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.

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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.