Guest post by Mariana Ashley
I fell in love with Joan Didion during an honor’s class my junior year of college. The class was called The Art of the Personal Essay, and what I enjoyed so much about the course, was the melding of fiction and non-fiction. With a predilection for journalism and a love for creative writing, I found that personal essay writing was my perfect medium because it allowed me to uncover the poetry of facts. Today, I find the personal essay a great asset when blogging.
In this class, I also had the opportunity to meet Samuel Pickering, a great American essayist and educator. If you haven’t heard of Pickering before, you’ll be surprised to learn that he inspired the character played by Robin Williams in the film The Dead Poet’s Society. (He claims it was a loose characterization.)
I remember Pickering’s energy to be robust and his complexion slightly ruddy. He wore a heavy jacket with leather elbow patches. He was a slender man with slender fingers that would sometimes meet the table in a good natured slap. The small things in life excited and inspired him.
An avid walker, traveler and nature observer, Pickering described his fascination with the outdoors very simply. “One day, I walked outside and realized I didn’t know the names of the trees or the grass I was I looking at.” His desire to know, describe and share is Pickering’s gift to the world.
As bloggers, freelance writers and even novelists, we spend a lot of time bundled up with our imaginations. We sit in our office chairs or at coffee shops, tapping away at our keyboards or scratching away at a blank page. Sometimes we get very “into” what we are doing, and when we spend a little too much time inside (our minds, the Internet or even books), we can find ourselves drained and lacking inspiration.
Didion and Pickering are both brilliant essayists because they spend a lot of time in the field, gathering data and inspiration – making connections and writing poetry out of the human experience. Nothing is too small. Nothing is too big. The world is inspiration.
Without further ado, here are 5 writing exercises you can use to find inspiration in your everyday life.
- Eavesdrop – While you’re out, write down snippets of conversation. Yes, it may make you feel a bit like a spy; but just go with it. This is an extremely common exercise for those who are learning to write dialogue. It’s also an interesting study in subject matter. Try to focus entirely on the words. What tone are the speakers using? Slang? Foul language? Nicknames? Accents?
- Observe – Observe strangers and read the language of their movements, expressions and gestures. Are they actively using their body language or passively? Are they communicating effectively?
- Dramatize – Write a short story based on your life (as it is RIGHT NOW) and make it as dramatic as possible. The trick is, you have to include at least 3 other real people. Be as honest as you can about the other people. Give them two dimensions, portraying both their strengths and weaknesses. Making a soap opera out of your life is a great exercise in writing archetype characters. Your story can be serious or hilarious – depending on the problems you’re facing. The only other rule is that there must be one hero and one villain, and the story must end with a resolution in terms of that relationship. The climax and ending can be fictional, but the conflict needs to be based on a real problem.
- Draw a wild card – The fundamentals of drama are founded in surprise, and when something unexpected happens, the audience will respond in one of two ways: with a gasp or with a laugh. A great way to build an understanding of storytelling is to take a character – fictional or real – and change his course of action. Your goal is to reach an ending that is drastically different than the original story – all because of one character’s diverted course. For example, what if Iron Man joined a monastery? Or if Harry Potter began empathizing with Voldermort? In review, consider what dynamics shifted. How did you change the mood and theme of the story? Why did you do it? (Keep it under 2 pages. You don’t want to get carried away.)
- Paint and repaint a scene – Get out there! Find a setting and portray it in as many different ways as possible by filtering it through different points of view. Here are some ideas: two lovers, a murderer, murderer’s victim, a child, an old woman, a scientist and a cat. Dedicate one paragraph to each point of view. For a real challenge, don’t use the same adjective more than once. Try to do this in the moment to capture as many details as possible. Don’t forget to use all 5 senses.
This guest post is brought to you by Mariana Ashley, a prolific blogger who provides web content to a number of blogs and websites. She’s most interested in providing guidance to prospective college students who wish to attend online colleges in Montana. When she’s not writing or researching online education trends, she enjoys riding her horse, George, and spending quality time with her four nieces. Mariana welcomes your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.