Writing Challenge: Textuality #5

The radio station I listen to in the mornings (now that my FAVORITE station is off the air, sigh, sadness) has a feature on Wednesdays in which they discuss "things that must go." I love this segment. Even though I believe firmly in the power of kindness, and of trying to be flexible and going with the flow and not being easily annoyed...I get annoyed at stupid things, and it is cheery to hear other peoples' annoyances. (One of the "things that must go" this morning: people using the word "troop" to refer to just one soldier. "Troop" is a collective, not a singular, noun. Yay for people getting snarky over word choice!)

Honestly, this morning? I am annoyed. In my personal journal I wrote a Dennis-Leary-esque entry berating the person who started all this annoyance that is so rude I probably shouldn't save it for posterity to read in the future; I'm thinking about deleting it later today. But it did make me feel a little bit less annoyed. Which brings me to today's writing challenge.

It's good to have a whole bunch of techniques in your writing toolbox. Try writing something in second person, for example, using the "you" as a sort of generic everywoman you're writing about. Start in the middle of the story, or the very end, and then write towards it. You don't always have to go with a traditional structure either. Today, rather than writing in paragraphs, write your response to the topic in a list format.

Here's the thing about writing lists. Sometimes they turn out as, well, lists. Sometimes, though, you get sidetracked on one item, and end up writing a list that morphs into something more focused. That is great, too!

Today's Writing Prompt:
Write a list of things that annoy you. Use the writing time as an excuse to vent—to get all those annoyances out of your brain and away from your creative self. For the ten minutes you're writing, you're excused from all responsibilities such as politeness, or worrying about hurting other people's feelings, or the ramifications of your annoyances. Just get them out!

Here's mine:

  • People who mispronounce the word "library" and say "libery." There are two Rs in there, people!
  • The fact that the word "library," when you say it quickly, sometimes slips out as "libery." How embarrassing that I also, every once in awhile and only very occasionally, just perhaps once a month or so, slip out a "libery." I take solace in the fact that it is an accident and I really do know how to say it correctly.
  • Library patrons who think they are the exception to the rule. "Yes, i know there are 227 people waiting for this book, but *I* am not finished with it yet."
  • The sense of entitlement that seems pervasive in society today.
  • No, "being angry" isn't really on the list of things you are entitled to. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, ok. That's all on the list. Your all-encompassing anger isn't.
  • Nathan's spelling homework, which all year has had the word "you're" on it, in a spot where "your" should be used instead.
  • The fact that every week I've circled that "you're" but his teacher hasn't fixed it. I know, I know, I sound petty don't I? But I think teachers should get it right. I can say that because I was a teacher, and I had literal nightmares about finding typos on my handouts.
  • McDonald's advertising. They have it down to a science, so every day I must argue with my 4-year-old about not having a cheeseburger for lunch. Every day.
  • Kids not closing the bread bag, so the first slice is dried out.
  • The oil spill in the Gulf. OK, that's really more than a personal annoyance. (Honestly, I get so worked up about it that if I think about it too much I get a stomach ache.) But it gets me fired up to think of all that waste, and the filth, and whatever bureaucratic mistake made it happen in the first place.
  • The weather. It's May 5 and 42 degrees, and yesterday it snowed. WTH?
  • My favorite radio station is gone. Replaced with "generation X" style music, which is apparently lots of crap with an occasional only half-way decent song thrown in for good works.
  • My insatiable chocolate urge. Those forty days of Lent aside, it is back with a vengeance. I KNOW I can conquer it. I just don't want to. I'm eating a peppermint patty right now as I write this. After drinking hot chocolate with my breakfast. Which was, at least, toast. Without chocolate on it. (I made toast because someone left the bread bag open and the first slice was dry anyway.)

And I'm really hoping I will still be loved & adored (LOL!) after posting this...Even though I must say: totally liberating!

Writing Challenge: Textuality #4

My husband isn't a fan of blogging. He doesn't really see the draw to it, and if he sees me reading someone's blog he'll say something like "are you checking to see what they had for dinner last night?"

It's a sure way to annoy me.

On the other hand, though, he's partly right: some blogs do  read like a sort of appointment book, a list of what-I-did-today. And while I don't think there's anything wrong with that, I tend to not read them. Instead, I like the blogs that make me think, or laugh, or be surprised, or maybe even get a lump in my throat. In other words, I like writing that makes me feel something.

I like writing with a "so what."

I think scrapbooking journaling especially requires a "so what." It's that thing that makes the writing memorable, that takes it from just a pretty description to a string of words that provokes emotion or thought in the reader. It's also the thing that people struggle with. It's not always obviously apparent when you start writing, what your "so what" will be. And that's OK. Remember, the origin of the word "essay" (and I think that scrapbook journaling is, in effect, a mini personal essay) doesn't have anything to do with proving the symbolic import of Hester's letter A or the metaphoric impact in Eliot's poetry. It comes from the French word for "to try." Writing an essay—even of the mini persuasion that you'll put on your layout—is really about trying. Trying to find a point,  to convey something important, or to figure out what it is you think. You don't always start with the knowledge. Sometimes you find it through the process of writing.

So! For today's prompt, I want you to try. Start with the topic—I kept it vague and short on purpose—and see what you discover about what you think of it. You might have to write for a few minutes, filtering through the obvious choices to something more important. Move toward a specific experience—the event you're describing—and push deeper. So what?

Today's Writing Prompt:
The thing I forgot to do...

Here's mine:

Lately I forget a lot of things. My cell phone is the most-often-forgotten item in my little world. I write a shopping list and then leave it in the car; I leave the house without coupons or the mail I needed to drop off at the post office. Last week I forgot to wash the basketful of undies. I'm not really sure how I forgot them. The basket was right there at the doorway of the laundry room. Being a working mom for awhile has taught me the importance of this truth: you should always have at least two weeks' worth of underwear and socks for every person in your family. That way if you skip a week of laundry, everyone still has enough clean things to get them through.

But I forgot to do the undies basket. And apparently Kendell doesn't have two weeks' worth, because Saturday arrived—the Saturday I had to leave for work—and he was out. No clean undies. The unthinkable happened: he had to be responsible for a load of laundry. And while I could start down the path of "why doesn't he help more often?" I don't want to go there. I mostly don't care that I do most of the laundry. I mostly don't care that my family seems to believe clean laundry appears magically in drawers and closets. Do I do the things I do so that they can tell me thank you? Not really. I do them so that they feel taken care of.

And so they can leave the house in clean clothes.

Of course, one of my personal strengths is self flagellation. I felt a little bit like beating myself up for forgetting to wash that load of clothes. But I didn't. Because I had this little inkling of an idea. Maybe clean laundry notappearing magically might be good for them once in awhile. Not because I want them to walk around feeling inordinate amounts of guilt for the sweat-and-tears effort of laundry. Not because I need to be thanked for hanging up the shrinkables so they don't shrink, or for washing the blacks carefully to minimize fading, or for pairing up all the socks. But so they can not take it for granted. Clean laundry is sort of a synecdoche: a clean pair of jeans is a bit of the person who washed them for you. If they take clean laundry for granted, they take me for granted, and then maybe they forget that, in the end, their clothes are clean because I love them.

And I don't want them to forget that.

Writing Challenge: Textuality #3

Maybe because my sister Becky is moving to a new house, I have been thinking about houses and homes lately. A quote I love about where we live:

Home is a place where you can catch a dream and ride it to the end of the line and back. Where you can watch shadow and light doing a tight little tango on a wooden floor or an intoxicated moon rising through an empty window. Home is a place to become yourself. It’s the right spot, the bright spot, or just the spot where you can land on your feet or recline in a tub of sparkling brew if you’re so inclined. It’s a place of silence where harmony and chaos are shuffled like a deck of cards and it’s your draw. It’s somewhere you can close a door and open your heart. (Theo Pelletier)

and a bit of poem, from Anne Sexton’s "Welcome Morning":

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing

Today’s prompt has to do with houses, obviously! Writing about place is essential, no matter what kind of writing you do. What would a novel be without a setting, a travelogue without a place traveled to, a biography without a description of the house the subject grew up in? Places help to define us, and perhaps our home defines more than anything. Onto the writing!

Today’s Writing Prompt:

Pick a place in your home that has a significance to you. Describe it, but also push past appearance to explain why the spot matters and to illuminate why and how it helps to define you.

Here's mine:

Once I’ve dragged myself out of bed each morning, I walk down the hall and, through the frame of the doorway, look across the front room and out the window to see the type of weather the day might hold. Then I turn and walk into my kitchen, around the table, and to the back door. I stand there and look. Looking starts my day. Sometimes I press my forehead against the glass pane; maybe I am wearing slippers or socks or maybe my feet are bare against the wood floor. The back doors are the French style, made of glass and framed with white that needs, desperately, to be painted; usually they are smudged with children’s fingerprints. Beyond the doors is the back porch, which is sometimes a place of refuge, sometimes a peaceful spot for contemplation. When I am in a sleep-walking span of time, I tend to end up there often in the darkness, muddled with laughter and confusion when I wake. The kitchen behind me is one of my favorite parts of our house, its purple paint, its accumulation of good meals and arguments and laughter and sicknesses and homework at the table, but for the beginning moments, even if just thirty seconds, what matters is the exit of the kitchen, the looking outward.

I take the temperature of the mountain every morning, through the view of my back door. I note the progress of its snows (rising or lowering upon its flanks, depending on the season) and of its scant greenness; I measure the day’s possibilities with the length and breadth of blue (or grey or cloud or white wind) along the peak. I take a deep breath, I draw my gaze downward into my own realm, my oddly-shaped backyard with my family’s marks left on it—sidewalk-chalk portraits, flowers I haven’t deadheaded yet, brilliant green lawn, someone’s flip flop buried in new snow, the neat winter stackings of patio furniture. My own yard full of memories.

This morning looking done at the portal of doors, however short it lasts, helps focus me. It brings the peace of nature into my heart, which gives me courage; it reminds me that our struggles are small compared to the world and also that our small struggles are all we have. All we are, and so are the most important thing, too. It brings me solace when I am discouraged and adds a silver edge when I am joyful. It is inward and outward, all at once.

(I am trying a different linky because the other one didn't seem to be working...hopefully this one will!)

Writing Challenge: Textuality #2

It's grey and dark here today—that temperature of light that makes you turn lights on, even during the day. Sleet, snow, rain, hail, and wind. Driving the carpool this morning in this weather, I found myself daydreaming about our February trip to California. It wasn't hot weather then, but it was definitely warmer than the end of winter in Utah. The air there already smelled like spring.


A fragment of Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Questions of Travel" came to mind: "and then a sudden golden silence in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes." Right there, in the car at the stoplight by the McDonald's where eight or ten school buses visit every morning, I decided to change today's writing challenge. First, a recap of the rules:


The writing exercise rules:


1.Write for at least ten minutes.

2.Let the topic be a starting point and see where it takes you—if you veer off in an entirely different direction, that's fabulous!

3.Keep writing. Don't let your fingers stop. If you run out of ideas, simply transcribe the thoughts in your head.

4.NO EDITING! Don't backspace or cross out or stop to look up how to spell a word. You can do that after your writing time is up.

5.If you want to publish what you wrote—on your blog, or on the Textuality website, you can edit. But only AFTER the writing, not during!


Today's writing prompt

Write a vacation memory. It can be from a trip you took last week or one you took seventeen years ago; the time of the experience doesn't matter. Rather than writing a list of what you did on the trip, try to focus on exploring one small moment, some small experience (it can be good or bad) that has stuck in your memory. Write with the goal of getting your reader to feel what you felt.


Here's mine:


As if some great wave had picked us all up and then randomly spread us out on the beach, we are scattered like seashells ourselves as we look for seashells. Kendell is near the pier, with its glimmering shadows and the teal underbelly of waves wrapped around the poles, ostensibly watching the pelicans, which stay always one step ahead of you, but only one, and seem to be tripled: their shadow, their reflection in the thin sheet of water they stand in, and their very bodies—a heavy machinework that seems too bulky for flight.


Really he is talking on his cell phone.


Jacob is racing the waves, trying not to get wet but not caring if he does. Nathan, halfway between his older brother and his dad, probes the sand with his toes. That blonde hair seems to make him the epitome of a California surfer but really, he's probably shivering, even with his sweatshirt. Haley, far down the sand, flips to a different song on her MP3, caught in her individual beach experience, blissed out from being at her favorite place in the world but still annoyed and prickly. Kaleb, who was toppled by a wave when we came to the beach three days ago, has been my shadow, glued to my side, but while I have been looking for everyone else he's gotten braver, wandered ahead of me, and is now almost caught up with Haley.


So I run.

My feet are bare. I'm wearing a swimsuit and a sweatshirt and goosebumps; the wind catches my hair up into Medusa swirls and maybe the light—which is so beautiful, glinting off the waves, bronzing the sand, tripling everything—catches it, too. I run for three minutes, and then for five, past Kaleb, past Haley. Not breathless, my heart barely seeming to pound even though I am sprinting. I'm running as hard and as fast as I can, not for the exercise or the conditioning but just for the sheer joy of running, of freedom, of being alive right at this very second. It is painless, effortless, joyful running, the way I run when I am dreaming, the way I wish running could always be—movement as a translation of joy. I sprint down the sand, everything (children and husband and obligations and sorrow and aches, those awkwardly beautiful pelicans) behind me, everything in front of me (time, distance, water, wind).

Writing Challenge: Textuality #1

On my shelf of favorite books, I have a stack of books about writing. A twelve-books-tall stack. And I am 100% certain of one thing: every single one of them says, it's this: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Here's Brenda Ueland, for example (whose book, If You Want to Write, is one I think every creatively-minded person should read): "Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first, at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, lighthearted and generous." Or Marge Piercy: "The real writer is one who really writes." Or Natalie Goldberg: " if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot."

If you want to write good journaling you need to practice writing.

This Textuality class (which you can still register for, until the end of Wednesday, if you're so inclined!) was a different sort of class for me to create. My other Big Picture classes are writing classes, built on my belief that everyone can learn how to write good, strong journaling. Part of that belief is knowing that to become a better journaler, you have to practice writing—you have to work at it. Of course, writing is one of my favorite types of work, but still. People who are successful writers don't just pick up a pen (or plunk down in front of their keyboards) and spit out a Pulitzer. They write and they work at it, and somewhere in the process the novel starts to emerge.

In my other Big Picture classes, I included a daily email with a writing prompt, something to get people thinking about what to write that day. The point of writing practice isn't necessarily really good writing. Instead, it is more about playing with language and words and syntax. Practicing description, practicing metaphor, practicing rhythm and pacing and rhetorical techniques. And sometimes, having an assigned topic to write about helps because you can move past the "what should I write about today?" anxiety and lets you get right down to writing.

So! To celebrate and work along with my Textuality class, and because it didn't fit exactly with the scope of Textuality but I still want my students to practice, I'm going to be doing a series of writing challenges/exercises three times a week. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I'll post a new writing challenge. I might even work an extra one in on a weekend or two! I'm trying to design them to help you jump right in and start writing. First, though, I have to share this idea, from writer Ander Monson's   book Vanishing Point:

"the pockmarked surface of the I: that’s where all the good stuff is, the fair and foul, that which is rent, that which is whole, that which engages the whole reader. Let us linger there, not rush past it.”

When we journal for our scrapbooks, we're often writing about someone else—our kids if we have them, our pets or spouses or friends. It becomes difficult to write about ourselves, as if it's something we need to apologize for. But I think Ander is right: within the I, within the self, is where the "good stuff" is—the interesting, intriguing stuff. It is OK—good, even—to linger with the I. Plus, there's that assumption that everyone who scrapbooks does it for their kids, which is simply incorrect. Plenty of people who don't have kids scrapbook. So the writing prompts are going to be designed to make you think about you. You could alter them, of course, and write about someone else. But I think if you focus on yourself just for these writings, you'll be surprised at what you discover. There are things we can learn about ourselves, I am convinced, only through the process of writing.

The writing exercise rules:

  1. Write for at least ten minutes.
  2. Let the topic be a starting point and see where it takes you—if you veer off in an entirely different direction, that's fabulous!
  3. Keep writing. Don't let your fingers stop. If you run out of ideas, simply transcribe the thoughts in your head.
  4. NO EDITING! Don't backspace or cross out or stop to look up how to spell a word. You can do that after your writing time is up.
  5. If you want to publish what you wrote—on your blog, or on the Textuality website, you can edit. But only AFTER the writing, not during!

Today's writing prompt:Describe some small moment from the first hour of your day. Rather than listing the the things that happened, try to describe: what you saw, felt, heard, tasted, and/or smelled.

Here's mine:

A rare moment. I woke up feeling bruise-purple. Driving Haley to school this morning felt luxurious, as all the trees on the tree-lined streets have burst open with new leaves. They are tiny and bright green, small daytime stars littered across the blue sky. The street a spring-green arc, an event made of precise timing that sparks a sort of hope in me. She bustled into the school, arms full of her student-council campaign materials and my stomach bunched into anxious nerves for her. She never seems nervous, at least not in my presence, but confident and outgoing. I am happy to feel nervous in her place, and hope she can hold on to her confidence, win or lose.

But the rare moment: at home, I found Kendell was in the shower, and the boys still asleep—even Kaleb. Silence, and a few minutes all to myself before I needed to start the morning rituals. I couldn't decide: crawl back into bed for a few more minutes of sleep? Write? Eat breakfast? Read? I'm not sure if it was really a decision, but I found myself sitting on the front porch with my few minutes of solitude. Just sitting. My little bluebells are blooming in the front flowerbeds and they caught the morning sun, the delicate blossoms beaming that spring color of light. Which is silver, its own unique whiteness, so different from fall's gold-tinged light or winter's blue. Cold seeped in: up through the porch into my hipbones, across my cheek on the wind, down to finger joints. There was that spring fragrance, which here is a very slight floral and the cold smell of mountain snow still deep. Dust, and wet dirt, and damp, chill grass. I imagine somewhere else spring smells differently. I had woken with a feeling in my heart just like the dinosaur in Geisel's My Many Colored Days : On purple days, I'm sad. I groan. I drag my tail. I walk alone. What does it say about me that I have that page memorized? I don't know. But it started as a purple day. Will the light—the stars of new leaves, the glimmer of whiteness through purple flowers—brighten my purple shadows? I don't know. It was time to wake up the boys, but I went into the house a shade more lilac.

That's it! If you blog your entry, leave a link so others will find it, too (just click to add your blog):


So, this has been a crazy-busy weekend for me, but I've managed to get a TON accomplished. (Well, if you call normal stuff like laundry, cooking dinner, 50-ish pages read in the three different books I'm working on, and a photo shoot a "TON" of stuff...but it feels ton-ish to me.) At any rate, the winner of the stamp set is:

scrappinglib, who said:


Which is funny/cool because at church today I was thinking about her comment when I found myself repeating "balm of Gilead" simply because of how it sounds. Scrappinglib, email me with your snailmail address!

As for the rest of you...I was blown away by how many comments were left! I hope a few of you stick around and comment more often! ;)

Textuality Give Away!

Back when I was writing my Big Picture class called Write Now!, I had a vague idea of including a bonus handout that focused on using words in layout design. When I started working on it, though, the idea ballooned, much too large for just a bonus handout.

And the nebulous idea for Textuality was born.

Textuality has handouts. It has mulitple handouts. And multiple bonus downloads. An exclusive font  And lots and lots and lots of ideas for using words and letters on your layouts. Words: titles and text elements and how to make your journaling spaces more than just a box on the page. Quotes, too. Letters: in almost every format imaginable.

Today I'm the  guest blogger  at the Big Picture blog, writing about (you guessed!) Textuality. To celebrate the class starting next week (which means there's still plenty of time to sign up!), I'm doing a give away. Here's what one lucky commenter will get:

  • an acrylic block
  • a stamping pad in Sweet Leaf (my favorite Close To My Heart color)
  • this acrylic stamp set: Ctmh giveaway

To be entered to win, leave a comment with your favorite word, quote, or font. To double your chances, spread the word about the give away on your blog. Drawing closes on Saturday, April 17  at 8:00 MST.

BIG P.S.!!! A couple of people have asked me if this class is for traditional scrappers, or if it would work for digital scrappers as well. My answer is...sort of. I don't really do digital layouts, so I don't think that I think like a digital scrapper does. My approach is traditional—the only software I use for layouts is my word processor. That said, some of the elements in the first three weeks are universal to all scrapbooking denominations. The first three weeks focus on making your journaling more visually appealing, creating text elements, using other people's words (quotes, song lyrics, poetry, etc), and creating titles. Within some of those topics, I DO focus on using traditional supplies, but, again: I think the basic ideas could work digitally, too. The fourth week focuses nearly exclusively on using traditional letter-based products (chipboard, letter stickers, alphabet rub-ons, etc) and so might not be as useful to a digital scrapper.


My Christmas writing class at Big Picture Scrapbooking, Gift of Words, starts soon. I love this class because it emphasizes something I feel so strongly about: Writing down how you feel about people so those emotions aren't as easily lost.

Plus there are lots of tips for writing your Christmas gifts. (You know: instead of buying them!)

If you're interested in winning a spot in my class, check out the Big Picture blog before Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. Leave a comment, be entered to win! 

Gift of Words Class Starts This Week

After talking to my uncle so much lately, I've found myself thinking about my grandma (my dad's mom). She and I weren't very close; I always had the feeling that I was just another grandkid to her. A dot in a mob. But I always had this sense of she's my grandma, she must care about me in that grandmotherly way. As I got older I assumed that she just didn't know how to express it when she was with me, but that she was writing down how she felt. So when she died, I was certain I'd find a journal somewhere, with her words in it, letting me know who she really is. I helped Dad sort through her stuff, my expectations turning to disappointment as the day wore on and no journal was ever discovered.

Since then, I've grown more and more certain of the power that written words have. Writing things down---thoughts, hopes, disappointments, whatever---with the idea of someday sharing with someone else is an intimate way of preserving a bit of yourself. But who says you have to wait until you're gone to share your words? Why not share them now?

That's the concept behind my Gift of Words class at Big Picture Scrapbooking. It helps you start small, by writing little word gifts in your Christmas cards, so you can write something significant in just a few minutes. Then I goes big and helps you write a long word gift, a letter to a valuable person in your life that says something personal and important. 

The class starts on Thursday and is just two weeks long. Unlike the rest of my classes, it's not so much about scrapbooking as it is just learning how to express yourself a bit better. Which means no supplies, no project to stress you out; no stress at all, really. Just learning to write something significant. If you're interested, now's the time to sign up! Click here for more details. 

(I'm going to keep this post at the top of my blog until registration's closed, but you can scroll down for new entries!)