Day Fourteen – Do you still have a blank screen?
For many writers, it’s difficult to make an initial start on a project – to find the words for that first sentence or paragraph.
When a global crisis strikes we’ve just multiplied our difficulties and anxiety a thousandfold!
But as the quote above emphasises unless you start, you can’t shape your idea into the story, poem, play, script, or novel that is inside waiting to be shared.
It’s important to know that all writers – even the ones with published best sellers – struggle at times to write or to write to a standard they’ve set for themselves. They too will be struggling with the consequences of COVID19 as various dramas play out.
We are all learning that human beings, regardless of who you are or where you live, are in this crisis together.
Fortunately, the World Wide Web is literally bursting with creative people sharing their skills and ideas. There is heaps of advice and encouragement suggesting activities.
But if you are isolated alone and depressed, or sharing a house with little privacy, motivation and serenity hard to muster.
Supporting each other and giving positive, critical feedback on a piece of writing is important. Just as important as being prepared to rewrite and edit your writing. Published writers have professional editors to offer support and feedback but for the majority of writers, support is found in understanding friends, writing groups and writing classes.
I look out my window onto a street normally packed with the cars of commuters, workers and visitors to the Aged Care Centre and also U3A attendees – Kingston U3A classes held a block away. Many workplaces are in lockdown and so are U3A classes, along with classes at community houses, schools, colleges…
Writers and those dreaming of being writers have lost their physical support and the important interaction, feedback and inspiration from face to face contact.
Write from memory?
Sore Feet and Soaring Thoughts – a haibun
A wonderful warm spring day. A clutch of residents from the nursing home, walk around the block for a dose of Vitamin D and fresh air. The two carers dressed in floral finery, not wings and halos.
Shuffling slippered feet
walker wheels squeak and sticks tap
dull pleated skirts flap…
Without a sideways glance, a gaggle of schoolgirls overtake the pensioner posse. They preen and prance. Laughter tinkles, iPod cords dangle, mobile phones jingle.
A raven squawks as
strutting peacocks and tired chooks
enjoy the sunshine
The ambulatory group not seeking to collide, or slide to the other side – yet. Today’s challenges taken in their stride.
Smiling carers guide
stumbling feet and rheumy eyes
to avoid a fall
Gnarled arthritic hands cling to walking frames bumping over paths once traversed with prams and baby strollers. Reminiscent of bygone children’s frolics, parrots chitter overhead and magpies chortle and caper.
Pavement cracks trigger
memories. Past lives flash of
mothers, daughters, wives.
For all those finding their writing life interrupted and those new to writing, or using it as therapy, fun, a way to ease the boredom of life in isolation because of COVID9, I suggest you pick up a pen and write whatever comes to mind.
- Write in response to prompts I’ve posted – not just since COVID19 disrupted our world but there are many posts with suggestions and ideas – just search or flick through the posts.
- Write whenever a picture, comment, sound, smell triggers a memory or idea – sometimes a walk through your house will do this.
- Where did you buy that painting? Why? Imagine yourself inside the painting looking out…
- When and where was that photograph taken? Why? Can you describe the preparation, the occasion … is there something or someone missing?
- Write a story or anecdote a friend or relative told you
- Can you remember the funniest story you ever heard? What about the one that revealed life is stranger than fiction? The story you introduce by saying ‘you wouldn’t read about it…’
- Write whatever you feel like venting about today
- Write a list of what you have to celebrate
- Record how you and your friends are coping with the forced isolation and all the conflicting news stories and advice
- Jot down ideas, lists of observations and descriptions for characters you might use, overheard conversations, remembered dreams, absurd thoughts… all will come in handy when you feel up to writing or have that ‘place of one’s own’ to write.
- Write a letter or email to a friend you haven’t heard from for a while or start regular correspondence with a friend or relative
- Send Easter cards, postcards or letters to people you used to catch up with, or in lieu of whatever you used to do at Easter time
Writers Do Need To Write – We Are Society’s Storytellers & Storykeepers
Human beings can’t live without the illusion of meaning, the apprehension of confluence, the endless debate concerning the fault in the stars or in ourselves. The writer is just the messenger, the moving target.
Inside culture, the writer is the talking self.
Through history, the writing that lasts is the whisper of conscience. The guild of writers is essentially a medieval guild existing in a continual Dark Age, shaman, monks, witches, nuns, working in isolation, playing with fire.
When the first illuminated manuscripts were created, few people could read. Now that people are bombarded with image and information and the World Wide Web is an open vein, few people can read.
Reading with sustained attention, reading for understanding, reading to cut through random meaninglessness – such reading becomes a subversive act. The writer’s first affinity is not to a loyalty, a tradition, a morality, a religion, but to life itself, and to its representation in language.
Ego enters in, but writing is far too hard and solitary to be sustained by ego. The writer is compelled to write. The writer writes for love. The writer lives in spiritual debt to language, the gold key in the palm of meaning. Awake, asleep, in every moment of being, the writer stands at the gate.
The gate may open.
The gate may not.
Regardless, the writer can see straight through it.
Writing Activities To Try Today
‘It was a dark and stormy night’ may be cliched but it is a good example of setting the mood straight away!
- The MOOD is the created atmosphere or context of your story.
Films set the mood by lighting, sound effects, selected music and the tone and delivery of the actors’ dialogue and actions.
In poetry and prose, writers must rely on the words we use – we must choose the right phrases to paint the scene and create the mood.
By considering the theme and purpose of your story you can determine the mood that will engage the reader:
Sombre, light-hearted, otherworldly, comical, sacred, upbeat, depressing, scary, angry…
- The PLOT is the sequence of events that happen, the THEME is the underlying thread that connects all of these things.
A theme is what gives a particular work its depth, texture, and meaning.
To remember the difference between plot and theme, author Colin Thiele offers this advice:
“A plot is what the book is about. The theme is what the book is really about.”
Points to consider
- Who is your audience and what do you want to tell them?
- What effect do you want your words to have on the reader?
- What word choice will make your work spooky, suspenseful, comical, touching or inspiring…
Set the mood in the first paragraph and write on the theme of friendship or sacrifice
- To have a friend you must be a friend
- Life is a series of ups and downs
During this catastrophic global crisis – the big picture – there are examples of countries helping each other with medical supplies and workers. There are also many closed borders. What stories can you write about the positives and negatives of borders… narrow it down to the effect on one or two people – lovers separated, families stranded, strangers showing kindness…
Everywhere communities are rejigging how they do things – daily activities turned upside down, new habits formed, a greater awareness of what is important, what are necessities, luxuries, privileges…
- Scientists sharing knowledge
- Sudden job loss, facing ill-health, separations but also new friends, hobbies, activities…
Create a character or write from a personal point of view.
Five Writing Prompts Based on Theme
Choose one of the following famous quotes for a story and think of the theme it suggests – you can choose a different one that is assumed:
- You never reach the promised land. You can march towards it. (IDEALISM)
- At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent. (SUCCESS)
- Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra. Please help me grow God. You know where. I want to be like everyone else. (YOUTH)
- If grass can grow through cement, love can find you at every time in your life. (LOVE)
- A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent. (TRUTH)
Here are some of my old efforts written in class – I know you can do better:)
This one was an editing exercise and ironically seems relevant living under the spectre of COVID19. It was prompted by editing but has a theme of truth The Answer Not Blowing In the Wind, a short story of 395 words by Mairi Neil
This one was from a prompt of ‘a parked white van’, theme love See Change – Mairi Neil
This one was from a prompt about changing seasons, theme love and friendship Late Bloomer a short story of 499 words