Sunday, June 29, 2014

How To Use A Writing Prompt

Say the word "writing prompt" and many "Writers", with a capital 'W' and a lot of pride, will sniff at you derisively and proclaim that they have ideas aplenty of their own and thank you very much.  Others, like me, see a writing prompt as nothing more than a challenge - a challenge to summon up the creativity necessary to write something you never would have envisioned writing otherwise.  

I was once part of a group of writer-type friends who often played little word games with one another. One of the things we enjoyed most was when we were given a prompt to quickly write about - and I mean quick, it was very nearly a race. These two or three word phrases were chosen at random by one member of the group and the rest would find a creative way to use them in a piece of writing. What made it fun was seeing how the same phrase spurred so many different ideas.  

A writing prompt can be used for nothing more than an exercise, a way to get the ideas coming and the creative juices flowing again.  You may find that a writing prompt is the right chisel to break you out of the doldrums and just get you writing again.  Who knows? It may lead to a bigger and better idea - one that ends up as a short story or even a novel. Writing prompts can be a valuable tool in generating ideas that can be used in many ways.

That's why I prefer to call it a writing challenge rather than a writing prompt.  It is the challenge that we rise to meet, it isn't just a reaction to being poked and prompted.

Recently, I took a challenge to re-write some English poetry. I might have gone too far in re-writing Shakespeare.  But it was a lot of fun and a good exercise in rhythm and meter.  Parody is the highest form of flattery, isn't it?

You can find my cheeky version of Hamlet's Soliloquy here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What does that mean? Mush and other strange animal commands

One thing a writer does is to spend a lot of time thinking about words.  Although some words have a very clear etymology, others have a somewhat more murky and mysterious history.  Today I was thinking about some words that probably don't even belong in the English language.

I often spend far too much time thinking about ridiculous things. Sometimes, I have trouble remembering why I was even thinking about a particular thing, but there is usually some logical progression from one thought to another that brought me to pondering.

Today it was just a woman walking her dog down the pedestrian trail.  The dog was a Siberian Husky, which got me thinking to whether or not a sled and dogs was a viable transportation alternative in the winter.  I decided that as long as there was snow, we could easily go through town on the pedestrian trail.  The problem would be parking.  When I got to town, where would I park a dog sled?  Would I need insurance in case the dogs bit a passerby?

That got me to thinking about the word "Mush!", which as we all know, is what sled drivers say to the dogs to make them go, or at least they do in the movies.  So, why "mush"?  I thought perhaps it was an Inuit word that we just mispronounce, but no.  It's actually a corruption of the French command "Marchons!" which means, "Let's Go!" or words to that effect.  Marchons became just "mush" over a period of time.  Of course, then I wondered why all the early sled dog drivers were French, but that's a question for another day. Then I began to wonder about horses and the odd things we say to them.

I really found myself perplexed by the phrase "Giddy up".  It took quite a lot of googling to come up with more than "that's what you say to a horse to make it go".  Finally, I did find the etymology of the phrase, which was originally "Get thee up" in the olden, ancient days before we stopped saying all our consonants.
That wasn't nearly as interesting as the meaning of "mush" but it was a more difficult answer to find.

Basically, it seems that when we talk to animals, we don't use proper English and we don't think they'll notice.

Now, back to the dog sled.  I wonder if dog food is more expensive than filling the car's gas tank...

Is it time to write a book?

There are probably a lot of online writers who were members of Helium, the revenue sharing site that has recently announced its demise.  Helium was a fairly good place to write and earn passive income from ad revenue for many years, but Google's Panda brought the revenue stream down to a trickle for most Helium writers.  The revamping of the site last year did nothing to help, in fact, it caused revenues to go down even further.  At some point, Helium decided to call it a day.

The bright side of Helium's failure is that I can now remove all of my articles from the site and  re-purpose them.  Some may work well as blog posts, or be eligible to be posted on other writing sites - once they have been de-indexed by Google.  I did take the opportunity to download all my articles and have them sitting in a neat file on Dropbox.

Today I decided to see how difficult it would be to strip the html from the article files.  I found a neat little tool online that was free and plugged in the text from a Flash Fiction story.  It worked very well, leaving me only a few formatting chores - paragraphs, quotations marks, etc.

But I hadn't even remembered writing this story and so it was really fun reading it all over again.  Then, as I thought about it more, I realized that even though this story was stripped down and compact (flash fiction had to be 400 words or less on Helium) that it implied a lot more going on behind the scenes, and a much bigger story was potentially waiting to be written.

In fact, it seemed like a good foundation for a novel.  And I wondered if I would be making a mistake to republish this short fiction, when it could be turned into something much more substantial.

So, the question for me this morning is:  is it time to write a book?

I am going to try to flesh out the setting, the characters and the plot and see if I can muster the discipline to give it a go.

You may also have something that you've written that has the potential to be more.  Think about your stories, your ideas and see if there is one that has the potential to be more than you've written thus far.  Ask yourself if it is time to write a book.  Can you do it?  Why not?

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Big Return

It's been a while since I blogged.  Blogging used to be as natural as breathing and a daily part of life.  But life has a way of changing our priorities from time to time.  I have put writing aside for a period of time, and now I feel it's the right time to return to it.

So, with a new blog name - one that clearly states my intentions - I am ready to write.

I have been exploring different avenues for writing lately, and rather enjoying the freedom of not keeping to schedules or the demands of clients, but simply writing for myself and for the fun of it. I have joined a few sites and given each a try.  At some point, I may review those sites and relate my experiences with them. 

From time to time, I may share writings from my other sites.  I guess that in some ways I don't really know where I am going with this blog, but maybe you can read along.  It will be a surprise for both of us.  I hope it will.  I love surprises.