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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Journal With Impact: Nature Language

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“You present your story in terms of things that can be verified by sensory perception. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch—these are the common denominators of human experience; these are the evidence that men believe.” Dwight V. Swain

Before we can interpret our feelings, memories, and emotions to different habitats we are drawn towards, in the past or present, we often need to explore the language that nature’s imagery evokes.

Building a sensory vocabulary helps us to understand and share our experiences with depth to both interpret and enhance emotional connections. One of my favorite and engaging applications came from a workshop I took with author Ethel Herr. She pointed out that any observation is incomplete unless we can track the emotional reaction—both in one-to-one contact and with fictional characters.

We need to develop the essential specific word choices: salty-sour-sweet-bitter. If it smells bad is it like a: rotten egg, a sewer, or a low tide? And we also need to recognize that what smells bad to one person may actually be sweet to another. I discovered that one day when driving with an elderly friend. I smelt something noxious and worried it was my car. I asked if she could smell it and her reply was “isn’t it lovely?” Apparently we were smelling sulfur, which to her reminded her of where she grew up near sulfur springs. She happily inhaled while I attempted not to choke.

To develop and expand a wider vocabulary Ethel Herr suggested choosing a different sense per day and paying close attention to just it. So on Monday notice everything you smell. On Tuesday touch, Wednesday taste, Thursday hear, and Friday see.

Then next to each word on each list expand the possibilities. Again, did something smell rotten? Was it rotten like decaying compost, a humid hiking trail, or a dead fish? What distinguishes each ‘rotten’ smell? Repeat the process for any words that you want more depth to.

Action Steps:

1.     Take the habitat and memory you chose last week and apply Ethel Herr’s exercise to your details. Choose one sense per day and daydream that moment.

2.     What detail surprised you? What made you laugh or cry?

3.     What word best represents your language example?

Share: What two favorite sensory images did you remember?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Journal With Impact: Nature

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“The act of recording a life, in healthy solitude and active connection to a loved terrain, is also the act of creating a life.” Hannah Hinchman

Nature Journals—Language

Art, music, and imagery can become a separate language of communication. So too does nature. It is a language that speaks to us, by personally touching our hearts and souls with meaning, and also by allowing us to share across time and culture with others. Nature as reflection builds a bridge of communication that gives us soul-to-soul threads of understanding.

Their images provide illustrations to our past and our present with strangers and friends, as we paint words with pictures and sensory description through writing, or share our images silently in drawings and photographs.

Here are a few examples. 

In her book, This Same Sky, Naomi Shihab Nye shares poems from around the world; this excerpt is by Kwang-kyu Kim in South Korea, translation by Brother Anthony.

The Land of Mists

“In the land of mists
always shrouded in mist
nothing ever happens
And if something happens
nothing can be seen
because of the mist
for if you live in mist
you get accustomed to mist
so you don’t try to see
Therefore in the land of mists
you should not try to see
you have to hear things
for if you don’t hear you can’t live
so ears keep on growing
People like rabbits
with ears of white mist
Iive in the land of mists.”

As a child I spent many summers visiting my aunt at a lake in northern Ontario, Canada. At least once or twice each summer we would get a raging storm over the lake unlike anything I would ever experience in the city. There were no hard copy photographs for me to look at when I grew older, but as I re-saw the storms in my memory I was able to see it again and capture it for myself in a poem.
The Storm, by marcy weydemuller
Gloom black sky,
thick hard rain,
the lake invisible.

Until lightning
ripped above.
Then we could see
bending trees,
churning waves
wrestled the storm.

Awestruck, we
returned to dark

Action Steps:

1. What images or emotions do you identify with in either of these nature snapshots? What memories do they bring up from your own experience in a particular setting? Write that scene up in your journal.

2. Then write, “today I wish I could go to the woods, meadow, ocean, forest, lake, mountain or… because…….. .”     

Share: Why does that habitat of nature appeal to you the most?

Read deep, marcy

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Journal With Impact: Travel Brainstorms Part Two

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“Location pertains to feeling; feeling profoundly pertains to place; place in history partakes of feeling, as feeling about history partakes of place.”        Eudora Welty

Brainstorm Fiction Prompts Part Two  

List: Make a list. Set timer if you want. Minimum two minutes, but I suggest five.

Exercise three: List ten to twenty cities you have visited that you absolutely loved, or would love to visit again if you had the chance. (Can also repeat for hated too.)

Go back through the list and next to each city write one word that captures that city’s memory for you—why you love it. Architecture, food, felt free, fell in love, etc.

Scratch List: Make a few categories and combine common factors under each.

Exercise four: Look at your city list so far and see if there are any common factors. Separate accordingly. Does one category contain many and another a few? Why? Make a note of what makes two favorite cites land in different categories.

Share: How many creative breaks were you able to add into your week?

Questions: Who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Exercise five: Go back to your free-write and apply these questions to the character of the city. View it as a person. What do you know—what don’t you know? Make a list for further research on missing parts.

Letter: Write a short letter either from your character or to your character.

Exercise six: Choose the city you loved the most from the earlier list and have your character write to a person in that city, or again receive a letter from a friend visiting that city. Or make it impersonal as if a business assignment.

Action Steps: Application

Writing Assignment:
Choose a few details from each of all your exercises, from Part One and Part Two, mixing and matching theme, setting, and memory. Now write up a short episode as a brief memory for your character. It can be either from the POV of this was once her home, or as a visit to a strange place.

Your city now has descriptive footprints with a personal emotional connection that relates to your travel journey. Now share your our own story in your own voice.

Share: Which brainstorm techniques worked best for you? Which were the most difficult? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Journal With Impact: Travel Brainstorms Part One

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“Writing fiction set in actual locations, either contemporary or historical, is both restricting and inspiring. Restricting in that we’re bound by reality, but inspiring since reality often provides story or character ideas. “                  Sarah Sundin

Brainstorm Fiction Prompts Part One  

Using fiction techniques as a brainstorm, to share your story and your travel world, often reminds us of missing details or unexpected gems. Here are six exercises that are focused on city settings as an example. Or you can substitute the city for any other aspect of your travel focus. Also consider turning yourself, or one of your travel companions, into a fictional character while doing these prompts to see what emotional connections might rise to the surface.

The reality of our world, its emotional resonance, and unique atmosphere, will be found in the details. Either we see it though the familiarity and ordinariness of our main character, or we see its strangeness through her confusion or entrancement. So it’s important for us to know the details ourselves. Just as we can walk around our homes in the dark, knowing exactly where we are, so must our characters. What is real to them needs to be real to us. This provides authentic atmosphere, tone, and mood. We don’t need to invent everything, but we do need to learn to develop an instinct to connect details with emotions effectively.           
Where to start? Right here—exactly where your character is now.

Action Steps:

Free-write: Set a timer so you’re not clock watching. Write without stopping for eight to ten minutes. If you can’t think of the next word—repeat the last word until something else comes to mind, even if it’s random. Write thoughts—words—sentences—whatever comes out. Ignore spelling and punctuation. Don’t lift the pen from the page!

Exercise One. Choose the room your character wakes up in. Start from her first moments of consciousness and go. Is it a familiar bed or not? Sheets—yes or no—clean or dirty—silk or cotton or straw or an unknown substance?

Exercise One, Part Two. Choose a city that will be in your world, real or imaginary, regardless of whether one of your characters will ever go there. It can be a myth, a historical place, or current to your character. Free-write everything you think you know about this city, or you think it will be about.

Did any detail surprise you?

Cluster: Take a word and place it in the middle of a page and then make spokes out to bubbles from it with word associates. For each of the words you choose, repeat the process. Go out as far you can. 

Exercise Two: Choose a word or a thought, either for theme, or potential research, from your free-write and cluster out all the ideas as far as you can.

Share: How far did you get? Which brainstorm of the two generated the most material for you?

Part Two brainstorm on Saturday

Read deep, marcy


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Journal With Impact: Travel Research

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“What we see less of and what we need more of these days is travel journalism, people in a new place deliberately seeking out stories of interest and of import.”
                                                                                                                  James Durston

Preparation for Planned Trip

(Also works for organizing material re memoir locations only going backwards into memory.)

Carve out your niche.

Read ahead with travel books. Particularly notice what is missing. What do you want to read information on that’s not there? Study maps. Look at online photos. If possible read some local newspapers or journalists who blog for that region to get a flavor for the community. Begin to focus on your destination from the inside out instead of as an observer to get a deeper insight.

Don’t just describe, Durston says. “Give me its stories, reveal its spirit, cut open its gut.” Look for the connective details that will influence your curiosity and search.

Consider a simple diary outline that matches your personal goals to briefly fill in key words as a reminder to keep the days from blending together when they might overlap. For example: places to eat, specific locations, bits of history, the unexpected, music heard, a conversation.

Decide how while on location you will keep mementos of each day’s outing such as ticket stubs, or menus, any free giveaways. If you take several photographs, will each day’s content go into its own folder or another category? Later when you review, you will be reminded of which day the weather changed, or you might notice repeating themes through each day.

Prepare for the active logistics: currency, timetables for transportation, safety measures, phone numbers in case of emergency, basic language translations for any country you visit. And although the new tech apps now available are compact and helpful, keep a paper copy as well—both for yourself and another copy for someone at your home base in case of loss.
Action Steps:

1. Return now to your dream journey questions and let them become your foundation for organizing your logistics and itinerary.

2. Pare all the common details down to the simplest format so that it will be as ordinary as a daily commute for you.

3. Choose how to copy or send your daily adventures into a backup file while traveling.

Share: What preparation had you not considered before your research but will include on your trip?
            Or what specific advice has been helpful to you on one of your previous journeys?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Journal With Impact: Travel Voice

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“Good travel writing is always in demand.” Diana Tonnessen

Your presentation will depend on your audience, your purpose, and your focus. If you have decided to try out the travel magazine markets, then you will need to study their style as to whether to develop essays or articles, and a specific voice. If you are developing chapters for your own personal memoir then an essay or a story vignette might be a better fit. Or perhaps as a memoir, or a mini adventure to family members only, a series of letters might be more appropriate.

Magazine editor Tonnessen recommends, “Tell me something I don’t know.
Take me with you when you go. Tell me a story I can’t put down.” That advice applies whether your audience is private or public.

And if you are a fiction writer, your research on locations and settings can do double duty as an article for a magazine, or an essay for your blog, as you build your reading audience.

Go over the above suggestions and categories and note which style you prefer to read yourself. That will most likely be the style you are most comfortable writing.

Walk through the different styles of travel books or magazines you enjoy and outline a few articles that appeal to you and see how they were set up. What stood out? How might your content be adapted to that format? How can you give it a personal voice?

All articles will have an opening hook, but have a variety of methods, and will give a focus indication of the main area of interest: museum, seaport, bookstores, restaurants, landmarks to name a few. Usually there are three to five paragraphs to explore the subject and then a closing summary that returns to the opening lead.

It sounds very much like the sharing we automatically do with friends and family when we are excited about a trip we’ve just taken, or a new restaurant we tried out, or a wonderful family day with young children, or teen children, or as a couple.

Action Steps:

1. Take one specific episode of your trip and write it up three ways: as a letter, as an essay, and as an article with each answering Tonnessen’s requested details.

Share: Which style did you write most naturally? Were you surprised?

Read deep, marcy

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