Teachers Write 7/5 – Thursday Quick-Write

Today’s Thursday Quick-Write is courtesy of guest author D. Dina Friedman, whose titles include ESCAPING INTO THE NIGHT and PLAYING DAD’S SONG. Dina grew up in New York City and can be found online at  http://ddinafriedman.com/

When I’m stuck, I generally do one of two things:

I thumb through a book of poetry, writing down lines that appeal to me. It’s important not to think, “Oh, I could write a poem about this,” or “This would be a good thing to say about my character.” I try to simply pick lines that intrigue me, and then free-write whatever images they might bring up. Here are two lines that have worked well for me, but if they don’t work for you, feel free to pick your own.

The day is a woman who loves you…

                                                  –Richard Hugo

 

When the wind ended …

                –William Stafford

 A variation of the first-line exercise is to pick a line that can repeat itself and use that as a jumping off point. When you get stuck, come back to the original words, generating a list. Some good lines to start with:

 I remember ….

If only ….

I believe in ….

 

A second thing I tend to do when I’m stuck is look out the window, especially if I’m not at home. “Writing landscapes” helps me hone in on the key details, which are often the small unnoticed things—dust particles in the sunlight, a crumpled leaf, the bird dropping staining a cracked brick step. I try to start by simply describing what I’m seeing, but I  let that writing take me to different places. The initial attempt at literal description helps me hone my visual skills and also challenges me to use evocative, sensory language that goes beyond the physical details and helps to convey metaphor and mood.  

If your window does not jazz you, you can do the same thing by thumbing through a book of landscape photographs. I highly recommend Earth from Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. You can find many of these images on-line.

Have fun!

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26 Comments

  1. Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    The day is a woman who loves you.
    Like the grandmother oak who
    stretches her arms wide
    offering a rope swing
    for your very own pleasure.

    Jump on and sway
    or pump your legs until they ache.

    This day offers you this kind of joy,
    the joy of an open blossom–
    morning glory blue
    as deep as the Aegean Sea, the color
    of your mother’s eyes.

    She looks at you now,
    hoping you will notice
    her loving glance
    and embrace this new day
    as a gift.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      That is just beautiful, Margaret. I love the image of the rope swing in the oak tree and pumping your legs until they ache. I hopped over to your blog and read your last 8 entries and bookmarked you for inspiration.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Margaret,
      This is beautiful! You inspire looking at the day in such a beautiful way. I think I will print out your poem and post it on my mirror! We have a large Oak in our backyard like you described-no swing though! I love your poem!

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      This made my day, too. Thanks, Margaret!

      And, Dina, such great prompts!

    • Mary
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Thank you for sharing. Your images are vivid.

      Thank you, Dina, for the prompts!

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      So beautiful. You took me back to the big swing that hung in our backyard. I spent hours on that swing anchored between a giant oak and a giant slide. Just me and my calico cat, Cricket. Memories.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      This made me smile. I love the comfort and optimism that this poem envokes, the way the day just wants to be enjoyed!

  2. Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Free write from poetry, Robert Frost “I took the one less traveled by /
    And that has made all the difference. ”

    The rain was soft, streaking down the bay windows like small streams. Her finger followed one of those streams. She sat backward on the couch, like a child. She smiled, inside, at the thought. When do we stop using the couch as a prop to investigate the outside world? To use it as a cushion from running through the house? To launch off the arm into space? The world outside looked beautiful through the warped filter of rain.
    “Susan, can you turn around, please?” Dr. Tress asked.
    When do we give up the outside world to sit correctly on a couch? She wasn’t crazy. They were crazy. Sit up, elbows off the table, three meals a day, never be without a phone. Buy this, no wait buy that, it is new and improved.
    “Susan,” his voice rough with annoyance. “We only have 20 minutes left and it is easier to talk with you face to face.”
    She chuckles, face to clipboard Dr. Tress. You don’t see me, no one has seen me for years, she thinks to herself. Her hand finds a new stream. “No, I can’t turn around. The rain is more beautiful then talking right now.”

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      I am intrigued by this character, Susan. Why does she want to keep herself hidden from others? She has brilliant thoughts…why won’t she share her ideas? Should doctors get annoyed with their patients or just run with their feelings at the moment? I’ve never been on the “crazy couch” so I don’t know…just wondering! I like this scene! I like how you show her thoughts without her speaking them!

      • Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for taking the time to read my post. Using the line from the poem (and knowing his other works) I thought about the “path” of growing up, and the craziness of becoming an adult. But what if someone didn’t want to follow the path… and as a dad of five, the kids use the couch different then adults… and it all came out as the scene above… (I got some note jotted down to continue though).

        • Posted July 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          After reading what you said about kids using couches differently, I reread Susan’s story and the line, “when do we give up the outside world to sit correctly on a couch?” really jumped out at me. I think you could really take this character somewhere, especially if you are able to pull from observations of the way your kids behave–so many things that we do as children are refined as we become adults, but at what cost? Definitely an interesting question.

    • Mary
      Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      It’s as if her back protects her from the Dr.’s agenda and the couch is a bunker protecting her fro the rest of the world, except for those aspects she wishes to absorb. Fascinating! Where will you go with this?

      • Jamey
        Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, everyone for reading. This prompt just hit a unique vibe with me and these two characters have got me brainstorming a different story. This workshop has been a create place to get ideas going. Thanks again, everyone.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Susan and Dr. Tress have an interesting relationship. A relationship that I, the reader, wants to know more about. Well done!

      “When do we give up the outside world to sit correctly on a couch?” This is a great line that helps the reader understand, even connect to, the character.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I love that last line. I can see it all. I can understand her reluctance to talk to the clipboard. Nice.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for reading. It is interesting to run with a line from a poem…

  4. Posted July 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Ok, so I struggled with this…so I assumed the role of my main character from my WIP and wrote as though she struggled with her homework assignment like I did…I feel distracted today. I’m not sure why.
    Here’s my post @ http://theamyrudder.blogspot.com

  5. Posted July 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Ok, let’s try again. This didn’t work a few minutes ago. Sorry if it posts twice…
    http://theamyrudder.blogspot.com/2012/07/teachers-write-thursday-quickwrite.html
    I struggled with today’s quick write…maybe I’m distracted. So I took my WIP mc and made a scene of her doing this as a homework assignment..

  6. Posted July 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I took my favorite line – Lifetimes are catching up with me by my favorite musical poets Pearl Jam and wrote this poem

    Emotions are spilling over
    Wandering the empty hallways
    Pulling together all of the loose ends
    The last day of a long school year
    Euphoria

    My last trip to the classroom
    Only to lock the door for the summer months
    There is the stranger sitting
    In the middle of the fourth row
    Puzzling

    “You don’t remember me,” she says
    “I sat in this desk 22 years ago”
    The memories flood back
    Period 3, language arts
    Remembering

    “You were my favorite teacher”
    “I’ve been teaching 6th grade for twelve years”
    “Because of you”
    I left my mark, I made a difference
    Glory

    Lifetimes are catching up with me
    22 years after my first class
    Hundreds of students have sat in my classroom
    Sadness as I lock the door, but a new group in September
    Euphoria

    Dina, thank you for the prompt!

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Awesome! And I love Pearl Jam, too. Like the “There is the stranger sitting / In the middle of the fourth row / Puzzling

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      I like the way you summarized with an emotion at the end of each stanza; it made me take a step back for a second and just think about that emotion. The “lifetimes catching up with me” bit really fits here, too!

      • Posted July 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Jamey and Megan!

        About a year ago, I never would have shared this poem, but since last May I have found my confidence to share my writing. It is opportunities like Teachers Write that give us newbies a chance to share and feel comfortable about sharing.

        Happy writing!

  7. Posted July 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    This was a lot of fun! I took Dina’s first suggestion and used it as a starting point:

    The day is a woman who loves you.
    Sometimes, her mood matches yours:
    Sunny like your disposition,
    or stormy like your anger.

    And yet, at times, she forces you
    to see light when your world is full of shadows
    and her jealousy rains down
    the size of golf balls.

    When you least expect it,
    she tickles you with a gentle breeze
    that reminds you why you fell for her
    long before she noticed you.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Megan,
      This is beautiful! “Sunny like your disposition, or stormy like your anger.” AND
      “she tickles you with a gentle breeze that reminds you why you fell for her long before she noticed you.” – I love these lines!

      Thank you for sharing!

  8. Mary
    Posted July 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    First, Dina, this prompt has such potential. Since the thermometer is reading over 104, I am planning an evening of cool writing exploring it.

    Next, just have to say I feel like a reading/writing voyeur as I look through each day’s posts. I marvel at the talents on display and am so grateful for the opportunities this writing camp has presented. Back to the manuscript and your prompt….

  9. Posted July 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been traveling, so I didn’t check this blog until tonight. I just wanted to say I am blown away by some of the writing here. Margaret, I love the image of the grandmother oak, and the feeling of swinging until you ache. Jamey, I love all the things you are doing with the way the character is thinking about the couch. Amy, I’m impressed at how you used the line to write a poem in your character’s voice. I’ve done that and found that it often brings me closer to the character’s inner world. Andy, I like the surrealism of that stranger suddenly sitting in the fourth row–it’s very moving and you reveal a lot of the inner emotions of the speaker of the poem through attention to small details. And Megan, I love how you keep the personna of woman and relationship throughout the narrative of the poem.

    Happy writing, everyone, even though I know that writing isn’t always happy, and that prompts don’t always work for everyone every day. Yet, they’re always worth trying, because you never know when that breakthrough will come.

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