Thursday Three: Smell the Roses

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What’s that cliché? Stop and smell the roses?

Earlier this week while brushing the snow off my car, a neighbor of mine, who is in his upper eighties, approached me and asked why I was in such a rush. Surprised, I didn’t really have an answer for him. I mean, isn’t everyone? Between school and work, it hardly seems there’s enough time to get anything done (and as a college student, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean). My neighbor, though, didn’t quite agree.

After some small talk, he surprised me again by saying, “What I’ve learned in life is that the more smiles you give, the more years you live,” and this resonated with me for two reasons: 1) this was coming from a man who rarely ever says more than “good morning” or “have a nice day,” and 2) I was so concerned with my day’s responsibilities that I hadn’t even stopped to smile at a man I’ve known for eleven years. And then the realization hit – we really do spend too much time worrying and not nearly enough time appreciating all the things that bring us joy. I mean, what’s that cliché? Stop and smell the roses?

With all that being said, I want to challenge everyone this week to really consider how much time you spend working and how little time you spend doing what you love – reading and writing for your own leisure. So I’ve come up with a list of a few fun, creative things to do that will hopefully appeal to you, and I encourage you to try at least one of them.

  1. Trade in your Moleskine notebook for a Smash Journal – Smash Journals are quite the trend lately, so if you haven’t heard of them, they’re basically a condensed, less aggravating version of a scrapbook. They still require all the messy materials, but they use up only half the amount of time and energy because you don’t have to worry about perfecting a layout. It’s just a journal that brings your ideas to life through creative vision.
  2. Reread a book that you love and annotate! – Sometimes there is nothing more relaxing than a good read, but if you’ve already read the book before, you can expect the experience to be much different, especially if you’ve annotated. I always recommend annotating because you can go back and review your marginal notes, paying attention to patterns. What surprised you? What intrigued you? Depressed you? By noticing these patterns, you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn about yourself and who you were at the time, or even how you’ve grown as an individual.
  3. Find a picture that speaks to you and write about it – Art is accessible just about anywhere, so find an image that really appeals to you and create literature out of it. You can write an ekphrastic poem, a character profile, or anything you wish. The point is just to write and free your mind.

So, there you have it! My three suggestions for you to “stop and smell the roses.” Enjoy!

— Melissa Carrington, Assistant Blog Editor

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Thursday Three: First Lines

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“Call me Ishmael.” – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

There is something compelling about this line, isn’t there?  Something mysterious – invitational, yet intrusive.  These three small, but powerful words are still considered to be the most well-known opening lines in literature, and in honor of my first post, I thought it might be relevant to focus on first-liners myself.  Much like when meeting new people or going someplace new, a story’s first impression is always important (and writers know how challenging this can be).  There are several ways to begin a story, and my guess is that it will probably require more than only three words, but you never know!  The length of the sentence really does not matter, but the goal is to draw in and orient your reader.

Some of my favorite ways to do this include:

  1. Set a time and place – This seems simple, right? What better way to anchor a reader than inviting them into the scene with your character?  Well, there’s a little more to it than that.  You want to be sure that the setting is a logical place for your character.  You wouldn’t set The Incredible Hulk in an elementary school in Amish town.  Nor would you set a Holocaust victim in the 1800’s, and this might all seem like common sense, but knowing every aspect of your character well enough to create the perfect setting for them is quite a challenge.

  2. Set a tone – What do you want the initial emotion of your reader to be?  Happy?  Intrigued? Depressed?  By setting the tone, you invite your reader to connect with your characters.  Here’s an example (and I’m just making this up): “The doctor called with my wife’s diagnosis today.  She has cervical cancer.  Or was it rectal?”  By not remembering such striking information, the reader is already made aware of the disconnect between the husband and his wife.

  3. So simple, it’s exciting – This is personally one of my favorites.  It’s experimental and quite entertaining.  In fact, beginning a story this way is almost the opposite of the other two in that it withholds information from the reader.  It’s as if the narrator is playing a guessing game with the reader, similar to an I know something you don’t know type of mystery.  If you’ve ever read Toni Morrison (which I’m hoping you have), you’ll see what I mean by simple.  In The Bluest Eye, her first two lines are “Here is the house.  It is green and white.”  These lines are so simple that they intrigue the reader, leaving questions about the house, ultimately motivating the reader to continue on with the story.

With all that being said, I hope beginning stories becomes a little more enjoyable.  Since I’ve only covered three different ways, and there are certainly a whole lot more, feel free to visit Writer’s Digest for some other possibilities.

Happy Writing!

— Melissa Carrington, Assistant Blog Editor