Friday Speak Out!: Warming Up (It's Not Just for Exercise Freaks Anymore)

Friday, July 18, 2014
by Sioux Roslawski

In my past life as a quilter (now I've been reincarnated as a knitter) I used to have a “junk” project to work on. There would be a wall hanging or a bed quilt that I was working on, but each day that I quilted, before I worked on the project I truly cared about, I'd quilt a bit on some smaller, not-so-important piece. It might have been a wall hanging for an in-law (a relative I was not very fond of, so I didn't care how large my stitches were). Perhaps it was a placemat that was going to be very utilitarian, so if the quilting was not my best, I didn't care. After working on my warm-up piece, I'd set it aside and start working on the sewing I did care about.

Because then, my fingers were warmed up and ready. My needle was nimble. My stitches were so tiny, a microscope was needed to see them. (Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. Forgive me.)

The same technique can be used when writing. Julia Cameron, in her wonderful book The Artist's Way, calls it the daily pages. You write a few pages to get the junk out, so that creativity can really flow once you start working on your novel/short story/article that day.

Recently, I've been working with some middle school and high school teachers. They're working on a graduate class and get the opportunity to explore themselves as writers as well as themselves as teachers of writing. One of the course requirements is a daily writing prompt; every day we begin the class with some sort of quick “exercise” to get us started writing.

One morning, a teacher told us to “Write a story about a girl named Dot without using any words that have a dot in them.” That meant we couldn't use a word that had a lowercase i or j in it. We became word contortionists as we crafted flash pieces, tossing out words that had those dreaded dots.

Another teacher instructed us to write a story with only commands and exclamations. We couldn't use any statements. That was great fun as well.

Along with Cameron's book, I'd recommend Unjournaling by Dawn DiPrince and Cheryl Miller Thurston. It's filled with 200 prompts like the “dot” one and ones like “Describe someone who looks bored. Don't use any form of the words yawned or stared or sighed,” or “Create an impression of a person, real or imaginary, by describing only the person's hands. Use only three sentences.” (See? Some of these exercises might be useful when working on your “real” writing project, so you can double dip!)

So, today before you get working on your YA novel ...Before you start your revision-of-the-day ...Before you begin writing the article you've got on your to-do list ...Warm up your fingers. Get your laptop heated up. Get rid of the “junk” that's in your head—and get ready to really write ...

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Sioux Roslawski is a proud member of the notorious (and sometimes felonious, at least in their fantasies) writing critique group, the WWWPs. During the day she is a third grade teacher. In the early mornings and late at night, she is a freelance writer. Her stories can be found in Chicken Soup collections (soon to be 10) and Not Your Mother's Book anthologies. This summer, she is busy cleaning up puppy pee puddles. More of her writing can be found at 

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

That writing class sounds interesting. Not using any words with I or j, I think I might just have to try that.

Val said...

I knew this post was written just for me when I read your opening line: "In my past life as a quitter..."

Oh. Nevermind.

Sometimes I get too involved in the warmup, and feel like I've left my best stuff on the page. I'd be making beautiful quilted items for people I was not particularly fond of. I need to learn when to walk away from the warmup, and where to put those propositions so I don't use them to end sentences with.

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux, I guess drinking gobs of coffee in the morning doesn't count as a warm up:)

Good post topic! I actually found the journal I wrote in about 9 or 10 years ago when I did The Artist's Way program. It was interesting flipping through those old morning pages, although it seemed like I did an awful lot of venting about my boss at the time (I was in PR!) The exercises you listed in this post sound neat and very challenging, which means I probably need them. I recently got a hold of a really cool writer's notebook for product review called "Fireflies" by a woman named Coleen Murtagh Paratore and it also has some great writing prompts in it. I might start using it as a warm up before writing, too.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--I think anytime we have to think outside the box, the results will move us forward as writers.

Val--For a millisecond, I panicked and went back to make sure the 'l" was not missing, replaced by an additional "t."

You had me goin' for a moment.

What you need--and you KNOW I always can tell people where to go and what to do--is a larger project to have in place. Then, you can work on your posts along with spurts--here and there--of writing on your bigger piece.

I would suggest a collection of vignettes, which means you could use your posts and perhaps modify them a bit or perhaps not. There are lots of people who have no idea Val exists, and one book, jampacked with "Life with Val" stories would be pee-pad worthy. (The pee-pad comment you are welcome to use on the jacket. ;)

Renee--If you are drinking gobs of coffee, it sounds like it's strong and thick enough that you're serving up portions with a knife. That's scary. ;)

Thanks. I think any way we can challenge our writing hand, we need to do it.

Hey, writers live life twice, but your boss was probably lucky that some things you only lived once--in your imagination--as you plotted the horrendous, painful end to their life. Oops, maybe I am venting right now...

I will have to check out "Fireflies." Thanks for the suggestion.

Sioux Roslawski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Val said...

Sioux--Thank you. That is actually very good advice. Though I am wondering if you are the secret heiress to a vast pee-pad fortune.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Val--No, but I am the USER of a vast number of pee pads...

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