Sunday, 1 January 2017

Hyper-Awareness Writing

New Year, new lessons to plan. Where can you take your writers, and yourself? Try writing with the 8 senses. And then follow with an exercise. The senses are an absolutely essential element of creative writing, and a review of them plugs into almost any writing stimulus, any writing level.
Ask students to call out the senses. Write them on the whiteboard as they do so. The obvious come first, and then I add three others I've identified. As a demonstration I like to halt everything for a whole long minute for Sound, so we all listen: the hum of a computer, talk in the corridor, drone of a plane, a distant siren, one's own breathing... Invite your students to stretch their senses, along the lines of:

Sound – peel off layers of sound

Taste – temperature and feel of food in the mouth, nuances, memories (and as smell)

Smell – familiar, unknown, indescribable (new combinations of familiar)

Sight – panorama, close-up, middle distance; above, below; colour, texture, shape, pattern; straight, curved, angular; banish the word beautiful – what kind of beautiful?

Touch – feel under fingertips, soles of feet, bottom; hot/cold, rough/smooth; things that touch you (breeze, raindrops, rim of glass); things you touch (yak's coat, palm trunk, kelim rug)

Kinetic – body position:  awkward, comfy, stretched, cramped, turned, straight...

Inner/visceral – body organs, gut reactions:  churning stomach, tight throat, full bladder, scratchy eyes, prickling scalp, gooseflesh, genitals responding (or not)
Time – night/day, evening; light, shadow (Monet's cathedral); time creeps, time whizzes
The above is Mini-Lecture 2 from the Stimulus section of Creative Writing: the Matrix. Now for an exercise. This is Hyper-Awareness (surprise) which is number 12 in the paperback book and number 13 in the Quick Matrix ebook.
After introducing 8 Senses, before a break (coffee or lunch) instruct students to be hyper-aware of all senses, but no other instructions.  On return to class, give one of these writing exercises.
  • Sheer observation Bubble and write, describing the café break, using as many of the senses as richly as possible.
  • Character-based in two stages.  Tutor, don’t reveal the second stage til the first is written.  Stage 1. Describe the café break as seen by a character who has just had a row with a lover – a paragraph or half-page.  Stage 2.  Same break, same character, but he/she has just declared love and learned it was mutual. Describe the break experience.
Read out and enjoy the sensations. Hope you'll be revelling in rich writing all term!
PS To help you through the term there are loads of other teaching ideas and exercises in the archived blog posts here. See the Labels list. I'll be back after spring break.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Life Listing Exercise

Back to school! Start of the new year! Got to plan a wonderful series of creative writing classes. Try starting with an exercise that works wonders for both timid newbies and experienced writers and also can lead to further inspiration and production.

This is a particularly good way to get students into their own private store of writing sparks.  In two stages, the process stirs, then stirs again, allowing the writer to discover more to say than he or she thought possible.

Stage 1.  List six objects you remember from childhood.  (Someone will ask, I usually say under the age of ten).  Give 5 minutes for this; if some get only to three or four that’s fine. 

Stage 2.  Sit back, study the list.  Choose one to write on, the one that speaks to you most at this moment.  Another time it might be another one, but right now, choose one and start writing.  You might want to bubble first, or maybe it’s ready to come flowing out, just write.  A paragraph is fine, more if you want to.  Allow 10, 15 or even 20 minutes for this.

What’s the point?  These can be left as riffs only, or they can be a springboard to evocative short stories, poems or plays.  Students are often amazed at the excellence of their own and their classmates’ pieces.

From the Stimulus section, Life Listing is exercise 7 in paperback and 8 in ebook versions of Creative Writing; the Matirx/the Quick Matrix. Beyond that there are other exercises not in either book here in this blogsite. Just scroll to the Labels list and call up Exercises. Happy teaching -- and writing -- see you later in the year.

ONLY £7.00
Special half-price reduction, on Amazon, click here. Paperback only for UK distribution.
 Quick Matrix ebook is £2.99 available everywhere.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Reviving rant exercise

Summer term -- revving up? Or running out of steam? Or some of each? Here's some fuel and some news.

NEWS first: on my Paxton Publishing website I used to post a termly freebie extract exercise from Creative Writing the Matrix (or Quick Matrix in ebook). But that site has now morphed into a more pukka independent author-publisher website. It features the two Matrix books and the 9th May 2016 publication of The Extraordinary Dr Epstein paperback. click here to have a look. It's pretty, with photos of the Chiswick House and Gardens famous camellias and magical glass house. Gardener par excellence Joseph Paxton is my inspiration.

So... I will now put the termly freebie exercise extracts here on this blogsite. Starting with...

This is a short, energy-filled exercise that requires absolutely no preparation on your part. Have students list five pet peeves, things that really bug them, like people who litter, marketing phone calls etc. Or tell them to list household chores you loathe. Then direct students to choose one, and let rip in a rant, pen on paper (much more freeing than fingers on keyboard). Encourage them to be as wild and exaggerated as they like. If you wish, start them off: I can't stand people who... OR I really hate it when...  

What's the point? This is great fun for letting off steam. And when read out, good for laughter in class. There's a lot of power in the negative. The extremes could also be the basis for a neurotic, eccentric or weird character.

The Rant is exercise 36 in paperback and 38 in ebook; PS you can see lots more on Amazon's Look Inside feature here. The print book, with 116 exercises and lectures, is available only in the UK. The ebook, worldwide. Besides that, there are loads of exercises not in either book here in this blogsite. Just scroll down to the blog archive and call up Exercises on the Labels list. Have a good end-of-year and a happy creative summer. See you in September -- early enough for prepping.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Author enrichment

How to rev up your creative writing students, and yourself, midway through the year? Curriculum enrichment. As a writer who teaches creative writing (yes? that's you?) or a teacher of creative writing who loves writing, surely you go to literature and writing festivals. Locally -- there are so many these days -- or the bigger ones (Hay, Chichester, Brighton etc). And among your friends and former students you know authors, too...? From these sources, invite an author or several to come to your college or wherever it is you teach to talk about their writing and publishing experiences. Many authors will happily do this for no fee (so long as they can sell their books at the mini-event), or possibly for expenses. Many will be thrilled to be asked!

Like me. Along with three other authors, all of us former tutors or students at this local college, we are giving an evening's panel discussion on How to Publish Your Book I no longer teach there, but I still love the place. And hope that we provide 'yes, you can' inspiration for current and future aspiring writers.
Clockwise from top left: Diane Chandler (The Road to Donetsk), Jacqui Lofthouse (The Modigliani Girl), Susan Lee Kerr (The Extraordinary Dr Epstein) and Stephanie Zia (Self-Publishing EBooks and Blackbird Digital Books publisher)

Monday, 7 September 2015


Just in time to uplift you through the first weeks of the new teaching year: the ebook version of Creative Writing: the Matrix, called the Quick Matrix, is now available via all the usual ebook outlets. What's more the paperback was available only for UK distribution, but ebook's selected exercises & ideas for creative writing teachers is worldwide.

On your kindle or ibook or whatever, the 104 exercises and mini-lectures are of course linked right from the table of contents, so it's easy-peasy to come up with content and planning for your classful of eager writers. Enjoy! And please do feedback, review and spread the word.

Have I mentioned yet that I've started a new blogsite in my name on the writing and creative life? Drop in for juice outside your teaching gig. Meanwhile, elsewhere on this site, do scroll down and look at the labels list of previous postings for other teaching support. Class planning, first class and exercises probably most useful to you at this time of year.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Quick Matrix: Advance Cover Peek

Hot off the cyber-waves, here's the cover of the NEW ebook, coming soon through all the usual ereader sources. As it says on the tin, Creative Writing: the Quick Matrix is exercises and ideas selected from the original print paperback. Watch this space for release date.

Meanwhile, scroll down to the archives to find yet more, on the spot, exercises that are not in either Matrix book. Collected and invented as I went along. Class planning is a good category for this time of year, of course!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Creative writing exercises galore

Published! The Extraordinary Dr Epstein -- check it out here -- but meanwhile, on with the teaching show. Two good newses: Creative Writing: the Matrix, that is this paperback, is now in its 3rd printing!

And it is soon to have an ebook variation:  Creative Writing: the Quick Matrix, Selected Exercises for Creative Writing Teachers. Scout's honour, if you already own the paperback no need to opt for the digital version. That's because I'm culling the print to provide a whizz-bang selection of the goodies so that MORE writer-teachers can access the book at LESS cost. So watch this space for announcement of its publication.

Meanwhile, there are over 112 entries in this teaching creative writing blog's archive. Just go to the list of Labels below. Some of the most useful: Creative Process, Critic Within, Exercises (24 entries), First Class, Lesson Planning (6 entries) etcetera
"geographic, spiritual and psychological... compelling, surprising and carefully researched"
...that's a bit of praise for The Extraordinary Dr Epstein. Hope it tempts you!