2-Minute Prompts

Two minutes is a short amount of time. But a lot can happen. You can send an important email. You can break a heart. You can change your fate.

You can get stuck in traffic. You can listen to your favorite song on the radio. You can drink half a cup of coffee.

In my weekly writing group, we often end the session with a prompted two-minute free write. While it is far from the main-event of the evening, there is a certain magic about the writing that is produced in that time. The pressure is off.  Everyone is relaxed, or wired off too much coffee, or one too many cookies.

I thought it might be fun to share some of the prompts and the pieces I wrote to accompany them. It would be great to hear from other bloggers out there, feel free to write your own responses to the prompts, but remember, it can only take 2 minutes!

Prompt: Make a list of subjects NOT to write about.

Good things not to write about, depends on the audience. If it’s my mother, than anything that is, or could be perceived as violent, destructive, dangerous, sexy, or incestuous. I shared some of my writing with her, and have since stopped. She said to me one day, thoughtfully, after reading a poem of mine, that I was, “intense.” I wasn’t sure how to take that, I mean in regards to compliment, insult, general observation. I don’t like to write about things that are boring. I like to write about weird, messed up, violent, manipulative people, because isn’t that what’s real? No, your emotions, she told me. Your emotions are intense. I don’t think I was ever like that. We’re different, my mother and I. She thinks I write about things that are too intense, I think I write about things that are all too real.

Prompt: If you could have someone else’s bone and why.

I would like no one’s bones but my own. Maybe my body will fall apart. Maybe I’ll fall off a ladder and need to be put back together. And in those moments I will say give me whatever bones you have. But for the time being, I can’t imagine anyone else having bones that would go with mine. It’s not that I think mine are better or bigger or stronger. But they are mine. And the body is something which is so uniquely OUR OWN. I wouldn’t want that to be diluted with spare parts. And if I were to get Mother Theresa’s hip or Ringo Starr’s wrist, how would I live up to that? Would I have to become an excellent drummer? Would I suddenly become selfless? Maybe my bones will turn brittle and break, but I still think I don’t want to be anyone else but me.

Prompt: Group Leader asks for a random noun. One of the group members says “brick.” Group leader says OK, now start with the sentence, “This is not a brick.”

This is not a brick. And my road would certainly not be yellow brick. Black maybe or the rusty red of a typical brick. But then, this is not a brick. My road would be a dirt path maybe. Shady under thick green foliage. Hot summer sun somewhere above. Or a long wooden-planked boardwalk leading over hot sand. The ocean its reward. Or the back alley of a city street, all hot, steamy, stinky asphalt. Dumpsters and cigarette breaks and men sleeping in doorways. My way wouldn’t be brick. It would be leather studded kiss in the sand. It would be shag carpet up to my ankles. There would be no one in sight on this road. Men working. Out of order. Do not pass go. Hopefully I have a get out of jail free card lying around here. This is not a brick road. This is not wonderland. There is no Peter Pan, so I might as well stop waiting for him. I can stay young forever and I can do it on my own time. Image

Fish in the Sea

When telling people that I am an aspiring writer, I can’t count how many times I have gotten the response, “Isn’t it lonely?”

We are all familiar with the image of the solitary artist: locked up in a cluttered studio, wandering city streets, or scribbling away in a dark bar.  And while I have my moments of solitude, I truly believe that I wouldn’t be on the path that I’m on without the support of my fellow writers. 

I have had many wonderful opportunities to share my work. I’ve previously mentioned the writing groups I am in and how beneficial they are. In particular, I have been feeling very fortunate to be a part of Main Street Writers’ Thursday night group. I have been writing with the people in this group since March. Each week I use the time to write a scene from my work-in-progress. 

By now, the people in this group have gotten to know the characters and, while they haven’t gotten their information in a linear trajectory, they are able to piece together the main plot points. Their perspective has been incredibly beneficial as I continue to piece together the rest of my manuscript. Seeing them able to make inferences about personality traits and speculations about the plot has been encouraging. It gives me confidence that, one day, my readers will be able to connect the dots in the same way. 

In addition, I continue to participate in open mics throughout the Pioneer Valley. In the last two weeks, I have read at Wendell Spoken Word and Straw Dog Writers Guild in Northampton, MA. 

While the experience of reading my work in front of an audience is always nerve-racking, I find the benefits to be limitless. I am always surprised and encouraged by the response I get out of audience. Whether it is tense focus or casual laughter, when I get the intended reaction, it feels like I am on the right track

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the open mics is the feedback I get following a reading. I have had several people approach me afterwards not only to comment on my writing, but also to implore me to keep writing. 

“What happens? Do they ever find her?”

“Don’t stop writing, you’re on to something!”

“You’re going to do great things, I can tell.” 

I’m human, and just like anyone, these ego-strokes feel great. But more than that, it’s a wonderful to get hints that I am following the right path. Because, at the end of the day, when it’s just you and your computer, sometimes self-doubt comes creeping in. When you feel like one lonely fish in a big, wide, literary sea, our goals and aspirations feel intimidating, if not completely hopeless and far-fetched in the darkest moments. 

But when I connect with my peers, it helps me to realize I’m not alone but am really a part of beautiful, colorful, diverse school of fish, I  mean, writers (pardon the corny metaphor). Each one wonderfully unique in what they have to offer.

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For anyone out there struggling with their writing, I encourage you to find ways to connect! Join writing groups, go listen to other people reading if you don’t have the courage or material to read yourself. Visit the library. Visit a coffee shop. Open yourself up to these connections, and I can bet you will be feeling much less lonely in no time. 

As always, Happy Writing, Reading, Sharing, Connecting.

Practice Makes Perfect

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Main Street Writers held their annual reading at Food for Thought last Thursday

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in two public readings. One was an open mic in Northampton, Massachusetts hosted by Straw Dog Writers Guild. The other was the annual reading for Main Street Writers at Food for Though Books in Amherst.

I read the same piece for both readings; an excerpt from my novel. I chose the introduction to Little Ho Peep’s back story, a surreal story about a little girl growing up on a dump with her one-eyed gypsy abuela.

I am not naturally inclined to public speaking, it is always nerve racking. But reading my work out loud, to an audience, has been great practice.

It was such an honor having my friends and family there to support me. It also is so humbling to listen to the amazing talent that is prevalent in the Pioneer Valley. Becoming part of this community has been so important to me.

I encourage everyone out there to share their passions. Whether it is music, poetry, visual arts: I believe that the simple act of sharing can broaden our appreciate for our craft.

Happy Reading!

Main Street Writers…Read!

Main Street Writers holds an annual reading every spring. The reading takes place at Food for Thought Books in Amherst, MA.The past week or two I have been helping organize this event.

The writing group has three sessions a week, and there are a lot of writers involved, about 20. All of us will have opportunities to share our work. We hope to have a good turn out of people to enjoy the experience together.

While I have been busy signing up our writers for different drinks and finger food, I have yet to pick a piece to share! I look forward to reading a scene from my manuscript. I think the perfect piece will be no more than five minutes long, spoken. It should be exciting and interesting without being confusing. I want to pick something that doesn’t involve too much explanation as well.

To other bloggers out there: How do you go about selecting an appropriate piece for a reading? I would love to hear your suggestions!

The reading is on Thursday May 9th, from 7 to 9 p.m. I encourage anyone in the area to check it out. There will be beer, wine, food and most importantly, excellent writing!

As always, every day, Happy Writing!Main Street Writers...Read!

The Anxiety and Excitement of a Workshop

For the past three weeks I have been participating in a workshop at Flying Object in Hadley, Massachusetts. The workshop, run by an amazing writer named Rachel Glaser, is called “Serious Fiction.” The requisites were previous experience in workshops, an sample of writing and a letter of interest, and most importantly a serious interest in writing,

There are twelve women participating in the group, each one with a unique and interesting perspective. The pieces submitted so far have ranged from flash fiction, prose poetry, short stories and other original formatting.

It has been great experience reading my peers’ writing, critiquing and listening to other people’s feedback.

Last Monday, I submitted my first piece for critique. I decided to submit the first two chapters of my manuscript. My first inclination had been to submit a different scene I was struggling with, but Rachel made a good point: when submitting a manuscript for review or possible publication the beginning is so important.

Even if I am happy with how it is, who knows what kind of amazing suggestions or ideas I could get? So I decided to submit the beginning of my manuscripts in hopes of receiving great feedback.

I have been anxious all week. I am very excited to hear what kind of critique people will say in next Monday’s workshop. No matter what, it will be a helpful learning experience.

What experiences have other writers had with workshops? Have you found the feedback helpful, distressing, obnoxious? I would love to hear from all of you bloggers out there and  as always, Happy Writing!

Calling All Writers–Online Writing Group

Those of you who have been following my blog know that one of my goals for my “Year of Writing” was to join a writing group.

Well, now I have joined two, and I’m hooked. The experience has been very positive, and being surrounded by a community of writers is so inspiring. But that is a post for another day.

Today, I am wondering who out there may be interested in an online writing exchange. I have communicated with a few other bloggers who expressed an interest in this. So I am testing the waters.

I’m open to suggestions, but I can imagine the following format:

  • Each participant will submit a piece once a week to a group of writers via email. Let’s say our day for submissions is Wednesday. So as not to overload each other, I would suggest a maximum word count of maybe 1,500 words.
  • Once you receive another writers piece, we will read and make our own written comments. We could do line edits as well as a paragraph or so of feedback. I personally would like both positive and negative critique, as long as it is constructive.
  • The reviewer will have one week to return the piece to the writer. We should return the piece with our edits and comments by the following Wednesday. When we start all over again.
  • Writers could submit a continuous piece, if they are working on a manuscript or a novel. We could do individual pieces, short stories, fiction, poetry, whatever interests you.
  • If people would like to do “group chats” that could also be a possibility, although I am fine doing it all via emails.

Again, this is just an idea, and I am very open to other writers opinions. Please let me know if something like this is of interest to you! I look forward to sharing work with you all, and as always, Happy Writing!

Joining a Writing Group

At the beginning of the year one of my goals was to join a writing group. It is an important way not only to connect with other people who share similar interests but also to receive important feedback and critique.

Since I am not living in a big city my options are rather limited. I was surprised to find how few writing groups there are in Western Massachusetts. Here are a few that I’ve found:

Northampton, MA: I was in touch with the leader of this writing group. It is a ten-week course with weekly sessions. Each session includes a writing exercise followed by reading. However, only two people get “positive feedback only” on their writing. The other people just get to read with no feedback (otherwise, in the words of the group leader, we would be there all night). I don’t really see the point in receiving only positive feedback, but maybe some other people out there have had good experiences with this technique. I will go to a trial class in two weeks to check it out.

Amherst, MA: This is another ten-week session with weekly meetings. Writing ranges from fiction to poetry to essays. Sounds pretty interesting, but one of the things that makes me hesitate is that I would be the youngest person there, by at least two decades. I know it is important to make connections with writers of all generations, but I do feel like the age gap may make it a little harder for them to understand my writing. I’m going to a trial class this week to see what it’s like.

Hadley, MA: This is an eight-week workshop whose participants are mostly post-college writers. The spring session is focusing only on fiction, which is great. Participants will get two workshops where they share work with the class, receive line edits as well as a one-page critique of the piece. I think this will be the best group for me to join, due to the age and interest of the participants and what I can expect to receive in terms of feedback.

I am very excited to be joining this group, along with my good friend Halie Mills, whose writing of poetry and prose inspires me. I hope that being surrounded by other young writers will help give me further perspective as I continue working on my manuscript.

If any readers out there have any comments or suggestions about finding a writing group I would love to hear from you!