless perfection. What I expected does not match what I see. I step back.
But only for a moment, because I refuse to give in to writer's block. Also, what I have before me is a mess that needs to be cleaned up and rearranged. So I rewrite, regroup, and begin again. Or I find a fresh slant on what I've already written. More words jump out of me. But like an empty drain, when everything has been poured out, the pump needs time to replenish.
Reasons for Writer's Block
I keep a number of article and story ideas recorded in notebooks and on my computer. I refer to them often. I've noticed that if I become blocked, the reason may be that my story is not headed in the right direction. Or perhaps I've gone off on a tangent and I need to bring my story back on track. Other times, I realize the reason I'm stuck is that I need to research the subject more and my subconscious knows it.
Pay attention to what was happening just before you got blocked. Did you run out of ideas, or did the ideas stop making sense? Too much extraneous material can sidetrack your story. 
Tighten up your verbiage, pitch unnecessary words, phrases, or even paragraphs and pages, and move forward. When all else fails, take a breath.
Writer's Block = Writer's Break = Fresh Perspective
While my spirit breathes, after a short break, I begin another project or continue working on one I previously let rest. It gives me space, time, and perspective on the current article. It also prevents me from using writer's block as an excuse for not writing.
Writer's block serves a purpose, too. Nobody was meant to write all day every day. We have people to see, places to go, errands to run, and life to live. When that mountainous wall halts your writing, do something else - exercise, eat, and have fun. Come back to the computer refreshed.
If writing is your goal, write - every day if possible. Carry a notebook around with you. Get in the habit of writing in it - thoughts, opinions, phrases, anecdotes, and anything else that causes that controller to pause and take notice.
Television sitcom moments that cause you to laugh, radio talk shows that intrigue you, anything you find funny, interesting, or amazing, memories, dreams, and overheard or shared conversations between family members, friends, co-workers all become fodder for your muse and get recorded in your notebook.
Like many writers, I spend only about an hour or two a day on my work. Sometimes I don't have even that much time. My days are filled with incessant, unrelenting, but often welcomed interruptions. Having another job while trying to write is tough, but it can be done. Keep a notebook within reach.
Once you have a large collection of ideas, peruse them. They are now puzzles for play. Note the mysterious patterns that surface as you gather your materials together. Where once you had only writer's block, you now have all the ingredients for a successful novel, poem, screenplay, or article.
Be Creative
Finding missing pieces is fun and building your own puzzle is creative. If you've been stricken with writer's block, you can rely on your notebook to unblock you every step of the way. But what you write has to stand out from other writers; grabbing readers' attention is imperative. Being creative requires you to look at your subject from various angles. If you feel your creativity needs a refresher course, check out a previous article I wrote, The Creative (Writing) Spirit where I offer exercises to boost your creativity.
http://www.writingcreatively.org/2014/11/the-creative-writing-spirit-exercises.html
If You Get Off-Track
When writer's block prevents you from moving forward and your writing appears to be a mishmash of unrelated ideas, go back to the question - what is my story about? What information do I want to convey? What is my reason for writing this particular piece? In one sentence, write the answer to one or all of those questions.
Use a thesaurus to find relationships between corresponding words. The jolt may trigger an "Aha!" moment that allows you to move past the block.
Whatever your subject, think of your piece as a circle that connects the beginning and middle with the end. You'll bring your reader - well - full circle. You don't always have to write the story in that manner, but if you get sidetracked, this method will make your article more cohesive.
Sometimes you just need to walk away from the computer or notebook. A refreshing walk will clear your head. Meditation helps too. I sometimes use music to set a mood. If I'm trying to focus on a particular theme, say something metaphysical or paranormal, I might put on Pink Floyd. Something fun might call for Cyndi Lauper. I change the music to match the mood of my writing.
When all else fails, I call a friend. Or I brainstorm. With pen in hand, I write down everything related, and even unrelated, to the topic I'm writing - whatever pops into my head. If I think about ideas before I fall asleep, solutions to problems oftentimes appear upon awakening. And many times I awake in the middle of the night with a clear vision of what I am supposed to write. I've learned to record it immediately, because no matter how often I tell myself I will remember the insight in the morning, I either don't or I don't remember it correctly.
At times, you will have to set aside your work and return to it another time. Eventually it will work itself out - if you don't force it. Forced writing appears to be just that and the reader will find the piece stilted and unreadable. Wait until the words flow together in a way that appeals to your aesthetic sense of language.
But if it never satisfies you, if it never works itself out, leave it alone. Bury it. It was probably never meant to appear in print or on screen. It served a purpose, though - it educated you. And it probably isn't completely dead because pieces of it can be extracted for other works later on.
Help for unblocking writer's block periodically comes from the most unexpected places. While I was working on this article, for instance, I received this horoscope in my email from tarot.com: "You have a bit of letting go to do today, in preparation for the Moon's return to your sign tomorrow. Although your work may flow easily at times, you might also experience intermittent creative blocks. Don't get hung up about something that's not moving forward now; instead, look at what the signs are telling you. Once you learn your current lessons, you'll be allowed to proceed to the next step."
Signs are everywhere. When you choose a subject, say pregnant women, for example, you will suddenly find them everywhere. You might not have noticed one single pregnant woman until you started writing about her, but the second you focus your attention on your article, you will find her wherever you look.
And if you can't find the signs, post one yourself. Ask your friends for help. If you are researching unforgettable movies, for instance, begin by posting in an email or on social media sites, "I'm researching an article on movies - what are the most memorable movies you have seen?"
Final Thoughts

Have faith in your ability to present your material in a fashion that will arouse interest in your reader. Get those paint splattered darts moving! Writer's block is an illusion created by your mind for the sole purpose of sabotaging your creativity. Remember - belief can move mountains. (Matthew XXI 21: ... if ye shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.)

The Creative (Writing) Spirit: Exercises to Boost Your Creativity


Originally Posted on Yahoo! Contributor Network August 15, 2008



I was about eight years old when I learned that a paragraph consisted of one central thought. One afternoon my class and I were sent home with assignments to write paragraphs on each of five spelling chapters.

Words in each chapter were completely unrelated to each other and writing the paragraphs was difficult, but I somehow managed to complete them. Emotionally exhausted from trying to connect words like forehead, apron, paw, jaw, and jail, I leaned back several hours later with a feeling of utter accomplishment. My little third grade brain had figured out a way to make all the words connect - a man in jail wearing an apron with a picture of a forehead, a paw, and a jaw on it - how clever was I?

And then my mother came in to rant about the teacher who kept me up all night with homework that she believed should have been completed at school. She grabbed my papers, and second by second, as she read through each sentence, I watched her angry demeanor transform into maniacal laughter. As I listened to my hysterical mother and watched her waterfall of tears, I realized that her laughter was at my expense.

I expected my mother to gloat over the intelligence of her eldest daughter because of my flawless writing skills. Instead she rewrote, in a matter of minutes, the assignments that took me several hours to write, separating each chapter into several paragraphs. I knew I would be expelled. She also insisted that my understanding of my teacher's instructions was wrong.

Not only was my understanding wrong, according to my mother, but also my perceptions were, how did she put it, warped. For years she introduced me as her weird daughter. And I believed it myself until I read a key chain with written words: I'm not weird; I'm gifted.

Having been blessed with an abundantly creative spirit, I feel confident that the creative process begins with distorted perceptions, truths realized, and realities unexplored. My mother had to be wrong. I was an unrecognized genius, because my assignment taught me how to successfully connect dots where no dots existed - magical thinking at its best!

Creativity IS magic. It begins in the brain and resides in the spirit. If you think of the brain as a muscle, imagination is its exercise. Forcing the brain to think creatively REQUIRES an imaginative spirit - an ability to take two seemingly unrelated ideas and mesh them together as if they were meant to meld. Creativity also means blending two or more ideas to create a fresh spin on an old idea, forming patterns where none existed before. Creativity arises from making surprising observations, connections that might not previously have been made.

Creative endeavors that tap into emotions result in laughter, tears, thoughts, and memories. Think of comic geniuses such as Chris Rock or Robin Williams. Their minds move so fast (remember this was originally written in 2009) they could dodge speeding bullets with their brains. Instead they whip their words into frenzied creations that marvel audiences who explode with laughter.

Architecture, art, music, gourmet foods, and an endless list of creations that inspire and awe people are results of imaginative thinking.

Creative teachers combine various senses - sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell to help students learn and remember. Students are more likely to absorb information when teachers use creative techniques that rely on more than one form of sensory stimuli.

While some of us are just naturally capable of unusual thought processes (or weird as my mother might say), others could stand to use a little help. To strengthen the mind muscle, I've designed a couple of exercises for the creatively challenged (examples for the first two exercises are listed below. The third exercise is too long to provide an example for this article):

EXERCISE ONE

Grab a third-grade spelling book. (Obviously, I'm borrowing this one from my own experience.) Take the words from a chapter and write one paragraph using all of the words in that chapter.

Example (borrowed from a now defunct web presence, Third Grade Spelling Words): Words from the 21st chapter are: friend, tried, believe, died, night, said, Friday, thought, Saturday, again, eight, people, does, tired)

I went to bed early Friday night because I was tired. My friend wanted to spend the night, but my mom thought it was too late. When I awoke Saturday morning, Mom said she thought that eight people were involved in an accident. One was my friend. "Does that mean they died?" I wanted to know. She ignored my question. I tried again. "I believe your friend is OK," she said, wiping a tear from her eye.

EXERCISE TWO

When you have time for only a short exercise, use this one:

Write down the first word(s) that come(s) to mind.
A food.
A scent or odor, pleasant or repulsive.
Something you have seen recently that has impacted you. It can be beautiful or gruesome.
A texture you find pleasurable, and one you find irritating.
A sound you find pleasurable, and one you find irritable.
Now combine the elements to write one paragraph.

Example: (I chose crab legs, skunk, a red and gold sunset, velvet, itchy wool, a baby laughing, motorcycle engine blaring) As the red and gold sunset sank beneath the horizon, and as I was getting ready to sink my teeth into some delectable crab legs, some souped up motorcycle, its engine blaring, ran over a skunk outside my front door. Like a whining child wrapped in itchy wool, I sulked until I heard the baby, wrapped in luxurious velvet, laughing.

EXERCISE THREE

Pick a place. Examples might include a deserted island, a cave, a museum, a carnival, a cruise liner, a horse and buggy, or a hot air balloon.

Now choose one song from any one type of music, such as Rock and Roll, Blues, Country and Western, Hip Hop, Oldies, Christian, Jazz, Rap, or New Age.

Add two different types of people. One can be somebody you know: your mom, dad, daughter, son, co-worker, friend, enemy, or neighbor. The other one should be somebody you don't know: political figure, famous person. One will be someone who is close to you and who trusts you with every fiber of his or her being. The other will be someone who is not particularly fond of you.

Choose one mood for each person: calm, frenzied, catatonic, tense, amorous, giddy, helpless, happy, sad, or sleepy, for example.

What is the weather in your residence - cold and rainy, hot and humid, perfect, freezing cold, light and breezy, snowy?

Choose an area on the planet different from the one in which you have been residing.
Now that you've made your decisions, put all of the elements into the following scenario and write a story based on it:

The area of Earth upon which you have been living is in danger of being obliterated by a gigantic asteroid. You are in charge of convincing your friends to abandon their lives as they know it and join you on your quest to gather their friends and family together in an Exodus that will take them to a different part of Earth where they will be protected. In your project, which you have named the Rebearth Project, however, everything you have ever known to be true is questionable and the music you once found enjoyable is now beginning to annoy you. You hear it in your head unceasingly and don't know the source of the music. You also don't know how to turn it off. Sadly, nobody else hears it. You've never had any training in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, and you realize that the people following you trust you to get them safely to your predetermined destination. You, however, don't have a clue how to get them there. How will you rescue them without them thinking you've lost your mind?

AFTERWORD

Gathering thoughts together to create new thoughts allows your mind to stretch into areas previously unvisited. But creativity takes more than a stretch of the imagination. Just because something is different doesn't mean it's something others will find appealing or worthy of notice. A chocolate covered onion, for instance, is creative, but distasteful. Then again, even though you might never be able to sell it in stores, you may be able to sell it in a story about aliens from the planet ChocOn. (The planet Chocolate Onion, referred to as ChocOn, was ejected from the Milky Way Galaxy due to its liaison with Pluto, who was demoted to dwarf.)


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