Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Take a Break...Creatively!

We all know it. We met it in middle school or high school. It was drilled into our psyche and we dreamed of it in our sleep. Here at the Writing Center, we live and breathe it. We know it by heart and we can rattle it off at any moment’s notice. It’s The Five-Paragraph Essay. Introduction. First, second, and third body paragraphs. Conclusion. We’ve scratched our heads as they explain it: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” We find ourselves speaking in mini-five paragraph essays. “Well, I have three things to say about that, but before I start, let me tell you my main point…” STOP!

Sure, the five-paragraph essay format can be a helpful way to organize information, and many professors require that assignments follow such a format. And that’s okay. Do you ever feel stifled, though? Ever need a break from the same old structure? Or maybe you just want to breathe some life into your dusty old essay – the one you’ve been working on since three weeks ago, that you used to be jazzed about but that now is about as exciting as a wool sweater in July.

Don’t worry; there is hope in the world of creative writing. You don’t have to think of yourself as a creative writer to follow this advice. Here are some quick, easy exercises to stimulate your creative side, from Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer.

Spend five minutes listing:
• Fifty phrases that would make good titles for a short story.
• Fifty interesting settings for stories.
• A strange experience in a car.
• An unmerited award.
• A good deed that backfires.
• Verbs that have to do with the ocean.
• Nouns and verbs that have to do with your home landscape.

If you have a little more time on your hands, try some of Johnston’s longer exercises:

Spend ten minutes describing:
• Your boss’s shoes.
• Your boss’s hairstyle.
• The interior of your boss’s car.
• Why you should move someplace else.
• Why you’re living exactly where you should be living.

Spend twenty minutes writing a scene that involves:
• An airport baggage claim.
• A character who steals a pair of fingernail clippers.
• An e-mail sent to the wrong person.
• An adult child trying to convince his or her fifty-something mother not to adopt a baby.

In conclusion (relax, folks – that’s a joke), creative writing is good for you. The next time you are burned out on writing and need a break, do exactly what you don’t want to do: write some more. But write creatively! You’ll be much more prepared to tackle the last paragraph of your five-paragraph essay, and hopefully some of those creative juices will carry over into your everyday writing.

Happy writing!

Johnston, Bret Anthony. Naming the World: and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.

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