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Monday, July 16, 2018

Use It or Lose It: Keeping Writing Skills Sharp Outside of Classes



          As in physical exercise, if you don't use your writing skills and creative energy for a while, you'll lose them (well, not exactly lose, but you'll definitely make it harder to regain your "literary fitness level" after a long hiatus). Here are three suggestions for exercises to keep your writing and critical reading skills active on your own:

  • Regularly practice critical reading by writing responses on sticky notes AS YOU READ, and sticking them throughout your books. Practicing active reading this way, even with your summer "pleasure reading," will sharpen your skills and keep you actively engaged in the reading experience for maximum mental fitness! This technique will keep you attuned to admirable writing techniques that you wish to enhance for your own works, too. Use sticky notes to enable you to flip back through the book later to review what specific passages compelled, concerned, intrigued, or inspired you. (This advanced "flagging" of important lines in literature will surely benefit you when you return to school to write literary response essays or research papers: you can collect in advance, so to speak, quotations that might illuminate themes or exemplify character- or plot-building, which you can easily find later, when writing an essay.) Note the exemplary writing techniques (figurative language, imagery, rhetorical beauty of the prose, etc.) that you wish to emulate, and note why you appreciate them; note hints of plot events to come and make predictions to sharpen your observational skills; note subtle secondary or symbolic meanings that underscore the theme, and note why these implications are important to you; note expressions or events that remind you of other works--in any art form--as well as related experiences from your own life. Active reading will exercise your powers of observation and analogous thinking, while simultaneously entering your subconscious to improve your own writing. Here is a link to an article to read and use for practice in developing your active reading skills: http://www.aplithelp.com/annotation-for-smarties-5-tips-for-teaching-students-active-reading-and-critical-thinking/.  
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  • Use and make lists to generate ideas. For example, make a daily list of emotional observations, with any title you want. You might list: Things I Did/Noticed Today that Made Me Feel Relaxed; or People I Miss and Why I Miss Them; or What I Planned To Do Today and What I Actually Did; or What Made Me Angry/Disappointed/Sad/Lonely/Joyful Today, etc. Lists of your own devising can illuminate a lot about YOU to study and turn into stories, too. Also make lists of objects and/or people you notice, randomly, and turn them into parts of a story. The great Ray Bradbury advocated list-making to generate creativity; check this out: https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/10/18/ray-bradbury-on-lists/ . Find lists of writing prompts and see what triggers you to write for 15 or more minutes. Here's a list for you: 365-creative-writing-prompts. And here's another great source for conjuring stories from lists (one sample page from the link is pictured below): https://www.ourboox.com/books/coming-up-with-ideas-for-childrens-books-with-dr-alon-amit/
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  • Take a novel, short story, or poem that you haven't read (yet) and jot down the first line on a blank paper, or type it onto a blank computer document. Continue from that line to write a story or poem that uses the same tone and diction set by the line you borrowed. When you feel that you have finished a scene with a beginning, middle, and end, set it aside and read the work from which you borrowed the opening line. Notice how yours picked up on the language used to create your own ideas; notice any similarities and differences between the path of your work versus the work from which you borrowed. Now go back and change your opening line to make the story/poem entirely your own.
          Those are just a few ideas for exercising your literary muscles this summer. Feel free to share your thoughts for creative sparks or your results from trying these prompts, below.... 

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