Over 100 Ways To Awaken Your Childhood Memories – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

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Tapping into childhood memories is an exercise, activity, and skill many writers turn to when generating a fresh story idea. However, after leaving childhood in the dust, the process of digging through the debris for a story-worthy gem is daunting.

How can we wake up our memories?

Sometimes a smell, a place, an event, holiday, or word can bring back a memory. Let’s try it and see what happens. For each word on the list that awakens a memory, write a sentence or two. Include such things as your age at the time of the memory, where you were, who you were with, what you recall seeing, and what you recall feeling emotionally.

Scents: Lavender, cinnamon, lemons or other citrus, pine, wet dog, fresh-cut wood, mowed lawn, chocolate, perfume, new car smell, peppermint, crayons, machine shop, roses, smoke, mildew, incense, popcorn, rain, people have smells, too – Is there someone from your childhood that comes to mind from a particular scent?

Places: Farm, city, train station, airport, grocery store, hardware store, camp, department store, shoe store, movie theater, relative’s house, friend’s house or backyard, garage sale, car ride, farthest place you traveled on vacation.

Holidays and events: Best Christmas because of: present you received, relative that visited, Santa encounter, new outfit, etc…), worst holiday gift you ever received, Valentine that surprised you, the first birthday party you can remember (What made it memorable? Who attended? Where was the party? What gifts did you receive?), sporting event you attended (Who took you? Did your favorite team win? Was the experience better than you expected?), recital, school play, county fair, contest, Halloween, school field trip…

Random words:  Can you think of a memory involving any of these? An alarm clock, dresser, back door, basement, attic, doughnuts, bacon, party, new outfit, new shoes, hand-me-downs, present, pet, insects, gardening, hamburger, rainbow, storm, wish, restaurant, stranger, zoo, peaches, carnival, circus, farm animals, lamp, museum, backpack, picnic, hiccups, sneeze, playground, stuffed animal, broken toy, broken bone, rain, stray animal, dentist, snow, first pet, photograph.

How about jogging your memory with some questions? Remember to make note of the place the memory occurred, who you were with, your emotions at the time, and any other details that crawl back. 

What is your earliest memory of trying a new activity like a game in gym class, a music lesson, flying a kite, swinging…

Who is the first friend you ever had? How did you two meet? Why did you like being friends?

Who was your favorite teacher? Why does this teacher stand out in your memory? What made this teacher the best?

Who sent you your very first letter? Do you remember how you felt receiving mail? Did you write back by yourself or with the help of a parent?

Did you have a pen pal? How did you get this pen pal? Where did he/she live? What kinds of things did you write to each other about?

What is your earliest happy memory? Feel free to list as many happy memories as you can. Were they happy memories because they made you feel good about your accomplishment(s), made you feel grownup, or made you feel listened to? Is the memory happy because you went someplace you always dreamed of? Or is it a happy memory because you received a great surprise or present you always wanted?

What is your earliest sad memory? Feel free to list other sad memories. Was the memory sad because the incident made you feel ashamed of yourself, sad because you lost something or someone, sad because you didn’t do well in school at an event or on a test, sad because a friend didn’t want to be your friend anymore?

Were you ever jealous of another child at school? What made you jealous?

What did you cherish as a child? (a person, a place, your privacy, time spent with a parent, walks, trips to favorite places, a doll or toy…)

What is your strongest childhood memory? What brings this memory back to you?

Did you ever leave something behind on a trip that caused you emotional stress? (a toy, book, a piece of clothing, etc…)

Did anyone ever surprise you with a great kindness?

What did you like to collect?

What was your favorite meal that your mom or relative made?

Describe your childhood bedroom. Did you have a desk? What did you keep in it? What could you see from your window? What toys did you keep on your bed? What books were your favorites and why?

Could you draw a floor plan of the house you grew up in? List as many things as you can remember being in each room. List as many activities or memories you have from each room. Which room(s) were your least favorites? Which rooms were your favorites?

I hope the words and questions unlock good memories for you. And if you are a writer, I hope those memories make their way into your stories.

Happy writing!

ULTIMATE Brain Warm-Ups For Writers – Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AIt would be great if a group of us could get together at a seriously big table. In the center we would place a bowl of questions and take turns pulling slips out. For five minutes we would write our answers, and then share them. I can dream… I’ll go first. Here is our first question.

1. How would you spend your day if you woke up invisible and knew the condition was temporary and would only last for one day? 

Good question, right? Okay, set your timer for 5 minutes and see where this takes you.

2. By some strange string of events, the power has gone out everywhere around the world. The messenger who came knocking on your door (because the doorbell can’t ring without electricity) told you the electricity wouldn’t be restored for 48 hours. NO LAPTOP today! Oh, and by way of that same strange string of events, you lost ALL battery power to each of your mobile devices. Nope, can’t charge it up in your car, that mobile device has a dead battery, too. 

Okay, very funny! Which one of you comedians pulled that slip out of the question bowl?

3. Make a list of ten things or more that would describe who you were as a child. This list can include items you held dear as well as favorite activities and personality traits.  Then, make a list of ten things or more that describe who you are today. Again, you can include items you hold dear, favorite activities and personality traits.  How are the lists similar? In what ways have you stayed the same?

4. Write about a day or event that changed your life. Include as many sensory details as possible. Tap into the emotions you experienced. Write about the changes you made in your life because of this. 

5. Think back to a funny event. By embellishing and exaggerating the details that led to this event and transpired because of this event, can you write a tall tale? 

6. At sundown, your pet will have the ability to share with you his feelings about being your pet, his thoughts on the kind of care and attention he receives from you, what he truly thinks of the food you glop in his dish, his feelings about his sleeping conditions, leash, use of the sofa, and what his greatest desires are. Write this from your pet’s POV. 

7. Imagine that without risk of war breaking out, fear sweeping the nation, or the general weirdness factor taking hold, tomorrow at school or work, aliens will join you.  Wow! This is your chance to find out how life on their planet differs from life on Earth. This is your chance to find out what these aliens cherish. What do they celebrate? What do they believe in? What are their dreams and goals? Do they work for money? Do they drive or fly in vehicles? How old do they need to be to drive? Do they get married and have special outfits for such an occasion? Do they have music and what does it sound like as well as what do their musical instruments look like? Are they ahead of us or behind us with technology? Do they have a relationship to mobile devices, too? Do they live in homes, and if so, are their homes similar to ours with designated rooms? Where do they get their clothing, furniture, and food from? Do they have shopping malls or replicators? Do they keep pets? Do they have something similar to books in which they record their thoughts, histories, stories both fiction and nonfiction?

I could explore that question for a while. But you get the idea.

8. Somehow a dose of truth serum splashed into the punch bowl at a friend’s wedding. 

Need I say more?

9. Think about your favorite book. Now, imagine how events would change if you could become a character in those pages. What would you change about the story? Would you become the love interest of the main character? The protagonist – maybe?  

And now for #10… Drum roll please.

10. Starting right now, time begins to move backwards one year every minute. Only you have the power to stop it before you become a baby or not even be born yet. (tick-tock-tick-tock…) At what age do you stop the clock and start forward again? Why have you chosen this age? knowing this is a clean slate, how will you change your life? What decisions will you make that you wish you had made? What about your current life will you maintain no matter what?

 

I hope you enjoyed this Wednesday’s Prompts and Inspirations.

Happy writing!

The Idea Generator — Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AMaybe you’re a writer or perhaps an avid reader who wonders where writers get their ideas. I started thinking about this recently when I spoke to a friend who challenges herself to come up with one new picture book idea every day. Every day! How many picture book manuscripts did I think of last year? Easy answer. Twelve. My goal has been one new idea I develop into a manuscript each month.

Like other writers, I stay tuned in to life. I also pay close attention to everything my daughter tells me. (She’s nine, and although most parents have learned to tune out the nonsensical babblings of their kids by that age, I find her “babblings” spark story ideas. After all, she’s close in age to the group I’m writing for, so the things she takes notice of and gets curious about are the topics I need to focus on. I admit, she’s a little more serious in her thinking than a typical nine-year old. There are times when the answers to her questions would better be left unanswered until she was, oh, say… sixteen or more. Like the time I nearly drove through the garage door when she asked how two married men can make a baby.

So what happens when the stream of creative ideas stops? How does a writer get the damn to burst and the idea stream flowing again?

Although many writers tap into  their dreams, I can tell you flat-out that I don’t. Probably because what goes on in my head when it’s lights out doesn’t make sense in the real world.

“So, I was walking through a convention in a church which was really my childhood house when I heard a noise in the living room, which was really the pet shop around the corner. I saw a hundred children drawing pictures of floating houses with crayons that were made from candy canes. Then my friend Sam showed up, but it was really John disguised to look like Sam. He gave me a little jade statue of a goddess. I set it down and watched it morph into a green doll with movable arms and legs. When I picked the doll up, it’s eyes flicked open, it turned into a snarling tiger, and tried to grab me.”

See what I mean about my dreams?

When that idea stream isn’t flowing, ask yourself these questions:

What if?

I woke with wings and could fly? My brother turned into a moose? The backdoor of my house led to another dimension?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if?

Rain fell as dark chocolate drops? (I’m okay with that.) I were chosen to go to the moon? Everything I saw or read stayed with me in perfect clarity?

What would people think if?

I had super-human powers? Could change myself into anything I imagined? Knew how to speak every language in the world?

What would happen if?

The most distant planet with life where close enough to visit? Aliens attended school with us? Animals shared our level of intelligence?

or, taking it a step further…

We know that when lightning strikes a tree it will split it in half, blacken it, or turn it to ashes.  But what if when lightning struck something it gave life to that otherwise inanimate object?

How or where do you get your ideas for your writing?

Chime in. This is a place to share!

Adding Another Level To Our Writing – Wednesday Writer’s Prompt and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-ALet’s start with a quote from the great Hemingway.Hemingway quote

My week is filled, same as yours, with all the daily to-do’s and little extras that wedge their way between an already full schedule. But somehow, when a friend calls to chat and asks what I’ve been up to, I quickly answer, “Same ole stuff. Not much is new.”

But that isn’t true for any of us. Lots of things happen each day.

Remember my Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration about recording the events of the day, including the many details involving your five senses?

This Wednesday’s Prompt and Inspiration will ask you to document your day again. This time, add your emotions. Instead of writing how the sticky bun felt in your fingers, tasted with your coffee, smelled, or looked on your plate beside your paper napkin (half scribbled over with ideas for your next novel), give your reader some of what’s going on behind the scene. And by the way, the sticky bun scenario is just an example… However, if you feel like dropping in at your local coffee shop, buying a sticky bun and a cup of coffee for this exercise, I wish you a bon appetite!)

Let’s keep going with an example of what I mean by “behind the scene.”

As you bring the flaky, honey-dripping, icing-coated, delicacy to your lips, the caramel-coated, almond slices touch your tongue. Your taste buds awaken. Unexpectedly, you find yourself reminiscing about a snowy afternoon at your Grandmother’s house when you were ten. You recall the red and white, checkered, oil cloth draped over her old, wood table. You can still smell the cherry tobacco from your Grandpa’s pipe as he sits in his favorite chair, puffing softly and thoughtfully. You can still see out the window beside you. Three of Grandpa’s cows are grazing under the Willow tree his father planted. And in addition to these cozy vignettes, you recall your grandmother setting a plate before you with a warm sticky bun, fresh from her oven with icing melting down the sides.

There is always more happening while we go about our daily to-do’s. Our thoughts are active and fleeting, but often the details provided by our memories can add a new level to our writing (or a nice way to work in a little piece of important back story).

Are you ready to grab you notebook and see where the day leads you?

As always, I’d love to hear from you.

Writer’s Spaces – Creative Places

Last Wednesday for my Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations, I asked you to imagine a secret room you discover in a house you just moved into. The prompt came from one of my most cherished, repeating dreams. Naturally, I put some thought into my own prompt and inspiration. After a brief moment, and I mean brief, I knew exactly what I’d like to find behind the secret, sliding door of my closet.

Wait for it…

Yup, my own writer’s retreat. (which I’ll describe shortly.)

But first, an appropriate movie break…

One of my favorite movies is How To Steal A Million by William Wyler, starring Audry Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. In this 1966 classic, based on George Bradshaw’s short story, Venus Rising, a master painter, Charles Bonnet, played by Hugh Griffith, enjoys the extreme, good life by forging and selling masterpieces of the greatest artists. And where does he accomplish this?

You guessed it.

Behind the secret, movable, back wall of a large wardrobe in his bedroom. Bonnet opens the door, steps inside the wardrobe, opens the secret back wall, closes the front door of the cabinet, and, via a spiral staircase, enters his secret, painting studio. Now that is truly marvelous!

I have longed for such a wardrobe. I often imagine stepping inside my own imaginary wardrobe, closing the doors behind me, and entering my peaceful, phone-free, writer studio equipped with the most comfortable furniture, a thinking sofa good for rejuvenating naps, a roomy table for my computer, a suitable chair with a back-supporting cushion, tea-pot and mini stove, large cork boards, mini fridge, lots of filled bookshelves, another desk…a vintage, roll top filled with stacks of paper and jars, brimming with favorite pens near a window with an inspiring view. Sigh…

Ahhh, but I can’t complain. I write in my comfortable dining room–a room I associate with good meals shared with my family as well as festive, holiday celebrations. I can’t work in my office. I pay bills in the office, and paying bills makes me think of having less money, less money is depressing…see where I’m going with this? Our dining room is the warmest room in our home, which is perfect now that colder days are afoot. Inspiring novels and books on the art of writing fill the bookshelf beside me. If I crave a steamy cup of minty tea with honey, the kitchen is seven feet away. In lieu of a back cushion on my chair, my dog curls behind me, offering warmth and companionship. Here is my writing buddy. His name is Max.Max

Where do you write best?

 A favorite room in your home?

Your neighborhood coffee shop?

Anywhere you can sit with your laptop?

I’d love to hear from you.

 

Can I Quote Me?

Blog post after blog post, writers (myself included) love to quote the profound musings, thoughts, and philosophies of great writers and other famous individuals.

WHY?

Because we read those brilliant phrases and think to ourselves, gosh, I can’t believe how much Hemingway and I have in common. Imagine both of us feeling the same way about the writing process…. Sigh.

Don’t we all, in our various professions, (writers included) have thoughts worth sharing? Aren’t we all brimming with quotable feelings on the subjects closest to our hearts–thoughts so profound they deserve to go viral? Okay, I’ll back off a tad…. How about, quotable feelings so profound they deserve to get tweeted a few times?

Today, I have decided to quote someone who isn’t famous. She is a writer like so many other writers in the world. She sits at her computer daily, pouring out her inner most feelings, eats low-prep meals, drinks coffee in excess, dresses frumpy, celebrates the hole in her sweater, labeling it Wabi Sabi (see earlier post) for its natural, imperfect beauty, snarls at the ringing phone for snapping her from her stream of thought, ignores the precarious pile of crusty dishes in the sink, and sprays scented room freshener on the heap of smelly laundry. (Actually, it isn’t quite that bad…)

You’ve waited long enough. Drum roll, please…quote-me

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The Power Of A Mask

Minesota leaves-bannerAutumn is my favorite season. Fat pumpkins sit on the front steps of the neighborhood houses. Farms in my rural community open their gates to the public, welcoming them with horse or tractor-drawn hay rides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, face painting, and stands with tummy-tempting, hot, spiced, apple cider and applesauce doughnuts.  This outing is the highlight of October for my family.  (That, and the chocolate chip pumpkin bread we bake together.)

And what has this got to do with writing?

This year at the farm we visit, I decided to conduct an experiment in altering one’s personality.

As writers, this is exactly what we do when we create a character.

My unsuspecting volunteer… none other than my daughter.

maze-4034The three of us wandered around the farm, petting goats, jumping in piles of corn, climbing enormous, rubber spider webs, and then, as the wind pulled up, and the sky darkened… we entered the seven acre corn maze. (Actually, it was a warm and sunny day, but didn’t that make it more seasonally dramatic?)

Families were charging around the rows, walking into dead ends, retracing their steps, laughing and asking everyone they passed if they knew their way out. (We got there early enough to make sure we’d have plenty of daylight to get ourselves ‘un lost.’) As a large group was following us, I stopped and asked my daughter, who is nine, to pretend she was a cat.

“Go ahead, honey,” I said, “meow, paw at the air, pounce on something.”

She looked at me with that  you-have-got-to-be-from-another-planet  look and started walking away from me a little faster.

“Oh, come on,” I coaxed.

She hid in the cornfield.cat-4038

This is where the experiment began… “Well!” I said, “Would you look at the strange thing I found in my purse?”

That got her attention. She peered from behind the dried corn leaves, eyes widening as she saw the paper, cat mask I pulled from my purse.

“Wow! You brought that for me?”

cat-2-4034She put the mask on and instantly lost her shyness. She couldn’t care less what the families around her thought or said. Behind that mask she could be anyone. And at that moment, she transformed into an amazing cat. She hissed, she pawed the air, she pounced, and she couldn’t stop posing for the camera.cat-4041

Isn’t this, to some degree, what we do when creating characters? Aren’t we giving them masks to try on as we write and rewrite their personalities?

 

 

Here’s a character making example:

We give our character a name.

We give them an appearance.

We add some quirks or habits.

We sometimes  add a phrase or comment the character says.

We give them history/background info.

We give them a family.

Eventually, we have created a character we can move through the pages of our novel.

But what happens when a personality trait doesn’t mesh with a twist in our plot?

I’ve created a fairly confident character. He’s accustomed to winning. A big annual competition is coming up at work, and he’s already won five years in a row. When the scene comes up, will my reader perch on the edge of their recliner with streams of sweat streaming from their brow, wondering, hoping (knowing) he’ll win. Nope.

We switch gears and change our gallant hero to the underdog. He’s quiet, a tad on the shy side. This poor guy has been teased by his older brothers since he could talk. He’s never had enough money to buy any stylish clothes. Girls don’t notice him. He always gives his best, but always falls short of winning. This likable guy needs this win if only to give him a taste of success.

So, we find that changing the personality of one of our characters is similar to trying on different masks. Except as writers we exchange paper masks for words.

Welcome to my blog

 

country roadEvery weekday I drive the same route to take my daughter to school. We pass familiar house and tree-lined streets. We stop when the crossing guard holds up her stop sign to let a string of happy children cross. A mile further, our car rattles over a number of closely laid railroad tracks. We joke that those tracks are holding our town together.

It’s the drive home that started me thinking about my blog direction…. I arrive at a fork in the road. Turning right takes me through town—a couple miles of fresh-paved road lined with a variety of well-stocked grocery stores, charming boutiques, floral shops, department stores, and quaint coffee shops. The road leading left takes me on a country drive past barns, a rolling field of grazing horses, and a llama farm. In the winter, this drive is a scene from Currier and Ives.

Both roads serve their purpose.

Both roads tempt with their abundant shopping and pastoral views.

Both roads will take me home.

Why does this fork in the road make me think of my blog? 

I imagine the path leading to the bounty of tempting shops symbolizes blog posts in which the rules of good writing are discussed, blogs in which new books are reviewed, and favorite authors are interviewed.

And the country road? Maybe this road symbolizes blogs in which the writer gets personal and shares photographs, life stories, and inspirations.

Yesterday I stopped at the fork, questioning which direction suited me best. After a moment, I decided to aim between them…with my writing and not my car.

I will meander around my personal observations, tying  in how I relate all that beauty to my writing. Occasionally I’ll share my take on the ingredients of good writing. I’ll also inspire you with some of my favorite writing games. And I’m sure I’ll want to share the books I’m reading, too. I might even toss in a recipe.

Welcome to my blog.

I hope you’ll visit me often.