Our writing club members got tired of writing about our small town. For the last year or so we wrote articles on every Happy Camp topic we could think of. After a while it got repetitive because our experiences and opinions stayed the same. So I got the bright idea to buy a writing practice book for the club, for Christmas. As it turns out, everyone enjoys doing the exercises in the book and we’re going to stick with that for a while. The book is Take Ten for Writers: 1000 writing exercises to build momentum in just 10 minutes a day by Bonnie Neubauer.
The book has 100 scenarios, each of them having 10 variations. Before you start reading you pick a number… from 1 through 10. Usually we choose different numbers but if two writers get the same number, it is no big deal. We all think very differently. We write together for a few minutes – usually ten to twenty minutes – and then read our compositions to the group. We like this a lot. Personally, I don’t like face-to-face critique groups. I have an online critique group I appreciate very much. There we do our critiques (crits) via Word, on virtual paper, and I get great responses from them because they are all fiction writers for children and teens, as I am. It helps that we all write the same genre. So our in-person local writers group is not for critique… but only for writing fun. Bonnie’s book works in just fine because it is a lot of fun.
To give an idea of our writing experiences using Bonnie’s book, I’ll share with you my first three compositions.
Writing Exercise #1
Exercise one was to imagine myself in a space craft. I had to make a ten-word “warp-o-gram” report to my superior officer, then write in my private journal for a while. I chose #7, which said I had to use the words, “monsoon-like winds”. Here’s what I wrote:
Ten-word warp-o-gram: Monsoon-like winds ripped hole in aft wing; lost navigation.
10/10/3010 – After a long episode of instability in the last two weeks we’ve reached the outer sections of the Milky Way galaxy, only to discover monsoon-like winds battering our craft to the point where sections of the exterior were destroyed. There seems to be no hope left among the crew and we’ve gathered in the auditorium for supplication and prayer.
If we’re to perish we all hope it can be soon before the Andante find us again. Currently we’re spinning out of control dangerously close to the orbit of a blue and white planet. We get nearer with every moment that passes. Unfortunately we know this place to be Terra, where wars continually are waged and nobody is safe.
Our choice: die in space or drift into a dangerous civilization where we must adjust to their primitive lifestyle. Death is the easy way out. There is something to be learned from perpetual danger – and that is that we must find our own stability and peace from within – and cease to expect it from the environment we’ve found ourselves in.
Comment: That was short and sweet. I’m used to writing a lot more during practice sessions but the exercises in this book are so challenging I may make some of my responses short. Given that we’re supposed to be able to do these exercises in only ten minutes, I expect that short compositions are appropriate. I found the science fiction aspect of this assignment to be challenging… as that’s not my usual genre. I’m much more comfortable with contemporary or historical fiction.
Writing Exercise #2
The scenario was that I was involved in a ball game, when the ball hit me in the head and knocked me unconscious for ten minutes. During that time I had a vivid dream, which I should write about. I chose #6 and got three phrases to incorporate into my writing: “out of commission”, “out of tune”, and “out of turn”. Here’s what I wrote:
I was in the music room at my high school and was given a piccolo to play. I started to blow on it and all the finger positions came naturally to me even though I’ve never played one before. I made the sweetest, most beautiful music I’ve ever heard on that piccolo for a few minutes, and then noticed that all the musicians around me were severely out of tune. That began to bother me and I quit making music – hoping I’d be able to figure out what they were doing and match my music to theirs — but it soon became apparent they were all tone deaf and doing their own thing. I started playing my piccolo again and nobody noticed no matter how loudly or erratically I played it.
The conductor rapped on the podium with his baton. Everyone immediately quit playing their instruments. The conductor walked over to me and took back the piccolo then threw it across the room where it shattered into a million pieces against the wall. “Your instrument seems to be out of commission,” he said with a smirk, and everyone in the room laughed at me. I blushed and ran to the door to leave – but the door wouldn’t budge. “You’re locked in,” the conductor said, “just like the rest of us.”
“What? Is this the music room pits of Hell?” I asked. I wondered if I was dead and looked at the ceiling to see if there were any skylights that might give me access to Heaven.
There was one small skylight but I couldn’t see any way to get up to it. Then a violinist stood up and came to me. “You want to go up?” she asked.
“Yes, you too?”
She nodded. “There’s only one way to get there from here,” she told me. “You must be elevated by the beauty of your music.”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a flute. “Try this,” she suggested. “This time, play only the music that comes from your heart. Anything else is like playing out of turn.
I did as she suggested. Once again, I was magically able to play beautiful music though I’d never learned to play a flute. All the music I played came straight from my heart. I no longer paid attention to anyone else in the room, including the conductor. They all ceased to exist. I became enmeshed in this flute music and at times heard sweet harmonies coming from a violin. Then suddenly I woke up to the pain of my head, throbbing. That was the strangest dream I’ve ever had in my entire life.
My comment on that: Seems like a profound dream in that it shows the value of non-conformity… one of the themes of my life. What is better – to play the same as everyone else, or to play from your heart and ascend to Heaven?
Writing Exercise #3
Spoonerisms. Our assignment was to write a story or essay using a spoonerism. FYI – a spoonerism consists of two phrases that exchange the first letters of two words. Discovered by W.A. Spooner. My spoonerisms, for #4, were “I must send the mail,” and “I must mend the sail.” The assignment was to start with the first spoonerism phrase, and end the story or essay with the second. Here’s what I got:
I must send the mail while on shore leave. I do not want to send the mail, but it is now or … wait another year, perhaps, until I earn shore leave again. And it is time to let my brother know why I left.
I nod at the newsboy on the corner. He yells out, “Paper! Get your paper here!” I give him a small copper coin. He hands me the Norfolk Times and I look at the front page.
The first headline to catch my eye is “Remember The Past,” and I groan, thinking that the past is only pain. Then I read, under that, “Shipwrecked, Off Louis Island,” the report of a sailing ship’s sad demise.
Now I wonder why I bothered to buy this newspaper and realize I am caught between the past and a possible watery grave. I take the letter out of my pocket and re-read it as I stand outside the post office.
“Dear Michael. Your brother lives. I am south of New Jersey at port. Left your home after meeting your wife’s sister at the town square three years past. She threatened to kill me if I wouldn’t marry her. I would consider either option a life sentence, so I left and did not want to distress you or your wife with my complaints. Your loving brother, Shane.”
I pass the letter into the hands of the postal officer, who places it into an envelope and addresses it to Michael Smith of Newark. He takes my money.
I hope the letter will start to mend our relationship, and then walk back to the wharf and board the Neubauer.
“Would you like to take more time on shore?” Captain Ross asks. I shake my head, no. I don’t want to be in this town any longer. “No, I’ve had enough,” I say, “and now I must mend the sail.”
My comment on that: Not my best flash fiction ever, as the ending is a bit weak. However I love the character and setting. I’m also not used to writing in present tense and found it a bit hard to maintain – frequently slipping into past tense.
Anyhow, I hope that shows what the book is about: fun assignments that stretch the imagination and force us to learn to write in new ways. Bonnie Neubauer’s book is imaginative, and that’s exactly what you’ll be when you work with this book, because it pushes, stretches, pulls, and massages the imagination in a million different ways. I knew we had a hit when my dear friend, D., said (after our first day of using the book) …and I quote… “I hate this book!” You see, D. is (or was) exclusively a writer of philosophy and satire based on facts. This book, and its writing practice exercises, have taken him away from his writing comfort zone and planted him firmly in la-la land with the rest of us fiction writers.
Even though I have a strong background in fiction writing, Take Ten for Writers challenges me too. For example, the science fiction piece, exercise one in the book. I have dabbled in science fiction. I love the IDEA of science fiction … and you can see some of my sci-fi dabbling here on this site in Emil’s Box. However placing myself inside a space craft, trying to describe the damage done by monsoon-like winds, looking down at a planet… these were all mind-warping to me. The journaling idea, I was fine with. I haven’t mentioned it much here on this site but I’ve managed to fill dozens of notebooks with my journaling scribbles.
Anyhow, I need to wind this up and get downtown to pick up my mail. I do an errands-run every afternoon at about 4pm and right now it is 4:20 which has nothing to do with marijuana which I don’t smoke, or drink, or use in any other way if I can possibly avoid it. Just thought I’d mention that since the number came up. (420=cannibis for those who don’t know. Just a few short years ago I had no clue. This is the type of thing moms learn from their teenagers.) Anyhow, that’s the time, and I need to be off… just wanted to post my three writing exercises and give Bonnie Neubauer’s book a resounding thumbs-up.