Thursday, May 5, 2016


Here are some journal ideas for creative writers:

1) People-watch. 

The people around you can become fictional characters or the subjects of poems. You can give them roles in your writing, or just borrow details: your neighbor's nervous laugh, the shiny makeup that makes your mother's friend look like she's made out of plastic... Make notes about people you know; take your creative writing journal to a coffeehouse or a hotel lobby and describe them: their appearance, their body language, their voices, the way they relate to each other. You can go beyond mere reporting and write what you imagine as well. What do you think that woman's name might be? Where do you think she lives? Is she having an affair with that man, or are they just business partners? What is she thinking right now? What is she hiding in that big purse? Any of this can be the beginning of a story or poem. (Caution: if you are writing about people you know, be careful where you leave your creative writing journal. You may want to change names and identifying details to protect yourself against prying eyes. But you already know that.)

2) Listen. 

Eavesdrop in restaurants, in stores. Listen to your own family and friends -- really listen. Not just to what they're saying, but to the words they use, the pauses, the unique rhythms of their speech. And write down pieces of speech when they are still fresh in your ears. If you wait too long, you'll find the sentences coming out in your own voice. Learning to capture different voices on paper will help you with dialogue for stories or scripts. It can also be a source for poetry.

3) Take a walk. 

Describe your neighborhood. Describe the weather, the colors and textures, the light and shadow. Go beyond what you see -- describe the sounds, the smells, the feeling of the air on your skin. Look for the surprising details, the ones that aren't quite as you'd imagine the ones you could never have made up. These details will give authenticity to your creative writing, make it feel real to the reader. Click here for tips on descriptive writing.

4) Take a field trip. 

Are you writing a scene in a police station? A city dump? Visit one. Write down the details that will make the setting come alive on the page. On the other hand, if you're not in the middle of a writing project, taking a field trip can give you ideas for one. Go somewhere you would normally never go. By explaining you're a writer, you can get permission to visit places not normally open to the public. The basement of an aquarium? The backrooms of a funeral parlor? Take notes on your observations and see what story ideas emerge.

5) Use real-life stories. 

The news, gossip, the experiences of your friends, and even stories from history books can be sources for creative writing. Make notes on the story, and imagine the parts you don't know. Imagine it as if you were there. What, exactly, did people see? What were they thinking? What did it all feel like? What led up to the event; what happened next? Let your imagination fill in the gaps. Or imagine that some part of it had been different. How does that change the story?

6) "Free-write." 

This technique is especially useful as a warm-up for creative writing or as a cure for writer's block. 

a journaling workshop at The Newberry Library this Summer
Tuesdays 5:45 to 7:45 starting June 14 for 6 weeks

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