Self-Portrait, Self-Portrait on the Wall, A Writing Exercise

Years ago one of my writing students wrote this line in class, “Ms. Failure paints her self-portrait, then hangs it on a wall in your world without asking permission.” He was speaking, he told us, of a time when he was “not facing the realities of the world.” His imagined self-portrait both set him straight … Continue reading

Writing as a Walker in the City (Or Anywhere)

Writers write. That’s the definition. And sometimes, we-who-write feel cranky and rebellious toward our job. That can lead to not writing and then to becoming upset with ourselves for not writing, for not being writers. For the prompts I share this week, I’ve taken inspiration from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”  and from the poet … Continue reading

Finding the Motto Writer Within

We are motto (and affirmation) happy in our culture. We circulate phrases from manufacturers and social service organizations from “Just do it” to “Just say no,” from “You deserve a break today” to “I brake for animals.” After I studied creative writing in graduate school and was publishing poetry, I was just starting to use … Continue reading

Burying the Dutch Oven: A Writing Exercise for Discovery

A writing colleague of mine once shared in an essay that when she angrily broke up with a beloved college boyfriend under duress because her father didn’t like him, she took the Dutch oven they used for cooking and buried it in the backyard before she left. The topic of the essay was finding him … Continue reading

‘Tis the Season for Lists

[Note: I originally posted the following article in December, 2007. It’s holiday preparation time again and lists keep us sane. They can also keep us writing! Try the exercise I am suggesting based on writing lists poems. Try it more than once during this season of shopping lists, invitation lists and gift lists.] You might … Continue reading

Keeping a Writer’s Journal? 21 Prompts to Help You

Keeping a notebook of short descriptions, thoughts, overheard conversations, quotes and even complaints and worries will keep us in the writing mode, even when our days are filled with other activities and concerns. I have been reading a wise and inspiring book called The Journal Keeper, A Memoir, by Phyllis Theroux. The author put together journal entries … Continue reading

Create the Mother Lode: Exercises for Short Writing That Leads to More Writing

[This excerpt appear in slightly different form in the anthology Women Writing On Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing, edited by Carol Smallwood and Suzann Holland.] Even when life seems too busy to “really” write, you can work on gathering and storing images, details, and reflections about family life, personal experiences and memories. The brief … Continue reading

Keeping Journals Can Help Writers by Inviting Scrappiness

In an essay William Matthews wrote as a contribution to my anthology The Writer’s Journal: 40 Writers and Their JournaIs, later reprinted in Keeping a Journal You Love, the late poet suggested that a journal “en­courages scrappiness. Things needn’t be finished, just stored, the way one might ‘store’ a five-dollar bill in a trou­ser pocket in the closet … Continue reading