Day Twenty – Facing Failures Aplenty
One of my favourite poets, Scotland’s Rabbie Burns (1759 – 1796), said ‘the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley‘ a truism for most of us because at least once or twice in life we have planned to do something and the plan fails for personal or external reasons within our control, or not.
My plan, to blog every day to help myself and others write through the COVID-19 crisis fell by the wayside over Easter. Each day since there have been medical appointments, other events or just sheer procrastination leaving a post unwritten.
Rather than beat myself up over the failure, I’ll cling to the good intention and try not to fail again but if I do, it is not the end of the world!
I’ve experienced many failures and the whole gamut of reasons to explain writing poorly or not writing – as I’m sure many others have – so while staying home, staying safe and staying positive, here are some more ideas to conquer the isolation blues!
Where Do Stories Come From And What Can We Do With Them
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.”
Many things trigger memories and usually, when we want to be imaginative and creative we draw on our own experience or what we have seen, read about, or heard.
Originality is rarely found in the idea but in the words you use, the perspective, interpretation, and presentation of your story. Christopher Booker in his 2005 book The Seven Basic Plots, Why we tell stories listed those plots as:
- Overcoming the Monster
- Rags to Riches
- The Quest
- Voyage and return
Of course, these headings leave plenty of scope for you to exercise your imagination!
However, it is the emotional engagement a writer creates for the reader/audience that makes the difference. Characters, storyline, conflict and setting contribute to making a story memorable too.
An accomplished creative writer can take any one of these basic plots into the realm of a great, entertaining read with perhaps a life-changing effect on the reader.
Today we’ll have fun with words
Word suggestions – A quick exercise in writing triggered by a pair of words – often mismatched. Write whatever comes into your head, a poem or piece of prose, a ditty or an observation. Perhaps the germ of an idea saved for later to be expanded into an anecdote or story.
These are random word pairs I’ve picked from Wordplay – mix and match, pick one or all of them:
- Dinosaur Poop
- Banana Ball
- Dog Stick
- Bed Chief
- Circle Tongue
- Eyes Rocket
- Guitar Nut
- Diamond Drum
- Compass Ship
- Horse Punch
As always with these exercises, if you set a timer for 10-15 minutes, or set yourself a time to write, that little bit of pressure can nudge the muse.
This dinosaur poop is a real scoop
The grinning newspaper reporter said
As he munched a banana and bounced a ball
And watched his rival go red.
He hinted the newspaper’s chief editor
thought him top dog, a diamond find
His rival’s eyes glared, tongue clicked
thinking a punch might change his mind
But alas he’d be fired like a rocket
And this boastful nut continue to smirk
So like a ship with a good compass
He went to bed to ignore the horse-faced jerk
Crazy headlines – you are given several cards – use them all or discard the ones that don’t fit. Create a headline and then write a short story or article to match the headline, or depending what newspaper or magazine is leading the charge, and what genre your writing, perhaps the story can be as absurd as the game!
For an extra exercise of your writing muscles rewrite the story in the style of several newspapers from tabloid to academic, print to online…
- Nude, Tsar, model, sheds, tells on, 340lb, wanted
- Star, lost, cruel, banker, attacks, saves, hits
- Exclusive, Feds, burns, secretary, lady, nun, intern
- Dog, snubs, blasts, nurse, sues, wife, blames
- Convict, stabs, first, teen, indicted, rare, weeps for
- Tot, shoots, mourns, actor, defends, hero, mystery
- Doc, tricks, heiress, beauty, weds, nails, suspect,
- Thug, devoted, dumps, strikes, jewels, B’way, Prez
- Judge, lover, tourist, missing, crooked, falls for, angry
- Blonde, lawyer, D.A., rips off, Navy, vaccine, romantic
Missing Tourist the Lover of Crooked Judge
Today, a packed Supreme Court was shocked to hear that one of its own judges was crooked. It is alleged that Judge Lilow aided and abetted the infamous Jessica James who is wanted in three continents for fraud and money laundering.
Ms James, an American tourist became Judge Lilow’s lover before embroiling him in shady dealings. The judge remains in custody and is said to be angry and ready to turn Queen’s evidence since he discovered that he is not the first senior judge to fall for Jessica James. The 25-year-old tourist is an expert in manipulating older men proving that there is no fool like an old fool!
Rememory – share a memory – a character (could be you, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, cousin, or friend), place the character in a setting (a season, work, night or day…) and a topic – could be a word, a phrase, an idea, a comment…
Write a story, true or false, your own memory or someone else’s.
- It can be a definite season or the season of life, Spring can mean April or September depending on the hemisphere, or the springtime in your life. Likewise work, school or time of day. Interpret the way it works for you.
- Who is your main character? It’s okay if you want to start with ‘I remember’ or ‘once upon a time’, or ‘I don’t know for sure but I imagine my grandmother did/said/thought’ or ‘I wonder if my mum/dad ever… ‘
- By evoking the person (character) and season/setting take whatever topic or word you were given and let it lead you to the door of memory… open the door and write about a real life experience or complete fantasy.
Here are some random scenarios I’ve picked for your inspiration, again you can mix and match, swap words or settings – whatever the muse dictates:
- You, Spring, the object that doesn’t want to get thrown away, laundry
- Brother or sister, Autumn, reading material, the natural world
- Grandparent, Night, restaurant, how love was expressed
- Parent, Work, breaking the law, sports event
- Friend or cousin, School, storm, stood out from the rest
- You, Winter, money for nothing, patience
- Brother or sister, Summer, when they were happiest, birthday
- Grandparent, Winter, what the handwriting was like, hobby
- Parent, Night, rejection, where people gather in silence
- Friend or cousin, Autumn, chores, haven’t been there in a long time
Take a deep breath before writing, draw on your thoughts, memories, ideas!
It’s okay if what you remember seems small, or inadequate, hardly worth mentioning – small is BIG, even small memories can illuminate the great themes of our lives!
Write whatever you want to write and enjoy writing – memoir, poetry, essay, fiction, creative non-fiction…
- Your memories and life experience can take you just about anywhere you choose and you can write on any subject matter as diverse as paint, divorce, singing, food, travel, dancing … whatever
- Friends, family, neighbours or colleagues – you have a lifetime of characters to choose from or imagine.
The Chocolate Box
I open up the chocolate box,
lift out a piece of lace,
crushed and yellowed, badly stained
the condition a disgrace!
My eyes spy a matching piece,
needing examination too
discover a pair of baby shoes
crocheted with love when new.
I gently remove other treasures
the box has stored within ––
a ration book, faded cards and letters,
felt needle case and Mizpah pin.
Why had these particular items
earned the right to be kept?
A legacy of more than eight decades –
with no one left to ask – I wept.
Major upheavals rocked the world
adding turmoil to Mum’s life
but perhaps the profound change
was becoming a mother and a wife.
I caressed again the contents -–
this chocolate box of delight,
pondering a girl becoming a woman,
–– and imagination took flight.
A journey spanning continents,
Working, birthing, building a home
Mum, I promise you, I whisper,
your stories will fill a tome.
With a grieving, weighted heart
and pressure of unwept tears
I write so she won’t be forgotten
hoping words survive the years.
** Mizpah pieces were exchanged as sentimental tokens of affection, some of which even contained a verse from the Bible.
The Photograph Album
I find as I grow older,
I hark back to the past
Treasuring those old photographs
Placed in albums made to last.
Behind the plastic-coated pages
Like a novel, Life unfolds
People good, bad – events happy, sad
Memories unearthed like gold.
Other photographs discovered
Stir bittersweet thoughts, I find
And clearly etched like scars
Details easily spring to mind
Where is he now, I wonder,
Does he regret abandoning me?
Did freedom turn out as planned?
Does he drift in the Sargasso Sea?
Forgotten people, forgotten heartaches
‘Remembering’ not always what it seems
If life had taken a different path …
Time stood still perhaps…
Another blurred photo comes into focus
–– what if I had followed that dream?