Posted by: elizadashwood | January 14, 2017

Writing/Reading Prompt: Slowly

I have always had a tendency to speed read. The main reason for this is that saying that I had completed a book always seemed more important to me than actually enjoying it. The same can be said of a lot of things I’ve done. I like pieces of opera, but not the whole thing and not all at once. I’m impatient and as Edith Wharton once wrote, “Americans like to get away from amusement almost as quickly as they like to get to it.” I have been trying to change this thinking of late.

Part of change is to acknowledge what you’re changing from, to what you’re changing to and why. I released lately that I don’t always take in what I read, I’m not always present in meetings and I don’t always listen and pay attention to music, singing or theatre performances. I catch myself being somewhere else. My thoughts drift and I although I might occupy a physical space, I’m not really “in the room”.

So, here’s the plan…I intend to actually pay attention to where I am and what I’m doing. I’ll learn to savour the written word that someone took the trouble to put down on paper. I’ll listen to the singer that spent their lives training to perfect their voice in the pursuit of art and the entertainment of others. I’ll listen when my colleagues speak, since their thoughts and ideas are no less important than mine, and the effort to speak to others is no doubt as potentially risky for them as it is for me. It takes effort to stick one’s neck out and when I don’t give something my full attention, I diminish their efforts, I devalue their time and struggle.

For this exercise, try this: Pick a book. Read a chapter quickly. Now go back and read it carefully, really taking the time to absorb what is on the page and what the author it trying to communicate. How do you perceive what you have read differently compared to the first, quick time? Did you get more out of it? Take the time to consider the author and what they were thinking or going through when they wrote it. Take note of the difference. Finally, make a list of times when you were not giving something your full attention. What were you thinking about instead and how might giving that thing or person your full attention have changed the outcome?

I’m going to go read “The Discover or Witches” for 30 minutes, quickly at first, then slowly, slowly. I might catch something new and different in the re-reading.

Have fun. Go slow.

Posted by: elizadashwood | January 7, 2017

Writing Prompt: Happy New Year

It’s 2017 and this is my first prompt for the year. 2016 brought a lot of challenges, both personally and professionally, but I look at 2017 optimistically, certain that I can make this a better year.

Key points of 2016 included:

  • Adoption of two new lovely felines, Oreo and Biscuit
  • New job
  • Trip to India
  • Took Mark to Sicily and went up to Mount Etna
  • Skiing in Gressoney, Italy
  • Started back at University after 15 years out of education
  • New friends
  • Lots of gigs, theatre and opera including:
    • Don Giovani
    • Cosi Fan Tutti
    • Doctor Faustus
    • Impossible
    • Wicked
    • The Merchant of Venice
    • Richard III
    • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    • As You Like It
    • Macbeth
    • Duran Duran
    • Red Hot Chilli Peppers
    • Stevie Wonder
  • Great Christmas and New Year with my family in the US
  • Political Debate

Low points:

  • US Election
  • Brexit Vote
  • Job Hunting
  • Death of my beloved cat, Titch
  • Put on a stone

Although there are a few things on this list that are beyond my control, I can do something about my weight, so that’s part of the 2017 plan for improvement. Marathon scheduled for May this year.

For this prompt, make a list of the high and low points of 2016. Make plans for 2017 and don’t forget to include your writing ambitions for this year. I, for one, plan to write every day. Even if it’s just a few lines. Furthermore, I’m going to start keeping a hand written journal again. I promise to be more faithful in my blogging here and will blog at least twice a week.

Happy 2017 and Happy Writing!

Posted by: elizadashwood | November 27, 2016

Writing Prompt: Days gone by

It has been close to 6 months since I last wrote in this blog. It is perhaps the longest time I have ever gone without writing, but as you know, life, can sometimes get in the way.

In truth, it was never my intention to abandon writing, but with each passing year it become more difficult to focus. The day to day takes over and one gets sucking into “grown up” problems that distract us from art and reading for pleasure.

So, although my schedule is no less hectic, I say no “no more”! From today, I will not spend my days and nights melting away over TV box sets (as entertaining as they are) or car crash TV. I’ll keep myself informed of world events, but will not torture myself over reading ten versions of the same politic story until I read an opinion I like or that brings be comfort.

To be honest, there are many thing that have occupied my time that are legitimate and warrant my attention. I’ll list a few here:

  • New job
  • Adoption of two new cats
  • New job
  • Return to university after a 15 year gap
  • travel to distant lands (India), but more on that later
  • Significant birthday celebrations
  • illness
  • New Job…

For this, my new prompt after a 6 month absence, write a list of the significant things that have happened in your life for the past six months. Pick one and write a few hundred words about it.

I’m off to do the same.

See you sooner this time!

 

Posted by: elizadashwood | July 19, 2016

Writing Prompt: Point of View

I often struggle to decide which point of view to use when writing. I find it easy to write in the first person, but realise that it is limiting in terms of storytelling. First person narrative limits the ability to see beyond what the narrator tells you. However, it does provide the reader a familiar voice in the story and insights directly from the narrator rather than from a distant storyteller. Third person allows you to see multiple points of view and see a the bigger picture.

Try this: Write a scene in the first person, then try re-writing it in the third person. How do the scenes differ?  What does the reader lose or gain in terms of information from each retelling? Have fun. Happy writing.

 

Posted by: elizadashwood | June 30, 2016

Writing Prompt:Teen Fiction and Magical Things

I’ve started reading a lot of teen fiction lately. It’s not only easy to read and entertaining, it give me and my lovely niece something to talk about.

I have notice that there are certain trends in these books. They (at least the one’s I’m enjoying) tend to be written in the first person. They also seem to have outsiders as their main protagonists. Finally, there is usually some sort of fantasy or supernatural element about them.

I’m currently reading the “Shiver” series by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s about a young girl and her relationship with a boy who turns out to be part of a pack of werewolves. I’ve managed to get through most of the first book of the trilogy in about a day in a half. Not bad going.

What I would like to do is challenge you to write an outline or the premise for a teen fiction book.

Describe your protagonist (they should be 13-17 years old). Describe what they look like, where they come from and what challenge they’re going through. Try to flesh it out as much as possible. Try to include things like their family life, whether or not they have friends or siblings (who is going to be there in support when things get weird), do they have odd habits or flaws? What obstacle are they going to have to overcome? In the case of my current heroine, she’s in love with a werewolf and I suspect she might be one herself.

Have some fun with it and when you’re done, break your summary down into a few key bullet points:

  1. Who is your character
  2. What is their challenge
  3. What are their flaws
  4. who is in the sporting cast
  5. how will they triumph after a few obstacles to overcome?

Have fun, happy writing!

 

Posted by: elizadashwood | June 22, 2016

Writing Prompt: Flawed

The thing that makes a story interesting is when the characters throughout have depth to them. The hero cannot be too perfect or they lack credibility. They must possess a flaw that makes them human and makes their journey interesting and challenging, otherwise, there is no story, or at least, not one we’d care about.

Try drafting an outline for a hero to your story. Describe everything about their character flaws. What is it about them at may prevent them for succeeding in their quest or adventure? Why should we care about them? Are they a good person cast into a bad situation? Are they comfortable with their lives and now have to face a difficult decision that they may not be equipped for? Are they judgemental? Cowardly? Think of Hamet. His great flaw was his indecision and lack of action until it was too late.

Write a short summary of the challenge your main character faces. What is it about him that will prevent him or her from coming forward in the story?

Have fun.

Posted by: elizadashwood | March 30, 2016

Writing Prompt:One Day

I used to always complain that I never had time to myself. I would dream things I would do if I just had one day to sort myself out. When I eventually found I had a load of time on my hands, I felt paralysed by indecision. The piano leered at me, daring me to strike a key. My bookshelves seemed to lean forward, their bulk challenging me and making me feel guilty for all of the untouched spines that stared back. There, in the corner was my cross-trainer and my exercise ball, dusty and unloved. The garden, just beginning to come to life with the recent arrival of Spring begging me to come out and plant more flowers or just to sit in the fickle sun for an hour. And finally this, this machine before me, where I tap, tap, tap on the keys begging me to write something of substance and not to read the latest article slamming American politicians or to haemorrhage minutes and hours on cat videos.

So, I have one day today to do as I please. I’ve booked a weekend away with my best friend, I’ve read a book, done some exercise, made spaghetti and will now pack for a short trip. This evening, I’ll visit a cat rescue centre and with any luck, I’ll pick a new pair of companions. If I have time, I’ll write more and maybe go for a massage. These are all simple things, but they’re all my choice and little things that make me happy. I have a simple, happy list of things to do. If you had one day to do anything you liked, what would it be?

Happy daydreaming!

Posted by: elizadashwood | March 23, 2016

Writing Prompt: Good Night Sweetheart

My beloved cat died on Friday 11th March 2016.

I came home at around 5pm on the evening before and found her sluggish. She had been ill for months. The first diagnosis of liver failure was in early August 2015 and after three overnight stays in the hospital over a 6 month period, no one, not even the vet, expected her to last that long. Every day I had her I wondered if it would be the last. I had a feeling, as the weeks went by, that sooner or later, when she declined one final time, that I would have to put her to sleep. How soon would it be before the final push, the last decline? On that day, I knew I had my answer.

She wobbled into the kitchen and flopped down on the floor near where I was cooking. I could see she was struggling. The weight of fluid that had gathered in her abdomen made it uncomfortable for her to walk and even as she lay on the kitchen floor, she rolled herself over from side to side, trying to make her bulk cooperate with her.

I decided that opening the back door to the garden might help get her to her feet, so I opened the glass doors and waited. She wandered to the open door and sat just inside peering out into the garden. After a few minutes, she jumped up onto a wicker chair that contained her cat bed and nestled in. I closed the door to the garden and went to the sitting room to watch tv. A couple of hours later, she came in and jumped on the coffee table where a glass of water was waiting for her. She had ceased to drink from her water bowl months before and was, by that time, only content to take her drink from a pint glass on the coffee table. I suspect it had something to do with the strain on her neck from leaning down.

She settled in beside me and looking a bit miserable, tried to get comfortable. I went to my office to check something on my computer when I saw it. There was a small pool of vomit on my purple yoga mat, which she had in recent months taken to sleeping on whenever I was working in there and she wanted to be near me. With a shudder of concern, I went to get some cleaning products to tidy the mess. That’s when I discovered another, small trail of vomit along the conservatory floor, where she had been sleeping a few hours before. I cleaned that too, then went back to her in the living room. She was still, but when I put my head to her side, I could hear her breathing laboured. I placed a hand on her wee head and tried to stroke her. A wheezing purr came from her, but was quickly replaced by the shallow rhythm of her struggle for breath. Then, without warning, she sat up in attention again and leaped to the floor and was once more, violently ill. I left her to finish, cleaned up again and waited to see what she would do. She seemed to want to drink more water, but after a couple of gulps, she was back in her place on the sofa.

This went on for about an hour before she was ill again. This time, she wandered into the hallway, as if to try to get to the kitchen, but she stopped after a few steps and flopped over again. She sat there, her paws folded under her as though all she wanted was to get comfortable.

She had always, since she was a kitten, loved the feel of my dressing gown. It was white and fluffy and smelled of me. I found it and made a nest out of it on the end of the sofa next to my spot, then placed her in it. There she stayed for a few minutes, but once again, she struggled to find a comfortable position, I moved next to her, placing my head beside hers until she decided she wanted to be left alone, and turned her back to me, dangling the front half of her body over the arm of the sofa.

By this time I was in a state of such panic and fear and sadness that I didn’t know what else to do. The evening had given into night and it was nearly 11pm. I made on final attempt to make her comfortable, positioning her back onto the dressing gown nest and there I left her. She seemed at last to calm down and when midnight came, I gave her a final pat of the head, a kiss and went upstairs to bed. I knew that if I found her in the same miserable state the next morning, it would be time for me to make that hard, but necessary decision to put her out of her misery. However, when I came down at 8am the next morning, before I reached the stairs and she came into full view, I knew she was gone.

Her small body was stretched along the sofa with her head and front paws dangling slightly over the edge. There was no movement, and when I got close to her, I could see her eyes were half open and a thin string of spittle dangled from her closed mouth, leading to one final pool of vomit on the floor where she had coughed out her life.

I cuddled her and tried to closed her eyes, but was unsuccessful. She had already begun to stiffen, which led me to believe that she had died four or five hours before.

I found a box of the right size, a white towel and all of her toys. I carefully placed her in the towel lined box and covered her, positioned her toys around her, her favourite, just at her front paws, then closed the box.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to find a patch of soft ground in the back of the garden, I settled on one near the front of the garden near the house and within view of the conservatory she has known so well. When at last I buried her in her final resting place, I placed a pot of opened daffodils over the grave to mark the spot and to keep the foxes out.

There she is now, within view of my office window and under the trees, surrounded by snowdrops. I thank whatever forces are out there that the end was quick, that only a few hours passed of discomfort before she died and that I had stayed home from a trip to be with her until the end. I have 13 years worth of memories to keep me going. She’s resting now and someday, when time time is right, I’ll rescue more cats and make this their home, but no cat, however wonderful will replace the affection I had for Titch. The best cat that ever lived. Good night sweetheart.

If you’ve reached the end of this narrative and want an exercise, write about a pet you’ve had or have. Describe them and what they mean to you. Pets have a way of taking over your life, adding stress, inconveniencing you, but you don’t mid because you love them. I, for one, hope I get to feel this awful again.

Posted by: elizadashwood | March 1, 2016

Writing Prompt: The Break Up

We have all parted company with people throughout our lives. It might be friends we no longer speak to, family we fall out wth, partners we split with or colleagues we no longer speak to. People come in and out of you life all the time. Sometimes it’s amicable, sometimes not. In some cases, we just drift apart and we don’t ever realise our communication is over until we stop and think about the people that we no longer see day to day.

For this exercise, think about some of the people that have come in and out of your life. Write about parting ways. If possible, write about falling out with someone. How did it happen? Why? If you could go back and change the outcome, would you? It might reveal some interesting insights into the nature of conflict, open up dialogue possibilities or help you recreate scenes. Have a go and try to be honest, it might be difficult, but sometime the most worthwhile writing is. Good luck.

Posted by: elizadashwood | February 27, 2016

Poem for the day

A friend of mine brought this poem to my attention today. I thought I’d share.

IF…by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

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