Be Inspired: October Grab Bag of Exercises, Links, Ideas

Mother Earth, sculpture, Canadian entry at Mosaicultures Internationales, Montreal 2013

Mother Earth

I’m always excited and immensely grateful to come across links and ideas that inspire me to write and think and dream. Here are some I’ve been enjoying recently that I’d like to share with you.

Writing Warm-Up: a right-left brain exercise

  1. Touch your right thumb to your left little finger, let go, then touch left thumb to right little finger. Let go.
  2. Touch right second finger to left fourth finger, release, then left second finger to right fourth finger. Let go.
  3. Right middle finger to left middle finger. Turn hands over Continue reading

‘Want’ and the Short Story: (Almost) Creamed By A Wheelchair

Trajectoire No. 2 by Claude Millette, Musée Plein Air de Lachine

Trajectoire No.2
Claude Millette

A man in a wheelchair on the sidewalk up ahead was waving his arms wildly and yelling angrily at passers-by. They were giving him a wide berth, some crossing the road to avoid him. I was going to give him a wide berth too.

He yelled at me as I passed, and waved his arms. I couldn’t understand what he was saying except for ‘the bus’.

“What bus?” I asked, looking around, thinking he was crazy, that a bus wouldn’t be coming up a little street like this. But in fact a bus was coming up behind me and I realized he was at a bus stop and wanted me to push him onto the bus.

“Push,” he said. “You’ve got to push me. Now.” I pushed. “No,” he shouted. “Not now. Wait. You got to wait.”

The bus drew up. “Push,” he said. I pushed. “No,” he said. “You got to wait.” The driver lowered the step, opened the ramp. “PUSH,” he yelled. Continue reading

Writing Exercise for Narrative Energy: Juxtaposing Multiple Ways a Character Experiences the World

David Moore's 1994 sculpture Site/Interlude, Musée de Plein Air de Lachine

Site/Interlude by David Moore

In life we constantly shift between different ways of experiencing the world – between inner and outer lives, between doing and thinking, dreaming, remembering, talking, between being (in one’s body) and interacting with people, things. We shift between emotions, between judging, enjoying and complaining, between sensing and moving.

Forcing a character to experience similar rapid shifts disrupts linear thinking, often producing Continue reading

Thoughts on The Kobo/PressBooks ‘Let’s Get Published’ Workshop

Kobo Writing Life logoThe Kobo/PressBooks ‘Let’s Get Published’ workshop in Montreal was held was in the gorgeous but dilapidated Greek Revival style mansion which was once the home and business headquarters/studios of William Notman (1826-1891), renowned photographer and owner of the largest photographic business in North America in the second half of the 1800s. Continue reading

Freedom and Structure in Revising a Story: Matt Bell’s Revision and Rewriting seminar at Grub Street

sculpture Monica (1985) by Jules Lasalle in Musée Plein Air de Lachine

Monica (1985) by Jules Lasalle
Musée Plein Air de Lachine

There I was, with a first draft I loved, a folder bursting with a massive amount of material I’d developed in search of what that first draft was truly about (none of which felt right), and absolutely no idea how to pull my story together or move it forward.

This was not a new experience for me. It always seems to happen with my favorite stories, the ones I feel really invested in, the ones I know have to be finished.

Unless my first draft is short and gives me a clear idea of where it’s going, my attempts to dig deeper into the story end up with me bushwacking my way through tangled undergrowth with no idea of whether I’m heading north, south, east or west. I have more than a few stories floating unfinished on my laptop’s hard drive (on my brain’s hard drive too). I’m not even talking about a novel here, just stories of maybe 2,500-5,000 words.

So – what next? Continue reading

Playing With Words: Sentence Experiments – Writing Exercise

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa MMBA on loan from Georges Marciano

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa
MMBA on loan from Georges Marciano

Nothing perks up a piece of prose – and a writer – more than playing around with sentence structures.

A fun exercise I especially enjoy is to take a sentence that feels totally alien and try to write my own sentence in exactly that same style. Why? To surprise myself. To kick myself out of my same old same old ho-hum sentence habits. To discover new rhythms.

“I’m playing with words” Virginia Woolf

The Exercise Continue reading

Lost in Multiple Drafts of a Short Story

When I saw a TED video called “Try Something New For 30 Days” by Matt Cutts a few days ago, I knew  immediately it was the cue I needed to get back to re-writing and editing a story I’d really wanted to write but which I couldn’t finish.

I’m going to commit July to getting to getting to grips with that story (while not forgetting all those other July summery things like floating on water!).

which to choose?

which to choose?

I’ve written a mass of material – far too much for a short story. It has got too spread out and I have quite simply lost my way with it.

So the question is, how should I re-start? So many choices! But I need to find a new way to go about it. Continue reading

Narrative Energy Tip #1: Chameleon Sentence


A chameleon sentence begins with one energy and ends with another.

Usually it starts off positive with maybe even suggestions of light-heartedness, but then turns into something more ominous. But there’s no reason why one shouldn’t try the reverse.

While chameleon sentences make for terrific beginning sentences, they can shift the narrative, and surprise and engage writer and reader at any time.

Two Examples

  • “It was a summer’s night and they were talking, in the big room with the windows open to the garden, about the cesspool.” (opening sentence of Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf) A pleasant gathering on a summer’s evening …changes to… something dirty and stinky and underground
  • “Edna and I had started down from Kalispell headed for Tampa-St. Pete where I still had some friends from the old glory days who wouldn’t turn me in to the police.” (Rock Springs, Richard Ford) A trip down south to old friends …changes to… on the run?

The Exercise

Write 6 chameleon sentences – each one beginning a new story. Surprise the sentence. Surprise yourself.

What chameleon sentences have you come across in your readings or writings? Please share them in the Comments Box.

Back-Story and Writing Forward

I treasure the stories I fall in love with, not only as a reader, enjoying them for the terrific stories they are, but also as a writer, trying to learn from them by working out the secret of their magic.

My most recent love is “Reception” by Nona Caspers that appears in the Spring 2013 issue of The Kenyon Review.

There are a whole slew of reasons why I fell for this story: the striking image at the beginning, the way every detail echoes and reverberates with other details, the oddness of the details and images, the beautiful, clever ending that both illuminates the narrator’s experience and goes beyond it. But I especially love it for the pointers it gives me about back-story and writing forward. Continue reading

Published? You Deserve It!

I received a lovely email from a friend congratulating me on a publication. Great news, he wrote, you deserve it.

I deserved being published? Why? What had I done to deserve it? Continue reading