Have you ever wanted to write something, but as soon as you sit down inspiration simply will not come? Don’t fret. This is common for many writers, but to skip any future afternoons spent staring at the wall begging a muse to bestow you with a stroke of creative genius, I have included a writing exercise that I have used over the years to get out of a writing rut.
First, get four pieces of paper that are all different colors. If you do not have this take four different colored pens or markers and color the back of each sheet a different color.
Then take one of the sheets and cut it into four sections. On one section create a character including name and personality. On another section come up with a setting (a rural town in the middle of May, etc). On the third section write out a plot. On the final section write a specific mood you want the story to convey (happy, sad, mysterious, etc). Do this with the other three sheets, coming up with different characters, settings, plots, and moods each time.
Now take all the characters and put them in a hat, shoebox, anything that you can mix them up and choose one at random (No peeking!). Do this for the settings, plots, and moods, but be sure to put each section in a different box. Once you have chosen your four slips of paper make sure each piece of paper is a different color or has a different color dot.
You should have four story elements. Your challenge is to use these to come up with a story. Don’t be scared if they don’t make sense together, that’s the fun part.
“We are infinite.” The tagline for the national bestseller and critically acclaimed The Perks of Being a Wallflower says it all. The novel, published by Stephen Chbosky over a decade ago, has become a household name to most young adults. It is written in the main character, Charlie’s, point of view in letters to an unknown friend describing Charlie’s anxiety about starting high school, meeting new people, and ultimately, about the two seniors that accept him as part of their group and show him how to live life and accept who he really is inside. Charlie faces many trials and finds himself facing many of the experimentations that most adolescents must go through in order to really know themselves. The novel is an enlightening look into the mind of an extraordinary student that isn’t even aware of his own worth. It is a must read for all young adults that have ever gone through something difficult or oppressing, which, of course, is all of us. With the novel being made into a feature film to be released on September 20 of this year, there will be plenty of publicity about it, but don’t let it’s newfound popularity discourage you. The film, starring Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller, will just be a bonus after diving into the wonderful world that Stephen Chbosky has produced. And, for the movie buffs out there, the film’s screenplay and directing are both being done by Stephen Chbosky so the film should run very close to the book. So, grab a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and get ready for the film on September 20!
The last time I really talked to my grandma was three summers ago. Since I was only nine years old, I had to stay at my grandparents’ house during the day while my mother went to work. It was better than having to go to camp with a bunch of kids I didn’t know even if my grandparents’ house did always smell like cleaning supplies. I loved my Grandma B dearly. We didn’t have much in common, except we liked to watch Chuck Norris kick ass on Walker, Texas Ranger. My Grandma B could probably take on Chuck Norris, or at least she would have tried. I liked to listen to her stories about the battles she won as a child.
Philip Graham is the author of two story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design; a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language; and he is the co-author of two memoirs of Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Prize), and the forthcoming Braided Worlds. His most recent book is The Moon, Come to Earth, an expanded version of his series of McSweeney’s dispatches from Lisbon. Graham’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, North American Review, Fiction, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers Magazine, and the Washington Post. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, two Illinois Arts Council awards, and the William Peden Prize, Graham teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a founding editor of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter.
When I came across this novel after my teacher generously gave my eleventh grade English class all of the copies she had purchased with the intent of assigning it as required reading, little did I know the value of the literary gem I had just acquired. The struggle of the brilliant architect, Howard Roark in striving to pursue his passion according to his set of uncompromising standards laid out in each of his projects conflicts with the contemporary expectations of what great architecture should look like and thus places him before the brunt of scorn from the public. But he refuses to sacrifice his own artistic integrity just to bend to their demands or gain wealth. He is the very embodiment of human perfection for he seeks neither to influence nor please others with his work. His is the judge of his own work and sets his own standards. Continue reading
A work of art is like a gem. Important elements of the world are compressed together to create a concise and beautiful artifact. Like the notes of a song, every word is important to a written work’s aesthetic appeal, not one too many or too few. Marc Fitten uses this description of art in a writer’s workshop he teaches for students at the UTC Meacham Writer’s Conference. “Bathe in art”, he tells them. “It’s important to experience artistic expression outside of your own expertise. If you are a fiction writer, go to poetry readings and fine art exhibitions.” There is a social dialogue mingling amongst all of the arts. Though each of us may have an independent form of expression, we must keep others works in consideration when creating our own.
At only 35, Marc Fitten is the editor of The Chattahoochee Review, Atlanta’s oldest literary magazine. This is the Marc Fitten that puts on a suit and attends the mandatory meetings. Continue reading
Xu Xi is the author of seven books of fiction & essays, and editor of three anthologies of Hong Kong literature in English. A Chinese-Indonesian native of Hong Kong, the city was home until her mid-twenties, after which she led a peripatetic existence around Europe, America and Asia. She now inhabits the flight path connecting New York, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Continue reading