Writing Resources: The Pocket Muse

the pocket muse

A handy little source of inspiration for writing

We writers can’t be inspired every day.

Sometimes we get burned out. Other times, we have ideas, but they just don’t seem appealing at the moment when we sit down to write. Sometimes we need to take a break from a writing project and spend a little time on shorter projects, which can recharge our creativity. Other times, we’re just stuck in a writing slump.

That’s when keeping a little stockpile of writing ideas and inspiration is a good idea. Read More

12 Gifts and Goodies for Writers

gifts for writers

Check out these gifts and goodies for writers.

All around the world, we have officially entered the holiday season. It’s a time for giving thanks, enjoying the company of loved ones, and gorging on scrumptious feasts. It’s also a time of giving.

While I have mixed feelings about the unbridled consumption that pervades America at this time of year, I also have a deep affinity for the act of giving. It’s not unusual for me to spend hours choosing the perfect gifts for loved ones. In fact, I started my holiday shopping several weeks ago, so I would have plenty of time to make my selections.

I’m also a firm believer that during this time of year, when we look outward and offer gifts to the most important people in our lives, we should also be generous with ourselves. Read More

Writing Resources: Stephen King On Writing

on writing

Stephen King: On Writing

Elvis was the king of rock and roll. Michael Jackson was the king of pop. And Stephen King is the king of horror.

He’s one of the most successful authors in the world, the recipient of numerous honorable awards, and certainly one of the wealthiest and most recognizable writers alive.

While I’m not crazy about horror stories, I do appreciate the creativity and artistic merit that goes into writing good horror fiction. Maybe the fact that I’m bonkers over sci-fi and fantasy will redeem me. Maybe Stephen King will forgive me. Read More

The Reviews Are In: 101 Creative Writing Exercises

101 Creative Writing ExercisesWhen I set out to write 101 Creative Writing Exercises, the goal was simple: give writers the tools they need to succeed.

Many of the writing exercises I had done over the years were fun or interesting, but few of them imparted practical writing skills. I wanted to develop exercises that would convey constructive writing techniques that writers could apply to real-world writing projects.

I also wanted these exercises to provide hours and hours of creative writing practice, because practice is the only way to develop mastery of any craft.

Check Out What People Are Saying About 101 Creative Writing Exercises

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Writing Resources: The Practice of Poetry

writing resources practice of poetryWhen it comes to poetry writing resources, there are some special books out there that will help make you both a better reader and a more well-rounded writer.

Some academics argue that poetry is an intellectual pursuit, but that’s only partially true. Poetry is also artistic and emotional. Anyone can enjoy poetry, but studying it closely will help you better appreciate its nuances.

Learning various poetry writing techniques and literary devices (which are often taught in the context of poetry) can bring your writing to a more sophisticated level.

Whether you write fiction, memoirs, or blog posts, reading and writing poetry will equip you with language skills that make your writing stronger, more vivid, and more compelling. Read More

Writing Resources: Perrine’s Sound and Sense

Writing resources for more compelling language.

This is one of my favorite writing resources of all time. It is subtitled “An Introduction to Poetry,” but it’s full of concepts that can benefit any form of writing.

Whether you write fiction, articles, essays, or blog posts, Perrine’s Sound and Sense will enhance the way you perceive and use language to communicate an idea, a scene, or information.

After all, language is a writer’s medium. How do we choose words and string them together? What makes one sentence so vivid while another is practically impossible to visualize? How can we play with the meaning of words in a way that is meaningful? How do we craft prose that is musical?

These, of course, are questions that poetry actively asks and explores. Storytellers spend a lot of time on plot and character. Article writers spend a lot of time on research. Bloggers spend a lot of time under the hood. Poets live and breathe in language.

And language — or rather, a writer’s use of it — is what elevates a piece of ordinary prose to something regal. Through a light study of poetry, you will expand your vocabulary, learn simple techniques to make images out of words, and understand the deeper secrets of language — secrets that make your writing extraordinary.

Perrine’s Sound and Sense

This book is a delightful and comprehensive romp through the intricacies of poetry and language. It’s a perfect introduction to poetry because it’s liberally populated with fantastic poems that will satisfy a range of personal tastes and preferences, making it a veritable anthology that teaches concepts alongside each poem (or that uses poems to beautifully illustrate and illuminate various concepts).




Sound and Sense starts with the basics. The first two chapters are respectively titled “What is Poetry?” and “Reading a Poem.” If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about poetry and why so many successful writers advocate poetry, these chapters will show you the light, both through their discussion of poetry and presentation of poems.

Later chapters deal with increasingly complex concepts. These concepts are taught in the context of how they are applied to poetry but they are applicable to any kind of writing. The chapter on “Denotation and Connotation” explains how we choose words based on their meaning, particularly when we can choose between two (or more) words with the same meaning:

The words childlike and childish both mean “characteristic of a child,” but childlike suggests meekness, innocence, and wide-eyed wonder, while childish suggests pettiness, willfulness, and temper tantrums. (p. 41)

We’ve all heard that imagery is critical to our writing, but many writers don’t quite understand what show, don’t tell actually means. Master writers refer to similes, metaphors, symbols, and allegories, all effective literary devices in any form. Sound and Sense helps you understand the importance of these devices, shows you how to identify them in a piece of writing, and therefore gives you the knowledge you need to apply those devices in your own work.

The insight doesn’t stop with meaning and literary devices. The book goes on to explore tone and dedicates a significant portion of its final chapters to musicality with chapters such as “Musical Devices,” “Rhythm and Meter,” and “Sound and Meaning.”

Everything that we do naturally and gracefully we do rhythmically. There is rhythm in the way we walk, the way we swim, the way we ride a horse, the way we swing a golf club or a baseball bat. So native is rhythm to us that we read it, when we can, into the mechanical world around us. Our clocks go tick-tick-tick but we hear tick-tock, tick-tock. (p. 187)

So if you’ve ever wondered how to make your writing sing and dance, if you’ve ever gotten a phrase stuck in your head and wondered what made it so catchy and then wondered how you could craft writing that is just as memorable, this book is for you.

Sound and Sense features tons of wonderful poems by some of the best known and loved poets of all time, including Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Andrew Marvell, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Sexton, Shakespeare, and far too many others to list here.

And it’s all capped off with a handy glossary and comprehensive index, which makes revisiting its contents quick and easy. I’m telling you, this is a resourceful little book!

Writing Resources

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This gem of a book doubles as an anthology of poetry and is useful for both readers and writers of poetry. But writers of all forms will reap great benefits by investing in this book.

Mostly used as a college textbook, it’s loaded with treasures packed in a dense landscape of writing concepts, some of which are practical and others that are whimsical, plus a bunch of writing concepts that are just plain magical.

Sound and Sense will transform the way you think about writing and will improve your writing at the levels of words and sentences, sounds and phrases. Want to make readers hungry? Want to make them think and feel and swoon and dance? Then get this book, because it shows you how to do just that.

Got any writing resources that you’d like to recommend? Do you find that studying one form helps you improve another? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep on writing!

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

A Messy, Liberating Guide to Journal Writing

wreck this journalYou should see my journal. It’s a cacophony of words and images, scribbles, doodles, and scraps of ideas tucked between the pages. It’s sort of a mess, and I like it that way.

I know some writers are diligent about keeping their journals pristine. The pages are crisp, the lines straight and legible, and every word is thoughtfully selected. The theme is consistent — a dream journal, an idea journal, a diary. It’s an orderly affair done up in a tidy fashion. And that works for some people.

But it doesn’t work for me.

If I’m going to be creative — if I’m going to let my creativity flow — then I need to let things get messy. I need to dig my toes in the mud, bury my fingers in the clay, and splash paint across the walls. I can’t be confined by order or logic. I need to write sideways and upside down. I need to doodle. Jot down song lyrics. Make smudges. I need to be free.

And I’m not the only one.

Keri Smith created Wreck This Journal with the same understanding that when we allow ourselves freedom to make a mess, we also free ourselves to be as creative as possible, unchaining hidden ideas that refuse to come out for fear that they’ll be destroyed by our linear and conventional thinking:

By forcing ourselves to wreck it on purpose, the “journal as an object” loses its preciousness, and allows us the feeling of completion.

Wreck This Journal is a great way to get your creativity out of the box. As you work your way through the journal, you actually wreck it. You’ll cut, tear, and generally thrash this book (you’ll even be asked to tie it to a string and drag it around on the ground). You start letting go of constraints, allowing yourself to make mistakes, create poorly crafted prose, or senseless art (because you’re going to wreck it), and this gives your creativity the courage it needs to take risks.

25 Ways to Journal

I’m not going to ask you to wreck your journal, but if you think it might open your creative floodgates, I say go for it. When we want to be more creative, we have to be willing to try anything. What I am going to do is give you a list of ways that you can use your journal. You’ll find that if you open your journal to more possibilities for material, media, and subject matter, you’ll start to build interesting connections. And that is one sure path to better writing!

Since Writing Forward’s inception, many readers have left comments sharing brilliant ways that they use their journals. Here are some of the ideas they’ve shared mixed in with some of my own:

  1. Forget about lines. Turn your journal sideways or upside down. Write in the margins or on the spine. Write in a spiral. Draw a shape and fill it with words. This was one of the first creativity techniques I ever used and it really got the ball rolling.
  2. Ever come across mind-blowing imagery in a magazine or online? Print it out, cut it out, and paste in in your journal for inspiration.
  3. Write with colored pens, crayons, or Sharpies.
  4. Paulo Campos commented about how he uses his journal: “A habit I learned while reading about Virginia Woolf: she regularly copied passages she liked from books she was reading into notebooks.” Brad Vertrees also keeps a reading journal where he write his thoughts about the current book he’s reading. And Deb keeps a log of books she’s read in her journal.
  5. Write down words. Not sentences — just words — words you like, words that evoke intense emotions or strong imagery or words that simply resonate. Randomly fill the blank spaces in your journal with these words. Write them big, write them small, and write them in all different colors!
  6. Make lists of names and places (make up some place names!). List foods, song titles, and sensations. List nouns or list adjectives. Or simply list random, short thoughts that pop into your head.
  7. Doodle, doodle, doodle, and draw. Or try writing and sketching in your journal with chalk or charcoal. See what happens when you smudge and smear your words. Maybe you’ll make some pictures or abstract art!
  8. Use stream of consciousness, also known as freewriting. Rebecca Reid shared her experience: “I kept a journal for about 10 years: it was combination train of thought and ‘diary’ of my day. I think a train of thought journal would be nice now too.”
  9. Dreams are a popular source of inspiration, and ideal for journal writing. You can get story ideas, imagery, and bizarre notions from your night visions. Write down your most interesting dreams in your journals. When I mentioned dream journals in another post, Trisha from Marketing Journeys responded, “Journaling my dreams has been on my list for quite a while – you’ve given me a jumpstart and the inspiration to get going!”
  10. Use journal writing to engage in dialogue with people who are inaccessible. Write letters or short notes to people you’ve lost touch with, people you’ve broken up with, and people who have passed away. Chat with your characters. Converse with your heroes (dead or alive).
  11. Deep Friar told us that his mom (who is very wise) suggested a “Happy Compartment” journal: “When something nice happens, you put it in your ‘Happy Compartment.’ Then, whenever you feel bad, you just open up your Happy Compartment, and relive the happy time and make yourself feel better.”
  12. Monika Mundell mentioned in a comment that she keeps gratitude and travel journals. She added, “Come to think about it though, I do have a lovely creative journal from years ago. I used to draw, stick pictures in there and sketch. Loved that thing.”

All-Purpose Journal Writers

As I searched through the comments across this site to find out what readers had shared about their journal writing habits, I discovered that lots of writers already use all-purpose journal writing creatively and freely:

  • Karen Swim has journals “for life, writing, dreams, ideas, notes, and prayers.” She mentioned all these journals more than once while visiting Writing Forward!
  • T. Sterling Watson kept a journal that “contained funny quotes I overheard, random ideas for future poems or scripts, doodles, and general thoughts.”
  • Michele Tune, who writes the cyber highway, commented, “I draw, write poetry, document the day’s events, or whatever I feel like putting on paper. I’ve written in pretty journals, on scratches of paper that I’ve tucked into journals…”
  • Milena uses her journal to “paste images, cartoons, photos, write stuff, even jot down grocery lists (these can be interesting to come back to sometimes), impressions of any sort or anything that comes to mind and which I fear forgetting.”

That’s what I’m talking about!

Of journal writing, Amy Derby once commented, “Those paper journals of mine are priceless.”

Treasure your journals! Let them them get wrecked up and messed up.

And keep writing.

Do you have any fun, unusual, messy, or liberating journal writing tips to share? Interested in trying any of the ones listed here? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.

Journal Writing Resources:

Wreck This Journal
What Should I Write in My Journal?
Seven Different Types of Journal Writing

Get Poemcrazy!

poemcrazy susan goldsmith wooldridge

Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge.

Part memoir, filled with poetry exercises and activities, and sprinkled with poems, Poemcrazy is sure to inspire anyone who wants to delve deeper into the art of writing poetry and the lifestyle of a poet.

Poemcrazy is a delicious read with bite-sized chapters that give you a creative boost and a flash of inspiration before any poetry writing session.

The combination of Wooldridge’s stories about her life as a poet, her suggestions for poetry practice, and the poems she shares (written by herself and others) combine brilliantly for a fun and engaging yet practical read.

Live, Practice, Poetry

It’s not often that we get a glimpse inside the life of a poet. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge is a poet and teacher who provides writing and creativity workshops around the U.S. In Poemcrazy, she shows us how her life and her poetry are intertwined, each feeding the other. From quiet moments walking alongside a creek to monumental events, such as the impending loss of a parent, we see how a poet finds inspiration, words, and a voice.




Each chapter shares a quick scene or story from Susan’s life followed by some suggestions for poetry practice. One of my favorite practices from the book was collecting interesting words and writing them on “word tickets.” You can stash your word tickets in a container or leave them around the house for random inspiration. Your collection of words form a wordpool, a body of words that you can dip into whenever you want. This is a practice that can truly expand your vocabulary, which is essential for poets. She also offers tons of prompts and other ideas that will both inspire your poetry and refine it.

There are poems and excerpts throughout the book. Some of these are Susan’s own poems, but she also shares the work of well-known poets and examples from pieces her students wrote during workshops. All of these serve as examples that show how Susan’s experiences, ideas, and exercises can be put into practice.

Get Poemcrazy!

Writers who are diligent about studying the craft often immerse themselves in books that focus on writing tools and techniques. Sometimes we forget to look at authors who have gone before us by reading memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies. These works can provide valuable insight into what it means to be a writer. Poemcrazy shows us what it means to be a poet.

poemcrazy susan goldsmith wooldridge
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This is a book I recommend to anyone who’s interested in exploring poetry or refining their language skills. It’s fun, inspiring, informative, and will breath fresh life into your poetry and writing practices.

The Writer’s Journey: A Must-Read for Storytellers

the writers journey

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

If you read only one book on storytelling, make it The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books on writing fiction. Many have been helpful, but some have left me feeling disappointed, especially those that promise their methods will result in a successful story or make grand claims that their way is the only correct way to write a story. I’ve seen these claims made in books on the writing process and in books on story structure.

The Writer’s Journey makes no such claims, but it does provide us with a story structure that was discovered, not created. It’s based on universal patterns in storytelling that are flexible yet proven. As you read through it, you’ll immediately recognize these patterns in almost every story you’ve read or watched.

A Little History

“The pattern of the Hero’s Journey is universal, occurring in every culture, in every time. It is as infinitely varied as the human race itself and yet its basic form remains constant.” — Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

Joseph Campbell was a mythologist who discovered recurrent patterns in myths, legends, and folklore. These patterns occurred in stories throughout human history and all around the globe. He recorded these observations in a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This is the book that gave us the Monomyth, which is more commonly known as the Hero’s Journey.




Although it was brilliant, Campbell’s work was dense, highly academic, and spent a lot of time on the connection between psychology and mythology (as well as stories from scripture and religious traditions). It identified common patterns in storytelling, but it focused on myths, legends, and folklore, leaving out other genres. It was also rooted deep in the past, because it was based mostly on ancient tales. Human culture has since evolved, and so has storytelling.

Enter Christopher Vogler, a Hollywood script analyst who studied Campbell’s work and produced a seven-page memo for his peers to help them improve the stories in the films they were making. Vogler had reworked Campbell’s discoveries into a simple model for storytellers — a model that was applicable to all stories, not just myths and ancient legends. The memo became legendary in the storytelling world and was eventually expanded into a book called The Writer’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey

“The self-conscious, heavy-handed use of this model can be boring and predictable. But if writers absorb its ideas and re-create them with fresh insights and surprising combinations, they can make amazing new forms and original designs from the ancient, immutable parts.” — Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

You’ve probably heard of the Hero’s Journey. There are hundreds of articles, videos, and blog posts about it all over the Internet. Many authors have created their own variations. I’ve studied many incarnations of the Hero’s Journey over the years, but nothing is as clear or useful as the book itself.

The Hero’s Journey is a structure for storytelling — a form, not a formula. It was observed, not invented, so it already existed and had a proven track record long before Campbell unearthed it or Vogler refined it. The pattern can be observed in stories such as The Wizard of Oz, which was created long before Campbell or Vogler came along.

The Hero’s Journey can be used to write stories, troubleshoot stories, or analyze and study stories. It also provides us with language for discussing common elements in stories, like the Herald, the Mentor, or the Call to Adventure.

I’ll provide a brief overview of the Hero’s Journey, but you’ll only get a fraction of what it’s all about if you don’t read Vogler’s book, which, by the way, is a fun and delightful read.

Archetypes

“The Hero’s Journey is not an invention, but an observation.” — Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey starts with eight archetypes. They are often characters, but archetypes are better viewed as functions or energies in a story:

  • Hero: Protagonist who undergoes a meaningful transformation through the story.
  • Herald: Signals that an adventure (or change) is imminent.
  • Mentor: Teacher and guide.
  • Threshold Guardian: Blocks a threshold that the Hero must pass.
  • Shadow: The villain and other characters that stand in the Hero’s way; often they embody the Hero’s negative or undesirable traits.
  • Shapeshifter: A character or entity whose motives or intentions are unclear.
  • Trickster: Comic relief; tricksters are often catalysts for change.
  • Allies: The Hero’s friends and helpers.

Each of these archetypes has a very specific job to do in a story. Some characters may perform the functions of multiple archetypes, and some archetypal roles may fulfilled by events or objects (such as when a book provides the function of a mentor).

Stages of the Journey

“The model only shows the most likely place for an event to occur.” — Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey then delves into twelve stages of a story. This is not an outline or formula. The stages can occur out of order, and they can overlap one another. This is a very loose guide that we can use to assess a story’s structure and identify its core beats:

NOTICE: This section includes spoilers for The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, Harry Potter, and Titanic.

ACT ONE

1. Ordinary World: We see the Hero’s world before the story really kicks in. In The Wizard of Oz, this is Dorothy in the gray world of her family’s Kansas farm.

2. Call to Adventure: Something (usually a Herald) signals that change is afoot. A classic example is the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

3. Refusal of the Call: The Hero refuses to answer the call to adventure, often citing excuses. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker insists he can’t accompany Obi-Wan Kenobi because he must stay and help his uncle on the farm.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: The Hero encounters a Mentor, who will provide guidance and bestow necessary tools and skills. In Harry Potter, Hagrid (and many other characters) provide Harry and his friends with guidance and magical objects that will be essential in overcoming the series of challenges they will face.

5. Crossing the First Threshold: The Hero passes the first Threshold, leaving the Ordinary World and entering the Special World of the story. In the film Titanic, Rose boards the ship with her mother and fiance. This is an example without a Threshold Guardian, but often the Hero must pass a test and get past a guard to cross the threshold into the Special World.

ACT TWO

6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The Hero acquires allies (often building a team), faces tests, and establishes enemies. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy finds allies in the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. The Wicked of the Witch issues a threat, becoming Dorothy’s enemy. Dorothy and her friends overcome a series of challenges as they journey toward the Emerald City.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave: The Hero (usually accompanied by Allies) approaches the story’s central Ordeal. In Star Wars, this is when the Millennium Falcon is being sucked into the Death Star.

8. Ordeal: The Ordeal often occurs underground or inside the enemy’s lair. The Hero (and team) face their biggest threat and undergo a metaphorical death and rebirth. In some stories, this is a love scenes, such as in Titanic, when Jack and Rose consummate their relationship in the vehicle storage section of the ship.

9. Reward: The Hero is rewarded for surviving the Ordeal. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy gains possession of the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom after she successfully kills the witch.

ACT THREE

10. The Road Back: There’s one more big challenge ahead. In Star Wars, Luke and his team are going to attempt to take out the Death Star.

11. Resurrection: This big challenge includes another metaphorical death and rebirth. In Titanic Rose almost drowns but wakes up and swims through the freezing water to grab a whistle and get herself rescued.

12. Return with Elixir: The Hero has successfully completed the journey and can now return to the Ordinary World, often bringing an elixir, which can be something that saves the people of the Ordinary World but can also be personal improvement. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy returns to Kansas with a new appreciation for home and family, and having integrated and balanced the three traits of kindness, intelligence, and courage.

The Writer’s Journey is a Must-Read for Anyone Interested in Storytelling

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The Writer’s Journey is a guide, not an instruction manual, for storytellers. And while the overview above will give you a broad sense of how it works, the book itself delves deep into each archetype and stage of the Hero’s Journey, providing clear yet detailed descriptions along with examples from well-known films, so you can easily relate the concepts to real-world examples. There are also in-depth analyses of films like The Wizard of Oz, Titanic, and Pulp Fiction to show how the Hero’s Journey works in some of the most successful stories of all time.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. And I’m glad it’s available in paperback, because I marked it up with notes and highlights, and I’m sure that I will return to it again and again, both in my work as a storyteller and as a writing coach.

 

Writing Resources: A Poetry Handbook

a poetry handbook

Mary Oliver: A Poetry Handbook.

Poetry is the music of language, the fine art of the written word. It demands a broad vocabulary and creative thinking. It promotes rhythm and meter, and it invites imagery. Poetry triggers the imagination, engages the intellect, and touches the heart.

Reading and writing poetry are excellent practices for any writer. Through poetry, we learn the nuances of language, the power of showing rather than telling, and the necessity for clear and succinct wordcraft.

Basically, poetry reading and writing improves all other writing.

So, whether you are a poet or not, as a writer, a basic understanding of poetry will improve your writing exponentially. Can you succeed without it? Of course. But with poetry skills in your writer’s toolbox, your writing will soar. Read More