Musical Memories

"The last thing that anyone forgets, even if they have Alzheimer's, is the music they loved when they were 12 to 14 years old."

--Meredith Born

In ten minutes, make a list of songs that evoke a particular time and place in your life. Include family songs, popular songs, forbidden songs, traditional songs, camp songs, religious songs, jingles, songs you listened to on record players, transistor radios, 8-tracks, cassette players, CD players, or Ipods.

Include the first music that grabbed you as a young person--the songs you listened to over and over hundreds of times, the songs you fell in love to, the songs that made you cry. Your personal anthems. Make your list as broad and varied as ... [Continue Reading]

Lower Your Standards

“Lower your standards and keep writing.” --Willliam Stafford

Write a really bad story, something you know is really bad. Use every cliché or hackneyed phrase you can think of, every boring plot device. Include one-dimensional, predictable characters and lousy dialogue. Cut loose. Have fun writing your really bad story. It will loosen up the perfectionist in you.

... [Continue Reading]

Obstacles to Writing

“Most commitments that keep me from my writing are masks that I put up to hide my fear and my failure to do what I need and want most to do. If my belief in my own work is strong, other commitments will adjust themselves. Human beings have free will. “If I could speak to myself as an 18-year-old, I would say, ‘You can say ‘no’ to the demands of your immature mother. You can insist on some privacy, some time of your own.’ If I could speak to myself as a young mother of four children, I would say, ‘You could nap with the children, then in the solitude of night or dawn, write.’ Regardless of our particular circumstances, the struggle goes on to keep at our work. If I could speak to myself just this morning when I answered the phone and the mail instead of writing, I’d say, ‘You ... [Continue Reading]

From a Rant Into the Light

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference in San Miguel Allende, Mexico. San Miguel is a charming, old colonial town in central Mexico, popular with ex-pats from the US, Canada, and all over the world. The conference drew writers from all over North America and featured a variety of workshops for writers of all skill levels, on topics ranging from fiction to memoir to blogging, from marketing to science fiction writing. It was a great conference—you should consider attending next year.

One of the personal highlights for me was the keynote speech by Sandra Cisneros. I’ve been following her work ever since she published The House on Mango Street. As someone who lives on the border between cultures, she was a great choice as the ... [Continue Reading]

Beverly Boyd: Keep It Simple, Please

The Friday morning feedback class had the great pleasure of Beverly Boyd's company through the fall of this past year. She wrote this piece in response to a prompt that began, "I prefer." 

I prefer simple things.  I like food you can taste: food that's not cluttered up with the latest exotic flavor idea.  It may be delicious and I enjoy it, but that happened to plain?


It's hard to find plain potato chips anymore amid the barbecue, sour cream and chives, cheddar ... [Continue Reading]

History of My Obsessions

"Cure for an obsession: Get another one." --Mason Cooley

Write a history of your obsessions using a maximum of 20 words. No hyphenated words allowed. 20 words max. No cheating. It's having to pare down your list that makes this an interesting assignment. Make every word count.

Here's a sample response from my son Eli, who was given the assignment, for a college application, to use 20 words to describe himself. It was his response to that assignment that gave me the idea for this prompt. If you're not around 17-year-old techy kids, you may not recognize the items on Eli's list, but it will give you the idea. In his case, the title counted as two of his words. I'll give you those two for free. Twenty words without the title. Go. This will be a great on to ... [Continue Reading]