Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing

Does my novel pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

I just learned about the Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test, as Bechdel prefers to call it to credit her friend, Ms. Wallace) from Andrea Lundgren’s recent blog post. This test requires in fiction or movies that 1) two women be present and named 2) talk to one another 3) about something other than a man.

I do find it intriguing to ask this question as I write my first novel about a young American unconventional horsewoman in the early 1900s. I have created as a part of the plot that Fiona, the main character, travel to India. There she interacts on various topics with her host in Calcutta, Amita, who becomes both friend and mentor to her.

Topics they discuss vary about Christianity, Quakerism, and Hinduism to questions about the social mores expressed in public Indian erotic art. The two women broaden their dialogues to include the value of education for women to the psychological foundations of women to chart their own adventures.

I am pleased to know my novel passes with flying colors. Fiona and Amita are “stars” in this regard.

What about your fiction? Does it pass the test, too?

I bet it does. And good for you if it does!

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Posted in Craft of writing, Writers' Groups, Writing, Writing Groups

Writers are often INFJs or INFPs, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Lauren Sapala, the author of The INFJ Writer in a recent blog post, writes there is no coincidence that many writers are INFJs or INFPs, which are terms for the personality types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The types are a four-part combination of four spectrums of likely thoughts, actions, behaviors that generate a personality type. These types are used to better understand ourselves and others, to improve communication between different types, and to work more effectively. But the types should not be used to label or box people into narrow definitions of self or others.

There were four possible pairs of personality traits:

  • Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
  • Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

These four sets of dichotomies create sixteen personality types. A brief description of each can be found at The Myers-Briggs website.

INFJ and INFP are closely related because three of the indicators are the same INF.

Isabel Briggs-Myers, the daughter of Katherine Cook Briggs (the co-founders of the indicator index) says,

Good type development can be achieved at any age by anyone who cares to understand his or her own gifts and the appropriate use of those gifts.

Read Lauren’s insightful blog post to understand the increased likelihood that you (and I) as a writer will be an introverted (I), intuitive (N), and feeling (F) person who leans toward perceiving (P) or judging (J).

I found Lauren Sapala’s blog post useful and insightful. I also have her book. Check it out for yourself.

Lauren Sapala states,

It wasn’t until I started coaching so many other Highly Sensitive People (who are also highly creative people, empaths, and intuitives) that I realized there is a very good reason so many of us have turned to writing as a lifeline.

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Writing exercises

Revise a draft using the five senses.

Another way to revise our travel stories (or any story or scene) is to use the senses to describe the setting, the characters, and the action. Using the words “I smell…, we heard…, or you may taste…” is NOT the point. We can imply the senses by using rhythm with our words or utilizing descriptors that convey the sense itself.

Using a draft of flow-writing from my last blog post, today I’ll add more description by writing with the senses.  I have highlighted my revisions in red. See how it enhances the overall writing?

The interior room, used for yoga class at the Red Buddha Yoga and Wellness stands rather zen-like. The space feels quiet and serene, much like a chapel. Reverence for the body, the yoga poses, the breath. The stillness massages the nerves of my skin.

The other yogis arrived this morning for the same experience I’m expecting. We are greeted by a massive red-and-yellow bouquet, incense curling in the air, and lemon water to sate our thirst.

We adore Meg and her soft, lilting voice keeping time with the music while lightly snapping her fingers to the inhale and exhale. That musical voice of hers takes us into, through and out of each yoga pose.

Meg, the golden-headed goddess, lithely floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife, birthing her thousandth asana. We follow the motion, the hold, and the release with ease.

The chamber sits with a cool, bare floor. It is wall-to-wall empty, but ready, waiting for the birth of Nirvana. With nothing to impede our progress, the breath-beating music relaxes us, Meg’s entranced voice focuses us, and we move to the breath that entrains us together.

Feel the difference? See the richness of the prose? Grasp a sense of the place, of Meg the instructor, the experience? Do you understand the yearning for a place like this by the participants?

Then you know the value of writing with our senses.

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing exercises, Writing Workshops

Flow Writing followed by 3-step Revision

Flow Writing 

In a recent Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative JouMe w. handout (2)rnal Writing workshop with lively participants, I explained that I developed the writing exercises as a result of not having the right kind of material from my journals when drafting my coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.

I offered a flow writing activity. 1) Describe a memory from a notable trip. 2) Before writiJulie writingng, prime the pump (brain) with six words that convey feelings about the memory. 3) Then write fast and wild and free without stopping, editing, or rethinking. I allowed them about eight minutes and called time.

I’ll share my timed, flow writing as an example that I wrote during the last three minutes of their writing. Here I  write about the new yoga studio I visited on Isla Mujeres this year.

Feelings: calm, quiet, dark, serene, zen, meditative

Flow Writing Example (think-rough draft)

The new indoor yoga studio is rather zen-like. It’s quiet and serene, like a church. Reverence for the body, the movement, the breath. The others are there for the same. We love Meg. Like a goddess, she floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife — birthing her first one-thousandth baby or asana. The space is sparse, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. Nothing to impede our progress. The music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the joy of the breath.

Next I suggested a three-step revision process to illustrate thaMarlene and Julie writingt our first draft is never what we want it to be.

Revision Steps 

Look for any noun that is general and make it more specific. If you have written the word “car,” now replace it with a make or model, Lexus or F-150.

Strike every verb that is not an action verb (was, had been, would have been), and rewrite it so you use an active, powerful, explicit verb. (My example will show what I mean below.)

Then add at least one simile or metaphor to give the reader a deeper understanding of what you are describing.

Revision Example

 The interior room at the Red Buddha Yoga Studio stands rather zen-like. The space feels quiet and serene, much like a chapel. Reverence for the body, the yoga poses, the breath. The other yogis arrived this morning for the same experience I expected. We adore Meg and her unique skill of guiding us through yoga poses. Meg, the goddess, golden and lithe, floats through the room and offers instruction, like a midwife, birthing her one-thousanth asana. The chamber sits with a bare floor wall-to-wall, empty, ready, waiting for the baby. With nothing to impede our progress, the music relaxes us, Meg’s voice focuses us, and we move to the breath that entrains us.

Summary 

From this example, I hope you can see how using a few emotion-packed words before writing focuses the brain on the outcome of a descMarlene writingription you want to write. Allowing the mind to write freely without the “editor” stopping or slowing you, gets words on the page from a travel experience.

Then a simple revision of replacing general nouns and passive verbs with specific, precise and meaningful substitutions can bring the writing to life. Add a simile or metaphor for color and interest.

Do you have other simple ways to edit your work to make it more dynamic and readable?

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing exercises

Insight from Travel through Journal Writing Exercise

Ira Progoff’s “Stepping Stones” Journal Writing Exercise

Stepping Stones is a journal writing exercise developed by Ira Progoff. He conducted research about how individuals develop more fulfilling lives. In his role as psychotherapist, he found that clients who wrote about their life experiences were able to work through issues more rapidly. Through this research, he then developed and refined the Intensive Journal Method to provide a way to encourage the processes by which people learn, grow, and develop as individuals.

I have adapted his Stepping Stones process to use in reflecting on your travels. It is particularly useful in writing a memoir or learning to explore the world more intentionally. Give it a try!

Stepping Stone Activity #1

Make a list of what happened during a memorable event or series of events during a past journey. Use short sentences to convey what occurred. Begin the list with your starting point. “I am packed and ready to go.” Here is my list from a trip I made when I was twenty-seven to the United Kingdom in 1980 with everything on my back and no plans. (If you are interested, read my coming-of-age, travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.)513KiIBFrSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

  • I am packed and ready to go.
  • I arrive in London.
  • I find hospitality with M&M.
  • Hospitality turns caustic.
  • Take train north toward Scotland
  • Stay lost in Edinburgh
  • Enjoy the magic of Isle of Skye
  • Regret the turbulence of schedules
  • Relish the oasis of York
  • Relax in the calm of Wales
  • Plagued by disappointment in schedules
  • Headed to London and home

Stepping Stone Activity #2

Now choose one of those events and list stepping stones, as Progoff calls them. Using the four functions that make a complete experience, recall your responses (or stepping stones) in each category. The functional categories are: feeling (heart); thinking (mind); intuiting (spirit); and sensing (body). See my examples below taken from and using the bulleted item above, “plagued by disappointment.”

Feeling

  • Disappointed in self
  • Lonely
  • Disheartened
  • Angry

Thinking

  • Questioning: How did I get in this mess?
  • Blaming: I should have known better than to travel without plans
  • Rethinking: I should have anticipated this. I should have considered traveling with a friend
  • Obsessing: I should have; I could have; I better not next time; Why, what, how? Now what?

Intuiting

  • It will get better. This can’t continue for another week.
  • Just keep going. It will get better.
  • If it doesn’t, I can go home early.
  • I’m tired of making decisions alone; I’m ready to go home.

Sensing

  • My Achilles’ tendon is pulled taut.
  • The backpack seems heavier each day.
  • I’m limping.
  • I’m exhausted; I no longer am rested when I wake up.

Stepping Stone Activity #3

Now review your lists above as a holistic view of that experience in your travels. Writing about an episode in time helps you recapture the journey that shaped your response, reaction, or reflection that may, in turn, have influenced your destiny. Start your summary with these words, “It was a time…” Writing can help you learn from a missed lesson; one you did not fully absorb; and/or guide you to be intentional in the future. See my summary as an example.

It was a time when my body was breaking down from the amount of walking and carrying weight with which I was unaccustomed. It was a time when train schedules fell apart because I didn’t know about national holidays. I was lonely with no one to help make a decision whether to stay or move on. I had wanted this trip to serve as another marker of independence. I had looked forward to it and now was so disappointed in myself—hoping for a good ending. I came to question every move I made or didn’t make. I obsessed questioning myself and berating myself for not being up to the adventure. I felt my confidence wavering and I felt defeated by one happenstance after another that wouldn’t let me enjoy the rest of the trip. I just wanted to go home. But being a never-give-up kind of person I didn’t want to give in. That was not the picture I had of myself. I decided to let the cost of going home or staying make the decision for me. That too didn’t work. It came out a wash. So, in the end, crying on a park bench in London I made the decision to go home. I wondered what people passing by must think of this crybaby. It was not the picture of myself I had in my mind when I left home.

You can see from the example of my troublesome trip that this writing exercise offered insight into myself. The trip had crippled my body and as a result my view of myself as a confident young woman striding through the world. I literally limped home early.

What this activity does not show is the pride I carried back with me, nonetheless, because I had walked the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I had accomplished it, though with a different end in mind.

513KiIBFrSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.)

Try this journal writing exercise and see what results you find. Then share with me and others what you discover. I’m eager to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Craft of writing, Writing, Writing exercises

BUILDING TENSION

A WRITING EXERCISE THAT HELPS BUILD TENSION

Open your thesaurus; go to any letter in the alphabet. Pick words from that letter that prompts questions that may help you think about your characters, plot, setting, dialogue, actions, emotions, and especially tension. Then for every word, develop a question that can push you deeper into your story, hopefully building tension in your book, story, or scene.

MY EXAMPLE

I chose the letter “D,” because desire is the beginning of all tension. Your character wants something—whether it is an external goal, like the inheritance, the murderer, or a lover; or an internal motivation, such as confidence, freedom, acceptance, or maybe to be understood by someone. Desire can be dampened, dangerous, delayed, or denied. (Yeah, I’m leaning heavy on alliteration, but just in this one blog.)

See, I’m just playing around with words. Being playful is the heart of the creative process. Also, you can think of it as a working exercise in which you can use random words that will take you to unexpected, and yet productive, powerful places in our writing.

Here are the ones I pulled and the questions I drafted for each. The queries provide me tips, hints, and techniques that in turn give me ways to access new ideas for my novel.

Dilemma:  What kinds of problems can I generate for my protagonist, Fiona?

Discord:  Where can I create relationship issues between characters that make the story more complex and intriguing?

Draw (either stalemate or attraction): How can I bring in mistakes or misunderstandings that generate a stalemate? How can I illustrate the first attraction between characters and then continually enhance that attraction over time?

Denial = What element(s) in Fiona’s life can I deny her to thwart her primary desire, to gain acceptance from others when she’s unconventional?

Dream:  How do I articulate Fiona’s dream or desire through action and dialogue?

Disaster:  What natural disaster is logical and reasonable based on the setting and environment to add depth, complexity, and tension to the story?

Disappointment:  How can I express disappointment through body language in various characters?

Danger:  What dangers might my characters encounter that will force them to know themselves better?

Dire straits:   What situations could I develop within the plot that create emotional tension and make characters have to fight for what they want?

Dogged problems:  What problem(s) won’t go away; and therefore, continue to frustrate and inhibit Fiona in the pursuit of her longing?

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. — E. L. Doctorow

FIND YOUR OWN PROMPTS

Replicate the exercise, or use my example as a launching pad. Plunge in and find the questions you need to answer for your story or scene. It can aid you in writing fiction, your memoir, a story, or a difficult scene.

What kind of success or struggles did you have with this approach? I’d like to hear from you.

 

 

Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Writing

A writing exercise for insight into your memoir’s main characters, you

BACKGROUND for the EXERCISE 

“The stranger at the heart of my journey is me—transformed.” — Joseph Dispenza in his book, The Way of the Traveler (p. 97)

Dispenza suggests in his book that the people we meet in our travels can serve as mirrors of ourselves in what we portray to the world. Or these folks, whether strangers or not during our adventures, may contain qualities that we lack and wish we had. For our memoir, this is one way to gain insight that we need to write a more textured and full-bodied story of our life. So try this.

How to conduct the EXERCISE 

Recall memorable folks from your travels. List three or four with names or descriptions, if you don’t know names. Then write characteristics of each. Examples might include; interesting, odd, cavalier, smart, engaging, irritating, or rude–whatever comes to mind. This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish we could call ours in our inner world. Now can you use these characteristics of yourself clarified as you write your next scene or story from your life and/or travels?

This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish was ours in our inner world. When you identify what these characteristics are from viewing the characters you encountered, now can you use these clarifications of yourself when you write your next scene or story.

In my memoir, At Home in the World, I encountered a pastor in Hawaii. As a seventeen-year-old girl, I saw him as intelligent, culturally insightful, and eager to share what he knew with me and other summer missionaries that were more than half his age. His tutelage grew out of his caring for others. He cultural take on the world was crafted from his Christian background.

Passage from my book, At Home In the World 

I write about him, “Dr. Shiroma, as a Japanese Christian is an enigma. As a pastor, he is over-educated. He carries his history, culture, and language with him, yet he lives in another country with a history, culture, and language that have been antithetical to his own. Christ’s love has found a way around all that and claims it all.

“… He explains what happened to the Japanese post-WWII, tracks the trials of Hawaiian statehood, and illuminates interracial marriages that created an amalgamated Hawaiian culture. I learn words I may never get to use, like miscegenation and mulatto. …

“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology with us, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. More synapses in my gray matter, more connections in my white matter. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.”

REWRITE

Because I did not have this exercise available to me when writing my memoir, I did not make the most of this encounter with Dr. Shiroma. Here is what I could have done with passage and created a more nuanced memoir. (Maybe I’ll rewrite it.)

“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.

“Time spent with Dr. Shiroma opened my eyes to the diversity of the world outside of my small Arkansas town. I felt my heart open to the history of the Japanese in America. I felt the reality of different races intermarrying not as a problem, but a way to minimize our differences. This cultural idea, contrary to traditional views, shaped my future self and view of the world. I left Hawaii with an understanding of myself as a global citizen. Not as a Christian set apart (as some would have wanted it), but a Christian committed to making the world more open and compassionate.”

See how studying a significant person on one of my travels, helped me see myself more deeply? Something I might not have been able to do without insight from the exercise.

Have you tried something similar with simlar or different outcomes? Are you willing to try this and share your results? Let us know.

 

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Writing, Writing Myths

Writing Myth

Myth Bluster: I cannot write worth a hoot!

This is what we often tell ourselves–what I call myth bluster or misconceptions about our writing. And sometimes others imply it by their lack of interest in our work or a comment that sounds and feels negative to us. We must believe in ourselves and our ability to improve over time. Here is what we need to be thinking instead to bust previous myth bluster.

Myth Busters: If I write, I am a writer. If I don’t write well, I can learn to write better. Work makes wishes come true.  

The truth is it is all a matter of perspective. We can tell ourselves a different story about our ability to write, and then start making progress. So put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Start writing what is on your mind or in your heart.

I’ll be offering some writing prompts in the near future. I hope they will be useful to you.

Here is another myth buster to previous thinking or myth bluster:

Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. 

Comments from anyone?

 

Posted in journal writing, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing Workshops

Treat Yourself to a Writing Retreat

Why go to a “travel journal writing retreat” while traveling? Why not? What better time? Why not here (Isla Mujeres, Mexico) and now (February 7)?

Why?

Get inspired to write your nightly notes or scribbled itinerary or captured conversations while in route. During the “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” workshop, discover new techniques to trap your memories on paper in words and sketches. Share your journal writing experiences with other travelers. Explore multiple journal writing tools and techniques to use, as well as identify topics you might not have thought to pursue.

Why Not?

You are on a break from your day-to-day routine. This is when you are more open to taking in new perspectives on your travel, your world back home, and/or who you are and want to become.

What better time?

Travel time provides the perfect circumstance for nourishing your creativity. You have more flexible time. Different scenery offers new outlooks. Various people (you might not otherwise spend time with) come and go temporarily from whom you can learn.

Why not here and now?

The Red Buddha yoga studio serves as lovely, soulful place for a writing retreat in Isla Mujeres, Mexico; February 7, 6-9pm. The three-hour workshop costs $50 USD (or equivalent pesos), a bargain for the fun of spending time with like-minded folks and for the years of enhanced journal writing experiences you will log.

Transformative travel happens when …

  • sojourners anticipate, mentally rehearse, and build expectations for the future;
  • explorers experience places, people, and circumstance that challenge and test them;
  • adventurers return home with stories that have transformed their thinking, actions, and perspectives.

For more workshop information, click below.

 announcement-of-isla-feb-7-workshop

Posted in journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing Workshops

Get Candace Raredon’s “Travel Sketching 101” FREE

I invite you to go Candace Rardon’s website for her FREE e-book, “Travel Sketching 101” launch and giveaway. Even if you are not an artist, this is a lovely book with ideas for sketching–even for those of us whose artistic genius matured and ended in the third grade, like mine.

I tell you about this because I believe her instruction book can greatly enhance our travel journals with images. Visual images, like words, help us collect and retain memories in our travel journals.

REMINDER: I will hold a fun, interactive writing workshop on Isla Mujeres, Mexico entitled, “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” on Tuesday evening, February 7, from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Red Buddha yoga studio, #22 Juarez Avenue. You will get to write from 2-3 different prompts, share, practice writing with all six senses, and develop techniques, topics, and tools.

In the workshop, you will get to write 2-3 different entries from prompts given, share, practice writing with all six senses, and develop techniques, topics, and tools.

If want to take advantage of this unique opportunity while traveling for only $50 (or equivalent pesos), please email me (rwileyjones@gmail.com) or complete the form below, as soon as possible to hold your place in the workshop. Pay on site.