Write when prompted

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 8, 2015 10:22 PM

One of the pages I follow on Facebook is The Writer’s Circle, for obvious reasons. They post daily inspirations and funny anecdotes, information about other writer’s and more. I rarely comment or post but I do very much enjoy it.

They often post writer’s prompts. It’s actually kind of a cool way to jumpstart creativity. A writer’s prompt is just like it sounds. It’s creating the beginnings of a scenario; it’s giving a sentence to finish; it’s urging someone to write the next paragraph.

Several years ago, for Bobbi’s 50th birthday, we started writing a short story that would have 50 paragraphs, each with 50 words. We did it daily and it was a great and creative way to start every morning. We started it with my prompt which was this:

Below, fog was thick and ghostly under the moon. He could hear the water as he leaned out, grasping the slippery cable behind him. The rain hit his face and he snatched at it with his tongue, laughing into the darkness, into the cold, as he shouted, “I am—

Today, on The Writer’s Circle, the prompt was this: “You’ve been lost for days. This is the only house for miles. What do you do?” The picture was of an unkempt house, neglected. Perhaps scary, perhaps simply run-down.

For kicks, I decided to write something.

It had appeared in the distance, a beacon, welcoming. A sanctuary promising shelter from the coming rain. But as she approached, she felt an increasing apprehension. The paint was peeling, part of the roof appeared to be caved in. Wild vines grew up the side. There was an eerie sense of calm about this decaying place, and something seemed wrong. Was it the fact that all of the windows appeared to be in tact and clean? Or perhaps it was the image of another, watching from the dormer. She shivered in the warmth of the day and was about to turn back when the image waved and beckoned her inside. She walked forward to the door and stopped in the threshold, her hand on the splintered handle.

It wasn’t great, but it was fun. And even better, it was a wonderful way to start off my day. It made me think differently. It got me out of my head, out of my many email programs, off the internet. It made me feel creative, even though it was kind of schlocky.

I brought up the 50 words, 50 paragraphs thing to Bobbi today, along with the other prompt I did. I mentioned how fun it was and she said we should do it again. We write well together, Bobbi and I. Unfortunately, we do it rarely because we both have so many things going on. But 50 words every other day is doable. It will be fun. We bought a domain today and we’re going to post directly online.

Stay tuned.

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mots du jour

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 29, 2015 8:57 PM

I started this blog four years ago this month. I did it as a respite from the drowning news of the day, of every day. It occurred to me then, just as it has every day since including today, that the news was always bad, mean. Horrible things happening to people all over the world. People doing horrible things to other people. Politics. Animal cruelty. Natural disasters. I suppose the news channels and the Internet sites get more clicks for horror than sunshine and daisies. I understand that. I click on some of the stories, too, as if to convince myself that yes, people really can be that despicable.

I have posted everyday since February 29, 2011. Some of my posts are contemplative, some are stupid, some are (hopefully) funny, some are commemorative. Some posts have featured guest authors, namely Maguire, Cooper and Squire Squirrel. I’ve had fun and I continue to do so.

I read other blogs, some daily, others only occasionally. I think the Internet has become a powerful tool for finding new and exciting voices. It has also become a place for the lowest, vilest trolls to take up residence. If you’ve ever read the comments on just about anything you know what I mean. I am forever amazed at how nasty people can be. I wonder if they’re like that in real life or if the Internet gives them cover, allows them to troll in complete anonymity. On one hand I am forever appalled that people can and do think and write such things, and usually write them badly. I’m not sure why trolls have such bad grammar and sentence structure. Perhaps it’s because they were raised under a wet rock.

On the other hand, I am forever in awe. People are writing and interacting. While I think a great deal of that interaction is counterproductive, it is still interactive. The Internet has made us all more isolated while also bringing us together with people from all over the world. I suppose in a way, we’ve all become a bit troll like, since my definition of troll is a small, horrid creature that exists on the periphery of civilization.

One of the blogs that I have read several times each day is the Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan. He’s quite a prolific writer, a British ex-Pat who is conservative by nature. I don’t agree with a lot that he writes but I love reading his point of view. He has brought style and grace into the vitriol of politics and religion and I have often turned to the Dish first after any type of big event, especially one that involves politics or religion. He announced yesterday that he’s done. After 15 years of blogging daily, he is hanging up his website, taking his ideas and going home to be with his husband. I respect that. I will miss him and his insights greatly as so many others will.

His blog has nearly countless posts each day. I don’t know how he has done it, and the truth is, it has obviously taken a toll. My little blog doesn’t take a toll at all. Whereas his became a chore, I still look to mine as a refuge. After writing all day for others, these short blurbs about my life and observations give me an outlet. There are days when I say, grudgingly “Shit. I haven’t even started my blog” and then I think, maybe I won’t do it today. After all, there aren’t that many people who read me. Maybe no one will notice.

But I would notice. It is a commitment I made to myself, an opportunity every day to write about nothing and everything and whatever. It’s a bit like the 1980s and 90s when I kept a journal. I loved writing in my journal. Small story ideas, lists of things about other things, observations, musings, confessions. I filled up I don’t know how many volumes. I kept every one. Maybe someday I’ll go back and revisit. Maybe there’s a novel lurking in those pages. More likely though, there is nothing but the scribbled words of the day.

Words of the day are what each post is. Words that find their way into sentences that wrap into paragraphs to eventually become a post. It starts with a title. It ends with something to celebrate.

Today I’m celebrating the idea of words of the day. Mots du jour. Somehow when you put it into French it seems loftier, pretty. Commémoratif.

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Too good in English class

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:39 PM

I have written before of my profession, and of my hopes of channeling my somewhat shoddy talent into perhaps a book career. It’s my dream, but one I often don’t do enough toward achieving. I found out today that the reason may be because I was too good in English. Allow me to explain.

Writers may be good at putting words together to make a cohesive sentence. Sometimes even good at having those sentences make a paragraph make a blog post. But what we truly excel at is procrastination. Writers would rather do just about anything other than write. We have a deadline. We know we have something due – in my case a piece of copy, an article, a book chapter – and so we go clean out a closet, or do some laundry. It’s amazing how clean a house can become when a deadline looms.

The blogosphere is filled with tales of people like me, professional writers and writer-wanna-bes who can find any number of things to do other than place index fingers on the “f” and the “j” and let the others fall into place in order to try to type something, anything, everything.

I read a story today that quoted an editor talking about the first book she was assigned to work on, in the late 1990s. The book had gone under contract in 1972. A procrastinating writer for sure.

Megan McArdle, a journalist, blogger and author, has developed a theory that writers are such procrastinators because they were too good in English class. Her theory basically explains it like this: “Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A's in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.”

I always got A’s in English, as well as most of my classes. I was blessed with a fairly quick mind and one that holds onto information. I test well, and rarely studied when I was in school. Even so, I was a member of the honor society. I’ve spent my life having things like grades come easily to me, cruising along on what I believe to be my natural ability. Now that it really matters, that people read what I have written, that I might actually influence someone, every time I write it becomes a referendum on how good a writer I actually am, not just how good I think I might be, or how good I was at English in high school and college. As long as I haven’t written anything then, I can still live in my fantasy world where it’s bound to be great, bound to change minds and worlds. As McArdle said: “Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.”

The fear of being unmasked as a fraud – a hack – actually has a clinical name. It’s called the “impostor syndrome.” Evidently there are a tremendous amount of women who believe they – we – haven’t earned what we have and so are constantly at risk of being unmasked. We’re frauds; we’re just waiting for someone to find out. It’s very stressful.

I wonder if I’m an impostor every day. Now I’m left to wonder if it’s because I was too good in English long ago when I was in school. If I could go back in time, would I do worse on purpose? Probably not. I would still need to turn in the perfect report, the creative short story.

I’m just not sure I’d meet the deadline.

Celebrating the idea that I’m not alone in my procrastination. 

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Detroit may be the write city after all

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 14, 2014 11:42 PM

Once upon a time, Detroit Michigan was a thriving city, its 125 auto companies, churning out over 7 millions cars every year. At its peak, in 1950, nearly 2 million people called it home. It lost 25% of its population in the ten-year span between 2000 and 2010. At the beginning of the 20th century, 285,704 people lived there. By the mid-20th century, 1.85 million people lived there, making it the fourth largest city in the country. Large homes sprung up. People shopped at Hudson’s and Crowley’s department stores, and walked to schools.

Then the automobile industry that built Detroit started to tear it down. By 1967, when the industry was still thriving, the city had lost more than 130,000 manufacturing jobs. New plants were built in small towns in the Midwest and in the Sunbelt. That same year, one of the worst race riots in American history erupted on the city’s streets. Then came the oil crises of the 1970s, Chrylser filed for bankruptcy and boomtown Detroit became bust-town.

This generalizes, of course. I’ve never been to Detroit – my friend Diane is from there and I know she could tell stories – but its current woes are regularly in the news; its troubles continue. People have fled; tens of thousands of houses have been abandoned. This past year, the city filed for bankruptcy. Everything that once made the city bright and shiny is now dull and tarnished.

Abandoned house in Detroit

Except for a new program I heard about today that I found fascinating. It wants to “enliven the literary arts of Detroit by renovating homes and giving them to authors, journalists, poets, aka writers. It’s like a writer-in-residence program, only in this case we’re actually giving the writer the residence, forever.”

The program is called Write a House, and it’s a Detroit-based organization that is taking distressed housing, of which there is a lot, and promoting renovation with the writer in residence doing much of the work on each individual property. In exchange for the work, the writer gets the house. No payment. It’s just theirs.

I thought this was about the coolest thing I’d ever heard. I know Detroit is in a bit of a hole right now, broken and destroyed, but what an amazing thing, to involve writers as a way to revive or reinvent – hell, perhaps just invent – a literary arts community.

Write a House is starting with three two-bedroom houses and currently accepting applications for writers to move in this Spring. They have to stay for two years, work on the house, engage in the city’s literary community and contribute to the program’s blog. If they fulfill these duties, they get the house. Within 24 hours of launching the program, 200 writers had already inquired.

Two of the houses were bought for a thousand dollars each; the third was donated by Power House Productions, a local community organization run by artists. There is currently a fund-raising campaign going on to help raise a minimum of $35,000 for each house to help fund the major renovations like electrical and plumbing.

Write a House being renovated

It’s rather brilliant. I can only imagine the amount of material that will come from this endeavor. Living in a city that has been virtually decaying for years gives great visual imagery. The animals that are living there, both on four legs and undoubtedly on two; the joy amidst the despair; the hope within the defeat. The colors can come to life, the sky will be bluer, the birds’ songs will be more melodic. The drama will also be more heartfelt and the comedy more cutting. Life, as observed by a poet or novelist could be similar to what Elmore Leonard said in 1985 of his home city:

“There are cities that get by on their good looks, offer climate and scenery, views of mountains or oceans, rockbound or with palm trees; and there are cities like Detroit that have to work for a living…. It’s never been the kind of city people visit and fall in love with because of its charm or think, gee, wouldn’t this be a nice place to live.”

Except maybe that’s changing. Maybe Detroit is the write city after all. 

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