Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Book Review:

Creative Calisthenics

By Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz
Copyright 2009 by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz, All Rights Reserved

If you are like many writers, you often find yourself at a loss for words. You may have read different books about breaking through writer's block, signed up for writing prompts e-mailed on a daily basis, or maybe you attempted clustering, an exercise where you take a word and add related words until you find yourself writing a story.  It's not uncommon to need something to get your muse jump-started, no matter how talented or experienced a writer you may be.

Regardless of what you tried before, now there's a new and innovative solution; one that I think you will find both useful and entertaining. Terri L. Main, communications professor at Reedley College in California, has written an informative book, Creative Calisthenics. This work is designed to awaken your creative muse and allow you to have fun while you're doing it.  The book goes beyond the usual prompts and gives writers new and exciting tips. Ms Main doesn't tell you how to write, but gives you exercises to get you writing.

For years, Ms Main wrote a column for the Fellowship of Christian Writers e-mail discussion group. As part of that column, she created different writing exercises. Creative Calisthenics is a compilation of the collected exercises plus an additional twenty new essays. The book features over eighty articles providing more than 175 story starters, prompts, and exercises to get your creative writing juices flowing.

Creative Calisthenics is intended as a reference, not something you would sit down and read. You'll want to keep it handy so you can flip to an appropriate section as needed. Listed at the front are chapter headings such as "Jumper Cables for the Brain," "Getting Ideas," "Out and About," "Characters and Settings," and "Organization and Plotting." You can use these headings to focus your search when you are in need of a specific prompt to get you started. This isn't a tool just for fiction writers; non‑fiction writers will find plenty to jump-start their brains as well.

Each section is filled with intriguing ideas. When asked which was her best-liked prompt, Ms Main stated her personal favorite is "Chance Encounters." For this exercise, you will create twenty to thirty cards with character types such as cardinal, homeless person, airline pilot, ship's captain, alien, archeologist, etc.  Another set of cards will have locations like countryside, Mars, Egypt, Los Angeles, university, Pacific Ocean, Rome, library, courthouse, etc. You then choose two characters and a location and create a story. Ms Main sometimes does this in her classes with two people and asks them to do a small play. She feels it's "great fun and forces you to think not just outside the box, but outside the room where the box is sitting."

One of my favorite exercises is "Build a Character."  In this prompt, Ms Main suggests creating a box with ten dividers.  The dividers are labeled "occupation, gender, age, nationality, height, weight, age, mood, general outlook on life, conversational style, and novel characteristics."  The idea is to make cards for each of these categories and add to them as you think of possibilities.  For example, some of my occupation cards are lawyer, secretary, teacher, firefighter, detective, farrier, and bard.  Some mood cards are angry, dedicated, fiery, calm, persuasive, and patient. General outlook on life cards are more detailed, such as, always looks for the good in people, or feels stifled unless in a leadership position. You then pull one card from each divider and create a character based on those cards.

Possibly you're more interested in writing non-fiction and have found most writing prompt books geared toward fiction writers.  If so, try the "Interview of a Lifetime" prompt.  Here Ms Main suggests choosing a character from history.  Prepare a set of interview questions for that person. Imagine you are the person you chose to interview, and answer the questions as that person might.  This technique will not only get you writing, but will help improve your interviewing skills as well.

Another prompt for those interested in non-fiction might be the "Only $39.95 plus Shipping and Handling" exercise.  In this exercise, you are asked to create a product and write an infomercial for it.  Think about what your product does, who would use it, and what benefits it may have to offer.  This could get you started on a great how-to article.

"Freewriting" is another exercise suggested by Ms Main.  This tool is valuable to both fiction and non-fiction writers.  In this exercise, you start by reviewing your topic research.  At this point, you're not writing, just getting familiar with your topic.  Take a 20-minute break.  When you come back to your computer, write for exactly 20-minutes whatever comes into your head, whether it's related to your topic or not. Take another 20-minute break.  Continue alternating writing and taking breaks until your thoughts become clear and your writing more coherent.  You may find when you begin, you are writing gibberish, but at the end, you have a complete, focused article.

The final chapter, "Writing Rx," is designed to help you put zing back in your writing.  The exercises listed will set you on the path to overcoming your lack of confidence, help you write more creatively, show you how to tighten your writing, and give you exercises for defeating writer's block.

I know I'm going to keep my copy of Creative Calisthenics close at hand for those days my brain just can't quite get started. Creative Calisthenics carries a cover price of $12.57 for print, $5.00 for PDF and $3.50 for Ereader. Stop by Ms Main's web site for more information.

Title: Creative Calisthenics

Author: Terri Main

Publisher: Terri Main

ISBN: 978-0-557-03183-2