Every year, our Other Bunch of writers tries to go on at least one retreat. One year, it was to a book fest, another to see ghost towns. But my favorite is simply camping out at the cool cabin of one of our members. Amidst the golden leaves and mountains of central Idaho, we reflect, whine, bitch and of above all, work our brains. You might think, “Hey, wait a minute. I’m writing. I’m working my brain.””
That is certainly true, but sometimes we need to try different exercises or we‘re only running in the same place. Recently at one of those annual retreats, we gathered in the warm cabin, while it rained fall outside. With cups of coffee and hot chocolate, we participated in wonderful exercises from the book, “The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop– Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writers” by Danell Jones and published by Bantam. Our brains got a workout, sweated with ideas and exertion from pushing our minds in a whole new way.
The book is written as if Woolf is teaching a group of young writers, and uses her words. “She” breaks those lessons into practicing, working, creating, walking, reading, publishing and doubting. Within those lessons are writing exercises that Jones called “Writing Sparks,” which also delve into character, setting, dialogue, poetry, essays and more. There were so many sparks, and they were so good that out brains were tired as we went through them that weekend.
For example, we were challenged to write a scene portraying mood, but using very little dialogue. Or to write scenes from the view of someone older, or of the opposite sex. Or, write a scene where the first person narrator misreads a situation.
We were worn out and got so many good ideas that we talked about doing an anthology of writings based on these sparks. We even have a title “Virginia Woolf on the Snake River Plain.” In one short weekend, we came away with dozens of stories to tell with fresh writing perspectives.
So my advice is to check out that book and work it hard. Or go on a retreat or to a writing conference and learn something new, try something different. You may be writing, but you also need to stretch those writing muscles beyond what you are used to. Sure, you might be frustrated and exhausted by the time these exercises, retreats, or writing conferences are over, but like working out your body, working out your brain will result in building a better and stronger writer in you.
Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Filed under Archives 2008, Question of the Month, Writing

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