How to achieve clarity of mind: letter writing exercise.

Following on from my blog about cathartic writing last week, this is a simple exercise I like to use to help with emotional cleansing and gaining closure. It can also help to warm up your creative muscles and rid you of any emotional baggage that may be bogging you down. By undertaking this letter writing exercise you exorcise the mental fog and gain clarity of thought so that you can progress with your writing.

“This writing exercise is simply drafting a letter that you do not intend to send”.

This writing exercise is simply drafting a letter that you do not intend to send. You can write (say) whatever you want in the letter, as you never intend to actually send it on to the envisioned recipient. You can address it to whomever you want, a past critic, a current critic, living or dead. You can write it to people, institutions, yourself, an event or even a higher being if you want. It is the chance to express yourself completely and purge your feelings and thoughts. If you are angry then allow yourself to feel fully into that rage. Write aggressively, be unreasonable. Say the things you would never say out loud or to a person’s face.

Are you struggling with unacknowledged feelings?

I believe that most of us are struggling with unacknowledged powerful feelings such as grief, rage, frustration, betrayal, hurt or suffering. Sometimes there is no way to express these emotions without destroying an important relationship in the process. And so they weigh us down and cloud our minds. By writing a letter addressing these feelings it can help you to understand the difficult issues and lay to rest those emotions and hardships to give you a sense of closure. The letter can help siphon off unhelpful emotions and baggage that may be holding you back. You don’t even need to keep the letter; in fact destroying it once finished can further enhance that cathartic release. Watching all those emotions and anger go up in flames and drift away can be incredibly freeing.

So what are you waiting for? Give this letter writing exercise a try and see how it makes you feel after.

I would love to hear your ideas on this writing exercise and if you have tried it, or something similar.

 

 

 

Where do you find your Inspiration?

Where do you find your Inspiration?

Following on from last week’s post “Was Thomas Edison Right?” I started thinking about inspiration. I want to know where you find your inspiration? When your well of idea’s dries up, you are staring at a blank page with no creative flow, or you hit writers block during a project, where do you go or how do you spark those creative thoughts again? How do you overcome the dreaded idea drought?

No matter how much you love writing, and are enjoying your current writing project there will always be times when you suffer from a lack of inspiration. I know I do. I have a myriad of different sources for re-sparking the idea process to help the words flow again. For me, it depends on the mood I am in and also why I am suffering from the so called writers block, which technique I use. Every person is different, so will find different means and ways to find inspiration. Below are a few of my favourites that I have found invaluable during my writing journey and career.

Writing Warm-Ups

There are hundreds of writing warm-up exercises that are designed to loosen up your creative muscles and aid flow of thought. Some of my favourites are free writing, word jar and random word link. I find that they help me to relax into my writing, so when I turn back to my current project the ideas and words flow so fast my hands can barely keep up typing.

Books

I love to read. I could spend hours and hours curled up in one spot with a good book. And one of the best things about reading is you can draw inspiration and ideas from the plot, characters, setting, dialogue or themes of the book. If you find you are stuck, try reading a book by your favourite author or even branch out into a different genre.

Movies

Much like reading, movies can inspire great ideas for your next book. You may enjoy the lead character so much you decide to model your main character on them. Or a certain scene or dialogue may set off those creative sparks and before you know it you have outlined your next book!

Art

I don’t know about you, but I find looking at photos, prints, sculptures and paintings to be a great source of inspiration. What story is the artist trying to say? What emotions are they conveying? What does the scene/character/setting tell you? What would happen next? You can ask these questions, and more. Write it down if you want, you never know your next story may start taking form.

Blogs

Reading other blogs on any topic you wish can help jolt your brain into creative mode. Whether you are stuck for ideas for a blog, article, novel, and short piece or content, someone else out there is sure to have some inspiration for you.

History

Don’t know what your next novel should be? Try reading up on some history. There are many stories waiting to be told, whether fiction or non-fiction. Sad, happy, tragic, triumph, good and evil; our history holds many different themes and rich characters that combine to create inspirational stories.

Honouring our soldiers, Australian War Memorial, ACT

Honouring our soldiers, Australian War Memorial, ACT

Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island, QLD

Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island, QLD

Exercise

I find turning my mind away from writing for a while is a great way to develop more ideas. Go for a run, to the gym, a yoga class or any form of exercise you fancy and work out your physical muscles. Sometimes the ideas hit me whilst I am working out, other times they don’t hit until I am in front of the computer or journal again. Regardless, exercise is a great way to clear your head and work out any frustrations you have with your writing.

Walking/Nature

Take a stroll outdoors and marvel at the great outdoors. Appreciate the beauty of the landscape around you, whether it is rural or city. Use it to clear your mind and as a source of inspiration. Write what you see, smell, hear and feel.

Autumn colours

Autumn colours

Cross by the Lake

Cross by the Lake

Walking along the beach at Jarvis Bay

Walking along the beach at Jarvis Bay

Journal

Writing in a journal has long been recommended as a source of inspiration and a way of keeping your ideas together. It is a great way to get all the junk clogging up your brain out. Cultivating the habit of writing in your journal daily helps to clarify your thoughts, and ensures you never forget a great idea again! Write down your thoughts, inspirations, over heard dialogue, plot ideas, characters, dreams, or anything else you want. Read back through your journal whenever you hit a slow patch or writers’ block for ideas and inspiration.

Shower

I seem to always have my best ideas when I am in the shower, which is unfortunate as there is no easy way to record them whilst showering. It is also a great way to relax tired and achy muscles from hunching over a computer.

People Watching

People are always a great source of inspiration. Find a place to sit where you can quietly observe those around you. Listen to the way they speak, walk, laugh and sit. You can develop characters from those around you. Not to mention you may overhear some great story that serves as inspiration.

And finally…good old Google!

Simply search the topic you are currently writing on and you can find tons of great resources to help you out.

 

So there you have a few of my favourite techniques to help with inspiration and creativity. I would love to hear where and how you find inspiration!

 

 

 

Point of View Exercise

Point of view exercise-2

Point of view is a very important consideration when planning your writing project. It can draw your reader in as though they are experiencing the story themselves, or it can place them further away so they are observing from a distance.

I find it helpful when planning my writing projects to write the same paragraph from different points of view. It helps me to figure out which point of view I feel most comfortable with and creates the most powerful story. Not only is the exercise helpful to plan your writing project, it is also a great warm up exercise!

This exercise is fairly simple. Pick a paragraph, conversation or scene that you have roughly formed for your writing project. It doesn’t have to be perfect, a rough draft will be fine. Then write this small piece of your story from as many different views as you would like.

Take your time to really explore each different perspective. When you are done read over each one carefully. What are the benefits from each? Which point of view didn’t work? Which point of view do you believe managed to capture the story as you pictured it? Which perspective do you feel the most comfortable with? These questions will help you weed out the points of view that didn’t work for your writing piece.

The aim after this exercise is to help you pick the point of view that will create the most powerful story, one the reader will relate to and want to read again and again!

 

 

Random Word Link

Random Word Link

Random word link is an exercise to help you warm up or to overcome writers block. It is also a way of getting you to think outside the box and to form unique stories and ideas from everyday words. This is a great exercise to practice regularly as connecting random words helps to come up with creative solutions and problem solving.

Once again, delve into your random word jar! Pick out 3 – 5 words and write a short story or paragraph using these words. It doesn’t have to be logical or perfect; the idea is to stretch your creative muscle and thought processes. It is not necessary to set a time limit with this particular exercise, like when free writing. However if you are using it as a warm up it can be a good idea, otherwise you may find that you use it as an excuse to procrastinate and never get to work on your current project! It is also fun to see what your mind comes up with when under time pressure!

RANDOM WORD LINK EXAMPLE

Word Jar

 

Word Jar

The word jar is a handy tool to have in your writing space. It is exactly what it sounds like, a jar full of words! Simply write out as many random words as you wish on scraps of paper, fold them up and put them into the jar. It works best if you keep the words as varied and un-related as possible. You will find there are many writing warm ups and activities that this random word jar will come in handy for.

In particular you can use your random word jar for a directed free writing warm up. All you have to do is pull out a word from your random word jar and free-write about that word for a set length of time. This direct approach works well if you find the idea of undirected free writing, or trying to pick your own topic from thin air intimidating.IMG_8598

Your jar can be as plain or as prettied up as you would like. Keep it close to where you do most of your writing, so whenever you need a little writing warm up, some inspiration, or an excuse to procrastinate you can grab your jar, pull out a word and stretch those creative muscles.

Free Writing

Free Writing

Free writing is an essential tool to any writer. It is an important practice that helps to improve your ability to write, encourages you to listen to your thoughts and to write with more confidence. It is also a fantastic way to warm up before knuckling down to tackle your current project!

Joel Friedlander explains the concept of free writing in his article “Unleash Your Creativity Now: How to Freewrite” quite well. Free writing is a simple and effective tool to help warm up and stretch your creative muscle! It releases all those pent up ideas and stray thoughts in your head so you can approach your writing project with a clear mind and an easy flow of words.

How to “free-write”:

Like any pre-writing warm up it is important to set a time limit. 10 minutes is a good length of time; however if that seems too daunting to begin with then try 5 minutes.

Set your timer and start writing. Write non-stop until you run out of time. Do not stop to edit, plan or correct. Just keep your hand moving the whole time. Write whatever thoughts pass through your head. If you cannot think of anything to write, then just write that over and over again until something else pops into your head. Write poorly, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, margins, paragraphs, word choice or messiness. Just keep your hand moving. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad. It is just a way to get the words flowing, to help you move pass any barriers in your mind and get your thoughts out.

FREE WRITING EXAMPLE

 

Directed Free-writing:

Another way of free writing is a more directed approach of picking a topic. You can utilize a word or topic from your word jar, or pick a topic such as a recent trip, a pet, a holiday, work, a photograph etc. Once you have picked your topic, set your timer and off you go! Once again, don’t let your hand stop; keep the words and thoughts flowing and let your inhibitions go.

DIRECTED FREE WRITING EXAMPLE

Journal Prompts

Journal Prompts
When sitting down to write in your journal it can be hard to know where to start. You psych yourself up to write, sit down with your journal and then stare blankly at the page. I know I have wasted a lot of time doing this. So I have developed a list of journal prompts to overcome the journal block!

 

Daydreams:
  • Describe your dream: partner, job, house, holiday.
  • If you were to organize a dream party whom would you invite and why?
  • What superhero/magical power would you like to have? Why? What would you use it for? Good/evil?
  • If you had 3 wishes, what would they be? Why?
  • If you were to win the lottery what would you do with the money?
Memories:
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What is your most embarrassing moment?
  • What’s something you were afraid of as a child, or are still afraid of now?
  • What has been the most difficult thing you have done or decision you have made?
  • Who is someone you’ve lost? What are some of your memories about that person?
  • Describe your teachers at school/university.
  • Describe your work colleagues.
  • Describe your best childhood friend and your relationship with this person then and now.
  • What are your favourite or least favourite memories about holidays?

 

Write about your first:

  • Day of school/high school/university
  • Crush/partner
  • Best friend
  • Car
  • Home
  • Pet
  • Job
  • Child
Milestones:
  • Graduation
  • License
  • Wedding or divorce
  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Job or career change, retirement
All about you:
  • What is your favourite place, food, movie, book, song, colour, animal, season, flower, and why?
  • What kind of day are you having, and why?
  • What do you like to do, and why? How does it make you feel?
  • Describe your happy place.
  • What is your relationship with your family?
  • If you have brothers or sisters, how are you similar to them or different from them?
  • What are your views on religion or politics?

There are so many more journal prompts out there. Try typing it into google and seeing what pops up!

119 Journal Prompts for your Journal Jar – Marelisa Fabrega

Journal Writing Prompts – Penzu

 

The Art of Journaling

 

The Art of Journaling

I had never been one to keep a journal, and the few times I attempted, the entries were spasmodic and few between. The closest I came to consistent journaling was a book my best friends and I kept back in high school of letters we wrote to each other. It was very cathartic and maybe one day some of those letters will form a bestseller! But I never thought of myself as the type of person who kept a journal.

Then I read some articles about how journaling can be a very useful tool for writers. The premise of the articles was that journaling is a great way to improve your writing, as well as a great warm-up activity that stimulates ideas and gets the creative juices flowing.

One article I found that inspired me to keep a journal “What is a Journal and Why Keep One?” on the Creative Writing Now website. The article also has some useful links to other pages about journaling, in particular how to keep a creative journal, and some great journal prompts.

Seeing as I have knuckled down and become serious about my writing I thought I should give it a try. What could it hurt? Since then I have been writing in a journal almost everyday. Despite my initial hesitation it has really helped to get all the chaos out of my head and onto paper. It may not make sense to anyone else, but no one else has to read it! It makes sense to me, and it has definitely helped to inspire and stimulate thoughts and ideas for current and future projects.

In my recent experience of journaling I have found that it is not only therapeutic but a great place to record all those snippets of scenes, or vague ideas for writing projects that seem to float through your mind at random times. I’m sure you know how frustrating it is when you are staring at a blank page, that great idea eluding you because you cannot fully remember it. If only you kept a journal, you could have jotted the idea down and come back to it when you had the time to bash out the details!

It is also great in the case of writers block. I read back over my entries and find inspiration. I have a colour code system where I highlight certain things in my journal so when I am flipping through for ideas to do with my writing projects I just look for that colour, as opposed to having to read every single entry. This may be a little nerdy and too much like a control-freak for you, but it works for me! And that’s the point of any writing exercise, to adapt and change it to suit your needs and style.

Your journal can be anything from a simple notepad to an app on your computer. It can be as dull or as fancy as you like. It doesn’t matter what or how you choose to journal, the point of it is to write everyday, or as often as you can. Try work it into part of your routine, whether it’s just before you sit down to work on your current project or just before you go to bed. Find what works best for you. I have a set time before bed each night where I will write in my journal. I use this time to reflect on the events of the day and how my writing is progressing. However my journal is never far from my side these days as I have learnt to jot down those fleeting thoughts and ideas as they enter my head. I know some people who scribble their ideas on scraps of paper or napkins (whatever is handy at the time) and later stick these into their journal. Once again, it is about finding the habit and technique that suits you.

IMG_8566

Coffee and Journal, the simple things in life!

 

Journal Ideas.

If the idea of keeping a “dear diary” journal doesn’t appeal to you, there are many other ways to journal that still achieve the same goal of establishing the healthy habit of writing every day. We all know that the more you write, the better your writing becomes. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. People watch. You can use people who are already in your life, or take your journal to a café, a bookshop, a hotel lobby, anywhere you go where there are people. Make notes about the people you see from their physical appearance, the sound of their voices and laughter, to their body language and the way they relate to people and the environment around them. Use your imagination to come up with their back-story. These character descriptions could very well kick-start your next story, provide a new character or even revamp a character in your current book.
  2. Listen to all the conversations happening around you. To family and friends, strangers on the train or in the café. Listen to the unique rhythms and cadence that make up their speech, the words they use, the pauses and the tones. This helps you learn how to capture different voices that will provide added depth to your writing. And you may even overhear an interesting conversation that will inspire your next story!
  3. Take a walk or an excursion. Take a walk outside and describe what you see. Not just the sites, but also the sounds, smell and feel of the walk. You can also take an excursion to a place you need to describe in your book, like a movie theatre or hospital. Write down the details, no matter how big or small that make up the place. And once again don’t just focus on what you can see but use all of your senses to help add depth and authenticity to your writing.
  4. Use real-life stories. Have you ever heard or read a story in the news and wondered what exactly lead to that event? Use that as inspiration in your journal. What is the story of the people involved, what led to the event; what where they thinking and feeling; what will happen next?
  5. Free-write. Set your timer, 5 minutes should be sufficient, and keep writing for that length of time. Don’t stop. If you can’t think of anything to write, then write that you can’t think of anything to write. You can keep writing the same thing over and over again until something else comes to mind. Do not stop to edit, judge or correct. The point is to warm your “creative muscle” up and get the words flowing, to limber your mind!
  6. Try different points of view. This could be describing the same scene from many different points of view (first person, third person, omniscient etc). Or you could describe the world around you from the point of view of a child, or animal, or object. For example, how would a cat describe your living room? How would a cat describe you in the living room? What parts of the room would attract the cat, or would they overlook?
  7. Collect words and expressions. If you hear a word or an expression that you liked jot it down in your journal. Research the meaning or story behind it; it can be quite an adventure. For example, the old saying “cat got your tongue”. This is used quite commonly and dates back to the middle ages when witches were feared. The story goes that if you spotted a witch her cat would steal your tongue to stop you from telling anyone.
  8. Collect creative writing ideas. This is just simply jotting down ideas that pop into your head for your creative projects. From names of characters, places, events, topics and themes.
  9. Dreams. Wake up in the morning and record what you remember of your dreams. It is surprising what your subconscious dredges up!

There’s so many more prompts out there you can use. There is another list of journal prompts I have compiled simply by googling and asking other writers I know who write in their journal everyday. Feel free to use it!

Journaling everyday helps to foster a healthy writing habit, and can inspire and limber up your mind. It can be as personal as you want, or simply utilizing one or more of the journal topics above. The point is to write whatever you want, as often as you can to keep your creative mind active.

 

 

 

Warm-up your creative muscle!

Warm-Up Your Creative Muscle

You stretch before exercise so why not “stretch” before exerting your creative muscle? Warming up before beginning whatever writing project you are currently working on can assist with flow of thought and productivity. It helps to eliminate distractions and limber up your mind.

It may sound like a bizarre concept, but in many artistic and creative pursuits people warm-up. A singer will perform throat exercises to loosen their vocal cords; an artist will draw rough sketches to warm-up. So what can a writer do?

There are many different writing warm-up exercises you can employ. I have briefly described a few exercises I find useful below; however, you can click on the link to go through to a more detailed explanation of each warm-up. These are just a small sample of what I have found worked for me. There are so many more out there, and you can even develop your own. It is simply a matter of finding what works best for you and your writing style.

  • Journaling – helps to stimulate thoughts and record ideas.
  • Free Writing – write non-stop whatever thoughts fly into your heard for a set amount of time.
  • Word Jar – have a jar full of random words, pick one out and write about it for a certain length of time.
  • Random word link – Pick 3 random words and link them together in a short story or paragraph.

It doesn’t matter which one or how many warm-up activities you choose to use, the point of them is to get the writing process started and the words rolling. Generally speaking, getting started is the most difficult part of writing. It is much easier to carry over this flow of words and thoughts the warm-up exercises produce into your current project when your mind has been engaged in this manner.

To further enhance your writing ability, creativity and productivity form a routine that includes warm-up time. A routine that incorporates a warm-up can help activate the right frame of mind to approach your work. It is easy to use these exercises as another excuse to procrastinate, so be sure to set a time limit on how long you will warm-up for. About 10-20minutes is an ideal length so that you relax into your writing and hopefully when you start your project you wont be staring at a blank screen for long.

HELPFUL SITES

As mentioned earlier there are many different warm-up activities you can perform before (or during) writing. Here is a quick list of sites with some great exercises and ideas for warming up.

10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises – Writers Inkwell

Don’t Ever Write Without This Writer’s Warm-Up – ProBlogger

5 Great Writing Warm Up Activities…And What They Lead To – Adam Simpson

Writing Warm-Ups – WriteShop

Experiment and mix it up until you find a routine and warm-up that suits your needs and writing style. It may seem like a lot of hard work now, but you will be grateful when you settle into it and discover how much time it really saves. You will greatly reduce the amount of time you stare at a blank screen waiting for inspiration to hit. And if you find that at any time during your writing you get stuck, you can use one of the activities to loosen up and get the words flowing again.

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.
Jane Yolen