Stretching Those Imagination Muscles

I had the pleasure of hearing NY Times bestselling author (and incredibly nice guy) Jonathan Maberry speak at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

Jonathan Maberry opens up the 64th annual Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

today. Not only was his energy and optimism infectious, but he was also filled with battle-tested and sage advice. With much thanks to Mr. Maberry for offering this idea, I am going to share it with you. Some of you may know this, some may not. Some may know it and not do it, but I hope to change that. Ok, whew…that just sounded like a Bruce Campbell Old Spice commercial. “If you need it, you don’t have it. If you have it, you need more of it. If…” Ok, you get the idea.

So, the advice/idea is this. When people go to the gym, they don’t just jump right into their workout and start slamming away. They warm up. They stretch to limber up their body and work through some exercises to get the blood flowing. Well, our imagination, our creativity needs the same thing.  When we sit down to start writing, we need a primer. Something to get the creative juices flowing and limber up that part of our mind.

Mr. Maberry said that he sits down and conducts a 15 minute writing exercise (unassociated to the current project) and invests himself in it. When the 15 minutes are up, he stops and dives into his true work out, or project.

This is great stuff! It’s not for publication. It doesn’t have to (and will not be) perfect. Nobody has to read it. This is your initial stretch to open that creative door and just start DOING. No holds barred, just you and the exercise, and the only rule of Write Club is that nobody talks about Write Club (unless you want to, and if so…have at it).

I thought about this and for all the years I’ve been writing, I hadn’t been doing it. I’d start the regular daily project from a cold workout. Looking back, I realize that it took me a bit to start really making progress. Why? Because I was tight. Well, thanks to the NEW and IMPROVED MABERRY pre-project creative exercise, you too can loosen up before you go-go. And if you act now, you’ll also receive this free collection of novelty cheese sandals (while supplies last).

So, for my own sake, and for yours, I am going to endeavor to offer daily writing exercises under my new “Creative Warm-Up” category. It’s yours, have fun with it and when 15 minutes is up, let it go and go knock the world off its orbit!

EXERCISE #1:

Your main character is a SERVANT who CAN’T WAIT ANY LONGER (for what? That’s up to you!!)

Your secondary character is a FLORIST

The source of the conflict is an OVERDUE APOLOGY.

Tell the story!! No edits, just start writing and see what you come up with in 15 minutes!!! (Set a timer).

I will try to throw all kinds of creative mash-ups and different types of exercises up here each day for you to dig into. Part of the exercise is to do it without thinking too much about it (even if it seems absolutely absurd or bizarre). And if you want to post your creation for a chuckle, pride, or just to share, that would be great! We’ll read and enjoy without judgement or critique. Because, again, this is a free-range run to stretch and play. No preservatives added.

Thank you and I hope you’ll find this useful and helpful! Let me know!

Advertisements

Celebrating Creativity With Imaginative Young Minds

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting my son’s elementary school and sharing a day of reading and creativity with some of the students.

I was invited to my oldest son’s 5th grade class where they are beginning to learn about and explore creative writing. After answering some general questions about the craft and about my own methods of revision and work processes, I read them the first chapter of my middle-grade work in progress.

If you ever have the chance to sit down with a large group of children and share your work with them, DO IT! To begin with, it is magical. No matter how many adult readers, editors, and peer readers you have, none of them can give you the intangible reactions you hope to get from your target audience.

I was escorted to my chair (a VERY comfortable rocking chair) by the student of the month and then the kids gathered around, in bean bags and on the rug; in chairs and on stools. I explained the premise of the story and told them that they were my first young audience to hear the beginning of the story. They were excited. I was excited.

And so I read….and it was AWESOME! There were laughs when there should have been laughs. There were smiles when I hoped there’d be smiles, and there were shocked expressions or gasps when I’d written in sections that were expected to cause those same reactions.

If I’d had the book done and published and ready for purchase, I would have had a room full of new readers. In other words, it was a success. They’d not only enjoyed the story, but they’d given me the proof that I had succeeded in my attempt to write a fun, quirky and enjoyable story for young readers. It was written all over their excited faces.

And afterward, I fielded questions about the rest of the story, about writing in general, and about key concepts and components of storytelling. It was great to discuss, point of view, foreshadow, metaphor, theme, climax, character evolution, and idea generation with the kids. They were as excited to demonstrate that they’d noticed the foreshadowing clues as I was to hear that my inclusion of them in the story had worked. They were as eager to learn what happened next as I was to tell them about it.

It was truly a rewarding experience. To give them a chance to explore their creativity and to pen a short story of their own, I prompted a little writing exercise. Using Rory’s Story Cubes (and if you haven’t seen these, they are the coolest things!), we rolled up nine images and put them up on the projector so the whole class could see them. The idea is that our minds think in pictures and an image gives us an infinite variety of interpretations. So, we rolled up the nine dice (the student of the month had the honors) and broke the class up into groups of three.

One person was responsible for writing the beginning. They had to write the hook and establish the conflict, along with introducing the character. Another child wrote the middle, working toward conflict resolution and inserting obstacles. The last person wrote the climax (having worked out with the middle writer where they were going to “meet”) and the resolution.

The groups were free to arrange the nine images in whatever order they wanted, each person taking three of the images and incorporating them into their section of the story. Their teacher and I listened in to the brainstorming process and watched as they eagerly created fantastic tales, some of which included mysteriously locked doors, laser shooting eyeballs, a honey-hunting cyclops, and giant alien bees. It was so much fun! And afterwards, some of the students shared their work with us, reading their sections and demonstrating how their voice, their imagination and their approach differed from their classmates who had the same pictures to work with.

I hope that when I left, I left some of them with a hunger to continue creating. I hope that when I left, I left some of them eager to tell more stories, to explore worlds within their own minds that they may have been hesitant to explore. I was there once. I was a 6th grade student when a similar experience had changed me forever. It was a similar experience that showed me that all I wanted to do was tell stories.

If even one creative young mind takes pen in hand and walks through that door of imagination and storytelling, then I’ll feel as if I have come full circle. But I’ll never know that, we’ll never know that, until they are sharing these same sentiments one day and remembering that afternoon in 5th grade when there were no walls and their minds could take them places where nobody could hold them back.

Here’s to creativity. Here’s to the next generation of wordsmiths, ready to ply their craft at the imagination forge.