This prompt is probably the shortest of all I’ve ever provided for you. The reading is simply Rumi’s poem, “The Guest House,” which I’d like you to use as a template for your work this round.
Imagine you are in the house. A knock at the door startles you. When you open the door you are met with another You.
You, with a story of joy. Write me that joyous story.
At the next knock you greet another You.
You, with a story of meanness, a momentary awareness of your own meanness. Tell me that story.
Get the idea? If you would like, keep them all happy buoyant guests. Or toggle between the happiest and the saddest. Or stick with just one.
Maybe even paint me an imaginary scene of you having a dialogue, hearing these stories directly from the You who knocked. Let me see you invite them in and take a seat. Maybe even have them talk with one another, an external internal dialogue of the many facets of “this being human.”
So tell me, who came knocking???
I thought we would distill this craft down to its most basic element, the word. Without a good supply of quality words, where are we really? As such, I’ve assembled a couple of chapters from books remarking on this essential building block of our work, the word.
First are two chapters from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. In these chapters, she gives some suggestions to “enliven your verbology” and some ideas on how to lighten up your work with some word play. Next, is an essay by Eric LeMay, “Word Hoards” from the awesome little book, Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. If you have a few dollars to spare, this is one of those books I’d recommend purchasing, it’s chock full of good stuff.
Chock full of good stuff. Germanic. It’s an amazing repository of essential exercises and advice from respected writers. Latinate.
Give the attached essay a read, and you’ll see what I mean.
The LeMay piece contains the exercise I’d like you to try, which is, in short:
Make a list of words about a particular subject. Search for verbs, nouns, and adjectives. He recommends checking out Visuwords at www.visuwords.com, Work with these words to write a short piece, or enhance a subject included in a larger work. Read the entire exercise description in the attached essay.
I tried Visuwords, punching in the word “aging” to compliment the revisions I’m doing on an essay. It gave me the word “catabiosis”, a word that did not appear when I did a thesaurus search on www.thesaurus.com. “Catabiosis”, that’s a cool word, and I will try to work into my current revision.
I hope these readings and exercises adds to whatever you're working on.
As always, feel free to leave me a comment about what you're working on and how applying this affected your project.
Sometimes, when writing larger works, the project starts to feel stale. When that happens, here are some tools and suggestions that may help you step back, catch your breath, consider the "why" of your project, and start again reinvigorated.
I’m providing a couple of readings:
First, is the chapter “Not the Design of the Author” from Robert Root’s book, The Nonfictionist’s Guide: On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction, to give you a sense of the transforming possibilities in the stories we choose to write.
Second, is an article by Sean Ironman, “Writing the Z-Axis” to remind us that reflection is an integral part of this genre.
And lastly, I’m sending you a “Rhetorical Triangle” to get you thinking about your relationship with your current, or next, project that preoccupies you.
So this is what I’d ask of you the next two weeks: Take Robert Root’s advice, and start a project journal, or writing log. This is a safe place for you to write about your writing. To get you started, ask yourself the following questions of what you’d like to write about:
What about this project interest or excites me?
What do I hope to learn, accomplish?
How does this connect to what I need to know about myself, what I need to know about the subject?
Why do I want to know this?
Also use this log to answer the questions posed on the Rhetorical Triangle.
Take a few minutes each day, or as often as you can, to gather your thought in your writing log before you begin drafting or revising a piece you’re working on. The journal is not meant to be shared, but you may discover insights or reflections you’d like to share in the comments. By all means, do. But remember, this is your safe place to just explore your thoughts about the “why” you want to write what you’re writing, so don’t let the idea of commenting stop you from using it as this kind of exploratory tool. If you don’t have a project, or something you’re working on, maybe answer the questions more broadly, like:
Why do I choose nonfiction over fiction or poetry?
What events have had meaning for me?
Who are the people that have affected me the most in my life?
Then the questions posed above about why and how they connect to you may feel more applicable.
My hopes are that efforts taken, thoughts captured in this activity will help ground you in the work you've chosen to focus on. You may find you have a large project you’d like to apply it to, or it may help you focus on a smaller piece you’re developing.
Let me know how it goes!
Hey there! Over the years, I've assembled these prompts, readings, and articles for my students and writing group members. Feel free to use these in your own work or share them in your writing groups. I would love to read your responses to these, please leave a comment!