Friday, January 30, 2009

De-Familiarize the Familiar*

All right, I realize these are crazy, but here’s the newest. This came together as a result of three separate things. 1) Imad was talking about Gordon Lisch, and one of his revision assignments was to go count the number of sentences in your story, go to a bar or a restaurant or something, and write down ten or so random numbers between 1 and the number of sentences in your story. The revision was to eliminate those sentences. 2) I was helping a student to write a sonnet, and had her do some free writing on a topic of interest, and she wrote words and phrases having to do with religion, so I started thinking of holy numbers, 3, 6, 7, 9, 33 etc. We paired those words and came up with some interesting results. 3) I had my juniors read “Thanatopsis” today.

Here’s the assignment.

Write DEATH at the top of a piece of paper and, for five minutes, free-write a list of words and/or phrases that come to mind.

Count the number of words and/or phrases. Write the number at the top of the page. Students had any number from 10 to 165.

Get a partner. Have your partner give two random numbers from 1 to the number written at the top of your page. Find the two corresponding words and/or phrases and go nuts combining them. See what you get. Some Results: Teabags of Darkness, Skull Popsicle, Bewildered Justice, Dirt Finger, Murder Crayons, Rough Cape.

Finally, explain The Directive (something "Thanatopsis" is desperately in need of). Have students turn their phrase into a directive. Steep those teabags of darkness, lick the skull Popsicle, slap bewildered justice, kiss the dirt finger, snap the murder crayons, touch death’s rough cape.

*Something Elton Glaser says is one of the goals of poetry

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Third Person

Step outside of your own body and view yourself the way an outsider might, or the way you might view one of your own characters. Once you have achieved this psychic distance, pick up a pen or pencil.

Describe, in detail, your morning routine, in third person.

This exercise may answer the following…
How do you get out of bed?
How do you comb your hair? (Describing this is harder than you imagined, isn’t it?)
How do you greet those around you? What is said?
Be sure to pay particularly close attention to the way the person moves, what they say, etc.

Follow Up

1)What words (if any) can I eliminate?

2)What is the story?

*Taken from Dorothea Brande

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

List Poetry

There are two lessons for writing list poetry here, using two of Ray Carver's poems-"The Car" and "Fear."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Drills for Skillz—Guided Portrait

Here’s one that’s sure to get something going on.

Think of someone for whom you have strong feelings, or whom is part of a strong or vivid memory. For younger writers, it may be apropos to list feelings other than the obvious: admiration/respect, infatuation, disgust, envy, longing, embarrassment, etc. If you want, give some examples of your own strong memories. If your students are unsure how to begin, you may want to model some brainstorming—I tend to have them crank this one out without too much prewriting. I tell them, “Don’t think too hard.” I’m not sure if this is a good or bad strategy.

"Visualize the person. Bring the scene of the memory into focus in your mind’s eye."


Your first line should contain a proper noun.

Your second line should be longer than five words and contain a color.

Your third line should mention a specific place.

Your fourth line should be a question, and should contain a verb.

Your fifth line should be less than three words long.

Your sixth and seventh lines should be an exchange of dialogue.

Your eighth line should contain a concrete noun.

Your ninth line should contain a comparison.

Your tenth line should be a directive.

The writing may only take five minutes or so. Ask them to circle their three favorite lines. Ask them to underline their least favorite line. If you’re working with a small group, you may have the time to share within the group; use pair shares with larger classes. Encourage students to talk about what they like about the lines they circled, and maybe what they don't like about those they have underlined.


Have students type a new draft of the poem. Encourage them to play to the draft's strengths. Encourage them to write more if they feel more would strengthen the poem.

Encourage students to form a title for their poems using words from the body.
For example, “Your title should contain a noun from the poem as well as a color.”

Encourage students to share their results.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drills for Skillz-Dialogue Writing Exercise

Adolescence is a strange time that calls for even stranger writing prompts. Here's today's lesson.*

You'll Need
Many squares of three different colored paper (we used Blue, Orange and Red)

A group of imaginative adolescents

Paper, pencil

Step One

Write on the blue square the name of a cartoon character or a puppet... someone or something that aims their words at children.

Collect the squares

Write on the orange square the name of a real person that aims their words toward adults.

Collect the squares

Write a controversial topic or media issue that people feel strongly about on the red paper.

Collect the squares

Step Two

Redistribute the squares at random. Each student should have a blue one, orange one, red one. Write for ten minutes a dialogue between the two characters on the controversial topic.

Be prepared for:

Bugs Bunny discussing illegal immigration with Clint Eastwood

Papa Smurf talking with Carmen Electra about gay marriage

Baby Bop talking to Ellen about mad cow disease

*This idea was inspired by a play from The Best Teen Writing of 2008 in which Cookie Monster talks with Oprah about childhood obesity.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Friend and Colleague

When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

-W.B Yeats

Here's to you, Lisa