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Monday, November 30, 2015

Week 48: Use Your Imagination

Use Your Imagination to Write with Personality and Style

by Tamara Passey

What do you think about when you stare at the stars?

When you see clouds does it make you wonder? 
What about spring flowers?

And where exactly is this bench? 
And who could be meeting there? And why? 

This week is all about using your imagination to add personality to your writing. It is adding the unexpected to our pages that can make them come alive. How do you spark your imagination? Wilbers shares an example from the poet Michael Dennis Browne who would sometimes ask his students to write as many outlandish lies as they could think of in the first few minutes of class.
"Don't overthink it," he would say. "Just write whatever comes to mind."
He found that his students were more fanciful, expansive, and creative in their exploration of what was possible in their poetry. 1

"At its deepest level, imagination enables us to associate words and thoughts. If we had no imagination at all, we would lack faith in the value and meaning of words. To varying degrees, every writer (and every reader) possesses imagination. To use language is to enter a symbolic world. Every word uttered, every sentence written, is an act of imagination."

"Without that spark [imagination], a writer's relationship to language becomes superficial and rigid. To write without creativity is to underestimate the potential of language." 2

Take a minute to think about your own imagination. What has fed it and fueled it in the past? What are exercises that help you get to a place where anything can be possible on the page? Some writers set a timer for 10 minutes and write freely, never using that writing for anything other than priming their pump, so to speak. Experiment the next time you sit down to write, spend a few minutes conjuring up some outlandish lies, or simply let your mind wander wherever it wants to go--and then see if your writing reflects some new twists, or even better--new verbs, you weren't expecting.

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 267
2. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 268, italics and bold added for emphasis

Monday, November 23, 2015


by Valerie Ipson

By Week 47 we have learned a variety of techniques that can make our words dance and sing on the page. Tired, oft-used cliches, though, have the opposite effect. They can bore the reader, or show our laziness as a writer. 

"According to Donald Hall, relying on the easy choices, on trendy words and cliches, causes us to end our search for more precise language..."1 

Stephen Wilbers says, "The first time it rained cats and dogs was brilliant, now it's a cliche."2

It's not that we have to avoid all cliches. They can be useful because their very commonality means they're easily understood. But a well-crafted phrase, even an old cliche twisted into something new, freshens our writing and delights the reader.  

Like this one: An apple a day still can't beat pizza.

I think we all understand that.

1 Mastering the Craft, p 261
2 Mastering the Craft, p 264

Monday, November 16, 2015

Week 46: Return to Your Metaphors and Similes

This year's posts have been like a mouse nibbling at cheese. Each week, a different lesson on writing, until the whole book has nearly been consumed, one morsel at a time.

This week's lesson, Wilbers has us reconnecting with our metaphors and similes throughout our work, like the mouse returning to his feast. It's something "... every good essayist or storyteller knows" how to do.1

We are warned though that this technique works well when you have three criteria: "they're simple, apt, and novel."2 When they are forced, however, it can be a distraction. Cliche metaphors may even be glossed right over by your readers.

John Mather, senior astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center used this technique giving us insight into the evolution of the formation of galaxies:

"We thought galaxies formed just like they are. But now we think they grew, they assembled themselves from smaller pieces. It might have been like rain on the side of a hill. First you get little rivulets that flow together into a larger stream."3

Or Thoreau's famous passage from Walden:

"A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next to the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows."4

Now that we've had a taste of this concept, try your hand at it:

1. The wind had been through/the valley/ leaving everything cold/ and gleaming/ like bells.

2. The sheer weight of one of these icy leviathans, some of which grew to a thickness of two miles, flattened the crust of the earth.5

1 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 255.
2 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 256.
3 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 258.
4 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing,  pg 258.
5 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing,  pg 257.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Week 45: Use Analogies and Comparisons to Enliven Your Writing

by Tamara Passey

Comparisons. In the pop-psychology of the day we are told repeatedly to stop comparing--mainly ourselves to other people. Comparing can be the downfall of a decent amount of self-esteem, the undoing of some well-earned confidence, the snag that unravels a perfectly knitted day.

See what I did there? Okay, what I tried to do there? Use some metaphors and analogies to make my point. So if we want to keep that skip in our step and feel our confident best, we need to avoid comparisons. But if we want to make an enduring impression on our reader with our writing, metaphors, similes, and analogies are just what the doctor ordered.

Wilbers points out that "Your chances of creating a good analogy are greater if you know how to recognize a bad one." 1

And with that he gives some examples of  'delightfully bad' comparisons. Followed by more examples of better comparisons. And yes, please find the book, read the chapter and get up to speed on how to use metaphors and similes properly and effectively. But for now, I think we've worked pretty hard in the preceding weeks and can take a minute to blow off some steam, you know, like one of those old trains that used to run on steam? *Ahem* Sorry, okay, I couldn't resist the opportunity to use a bad analogy to introduce more...bad analogies.

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met. 2
Funny? Yes. Bad? No doubt about it.

Here's a few more I found:

The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
Now it's your turn. Leave a comment with your favorite bad analogy,

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 250 
2. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 250

Monday, November 2, 2015


Easy Peasy
by Valerie Ipson

This might be the easiest lesson to blog about. Basically, it reminds us of what we learned about rhythm over the last several lessons (all those interesting Greek words known as schemes)and then says, don't overdo it. Whether you're using epistrophe,anaphora, or anadiplosis a little goes a long way.

Here's an example from the book, actually one taken from another book, Flood: A Romance of Our Time:

"The big sycamore by the creek was gone. The willow tangle was gone. The little enclave of untrodden bluegrass was gone. The clump of dogwood on the little rise across the creek--now that, too, was gone,"1

Here the author, Robert Penn Warren, uses epistrophe (repetition) to create a rhythm and then alters the beat at the end for a pleasing effect.

So, the moral of this blog post is: Establish a rhythm in your writing, then vary it because too much of a good thing is, well, too much.

1 MTC, pg 248