40 Days of Worksheets – Day 4

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgWorksheet #4 – Therapy

Your manuscript is a mess, or maybe you don’t know where to go with it, or maybe you doubt this is a story you can write, or maybe you’re just frustrated. For whatever reason, you are sorry you ever started the thing.

You and your WIP need help. This workshop will send you to therapy.

Step 1: Find a quiet spot where you can write–longhand or on screen–for a few uninterrupted minutes.

Step 2: Use some kind of timer. Set it for 15 minutes.

Step 3: You will free write everything that is bugging you about this MS, uninterrupted, for 15 minutes.

Step 4: Start your timer and go.

Step 5: Stop writing. Walk around or take a break for another 15 minutes, then settle back into your quiet writing spot.

Step 6: You will free write everything that drew you to this story and why you wanted to write it.

Step 7: Start your timer and go.

Step 8: Read both free writes. Do you want to continue with this WIP?

Please note: All worksheets posted are my original work and intellectual property. I ask that you share the links on social media, and you are welcome to share the worksheets with your critique groups and writing friends with credit given. That being said, these worksheets—despite being posted on the Internet—may not be copied, distributed, or published as anyone’s work but mine. In short: sharing is good, plagiarism is bad.

Disclaimer #2: You may post your completed worksheet if you’d like, but please remember that, by doing so, you are sharing your ideas with all of the Internet. You’ve been warned.

How To Run a Free Write

What is a Free Write?

A Free Write is an informal gathering of writers who meet to practice their writing. Free writing can help you discover new story ideas, dissolve writer’s block, or move forward on a work in progress.

Some Free Writes are guided, using prompts and round robin sharing of what was created during the session. Other Free Writers meet in a specified location, fire up their laptops, and work on individual projects in a quiet, supportive atmosphere.

Some writing organizations hold regular Free Write sessions for their members and visitors. One group in my area, the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild, posts prompts via a Facebook page. Both organized and informal groups hold Free Writes during intense writing times, such as November during NaNoWriMo.

To host an unguided Free Write is simple: select a space (library meeting room, coffee shop), invite people, and show up to write.

A guided Free Write requires a little more work. It needs a plan, a program, and a facilitator.

A Free Write plan includes the purpose of the session and how that will be demonstrated. Will the Free Write focus on one area of writing, such as sensory details; story openings; colors; encounters both hostile and friendly? Will there be a theme, with specific prompts from broad categories such as holidays, childhood, marriage?

A Free Write’s program is like a meeting agenda: the order of business and length of each prompt session. For a guided Free Write, the program should include time to write but also time to read aloud if the group includes sharing as part of the experience.

A Free Write facilitator is the person who runs the meeting: she states the rules, offers the prompts, watches the clock, and guides the sharing sessions.

Here’s a sample 2-hour, Free Write program based on a Memorial Day theme:

Arrival and welcome by the Facilitator- 15 minutes, which includes:

…the purpose of the Free Write (to have fun and explore ourselves as writers)

…the theme of the day (Memorial Day)

… the guidelines about the Free Write (prompts will be offered, time given to write, and round robin sharing to follow. Sharing is optional. Anyone who wishes to pass on a particular prompt or share can simply say, “Pass.”)

Prompt #1 : “in the trenches” – 5 minutes to write, 15 minutes to share

Prompt #2: “poppies” – 5 minutes to write, 15 minutes to share

Free writing time: Unguided time for writers to expand on prompts or write on any subject of their choosing – 20 minutes

Prompt #3: “parade” – 2 minutes to write, 10 minutes to share

Prompt #4: “picnic disaster” – 2 minutes to write, 10 minutes to share

Prompt #5: “sacrifice” – 5 minutes to write, 15 minutes to share

Free writing time – whatever time is left over from prompts and sharing

Memorial Day was used as a Free Write theme a year ago, at a local Get Out & Write Free Write. Click here for a sampling of what writers created from the “poppies” prompt.

Free Writes can be a boon to a writer’s creativity as well as an introduction to other writers. Try one!


Tomorrow’s Topic – How To Choose Strong Verbs

12 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 2012

Here are some easy actions and activities than can sharpen your skill set. Most are free. All you need is willingness and an open mind.

1.  Attend a live reading! Hearing an author read their prose or poetry aloud is a special treat—and it helps you, a writer, hear emphasis on words or dialogue that’s not possible on a printed page. Many writers like to begin with an anecdote about the story, and that’s an added bonus. In my neck of the woods, we have a 30 year tradition called 2nd Saturday Poets, but we also have library readings, poetry slams, book talks at bookstores, visiting author series at the university. Attending shows your support for the local arts scene. We all want to support the arts, right?

2.  Read your work out loud. This is a follow-up to the above. Reading aloud helps you hear the rhythm of the writing. If you construct short sentence after short sentence, a live read will help you hear if your prose imitates Hemingway’s or if it sounds choppy and monotonous. Reading aloud also helps catch awkward lines and clunky dialogue.

3.  Try out an online class.  There’s a plethora of learning happening in cyberspace, so you never need to leave your house or get out of your jammies to polish your skills in characterization, active scenes, or figuring out what the heck is subtext. Professional organizations (RWA, Sisters in Crime, Pennwriters), writing services and private editors (ahem!) offer courses that run the range from one day to months. Give one a whirl.

4.  Free Write. A free write is an informal gathering of writers who meet to practice their writing, often through guided activities and prompts.  In 2011, I helped to facilitate a monthly free write at the county library. We met for three hours and combined prompts, sharing and quiet writing time. It was great fun to write on the spot, and to see how others responded to the same prompts and guides.

5.  Join a supportive group—a face to face group, an online forum, a Facebook writers group. This is to combat the whole “writing is lonely” thing, but also to give you a peek into how other writers operate. Talking shop or talking out problems can rev your creative engines, or make the struggle seem less isolating. And if there is good news, it’s always nice to have a cheering squad.

6.  Deconstruct movies and TV shows. Learn the meaning of a “cold opening” or a “meet cute.” Watch the clock and see how a TV drama breaks off at commercial (as you would with a chapter ending) or how a 2-hour movie will have a significant plot development every twenty minutes.  Imagine this TV show or movie as a novel and how it would be narrated, plotted, and told.

7.  Choose a favorite author. Think about why you like what this writer does—what in your chosen author’s body of work speaks to you as a reader. Jot down a few memorable scenes or favorite  plot developments.  Analyze—what’s so special about this writer’s work? What pulled you in? What did you admire? What was your emotional reaction?

8.  Challenge yourself and try to write something new: flash, poetry, a memoir piece, a story told in second person. Do this every few months.

9.  Think of a book you hated from school. (Mine would be Wuthering Heights. Blech. What do people see in Heathcliff? I don’t get it.) Read it now, with an open mind.  What did you dislike about it when you were younger? Do you still dislike this now?

10.  Get into the habit of running the Spelling & Grammar function when you shut down your work-in-progress for the day. Notice what pops up—typos? Sentence structure problems? Fragments? Improper word choice? Pay attention to the habitual problems in your work. Sometimes all it takes to repair a bad habit is to recognize that habit exists. Spell & Gram is a free, easy, and readily available resource to help you find those habits. Make using it your new habit.

11.  Read every day.

12.  Write every day.

 Best of luck in your writing endeavors in 2012!