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Reflection & Exercise: bridges to cross / bridges to burn

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Hi, folks! 🙂 I hope everyone’s had a great summer!

Today’s post is a bit like a Friday Reflection, but since it’s also a writing exercise, it’ll have a few instructions and guidelines for you to follow. It’s totally up to you whether you adhere to it strictly (not there are a lot of guidelines in the first place) or simply take what you like! 🙂

The topic is: bridges to cross / bridges to burn.
It can be two topics, if you think of them that way, or one unit with two halves.

Step 1: A great bit of brainstorming

As always, let’s brainstorm before diving into the actual writing of the piece (it is, after all, the first step of the writing process). You could pick either “bridges to cross” or “bridges to burn” to reflect upon, or you could take the entire topic as a unit and reflect upon it as a whole.

Before I throw other ideas into your mind — what are the first thoughts that come to you? Jot them down somewhere right away — whether they’re single words or entire phrases, or even images.

This is an important part of today’s exercise, and might end up writing your poem in the process, so spend a good chunk of time here. Find a place to sit comfortably (curled into your beanbag, out on the balcony, up in a tree…wherever you can stretch your brain best without distraction). Spend fifteen to twenty solid minutes for brainstorming. Try to fill up your page with as many ideas/phrases as possible.

Step 1.5: Some food for thought

Once you’re through putting down what was already in your mind, you can proceed with this step.

What are the ideas that come to mind when we think of “bridges to cross / bridges to burn”?

There’s the famous proverb: Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it.

There’s a famous quote:

The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.
-David Russell

As Wikipedia says, crossing a bridge is a common metaphor for solving problems or overcoming obstacles. Bridge-crossing can also symbolize a significant decision made, or an important point of progress in a journey. In that journey, the two ends of the bridge can be two very different places, even contrasting places. These places can be landscapes of the mind. The journey can be entirely psychological, emotional, or physical.

You’ll find that images/metaphors such as these work best when they’re more layered. See if you can, in your piece, incorporate as many aspects of bridge-crossing (or burning) as you can: physical, emotional, psychological…

Burning a bridge signifies cutting oneself off from a thing forever (just as literally, once you burn a bridge down, you cannot get to the other side). You could be burning a bridge either to a place (again, this can be physical or of a mindset) to which you’ve choosing not to go, or from which you’ve come.

When the two are placed side-by-side, however, they seem to find new layers of of meaning, new messages. One of the messages rings with a tone of finality: either you cross the bridge or you burn it — stretched to Mr. Russell’s quote, it’s the difficulty of figuring out which are the “bridges” in your life that you have to “cross”, and which you have to “burn”.

Remember, “burning” a bridge implies that you’ll never be able to go across; “crossing” it may mean you never return (as Mr. Frost says, often “way leads on to way” and you find you’re too far ahead to turn around) or are not welcome back, should you wish to return. You could also be afraid of what awaits on the other side. This kind of decision-making could involve a lot of inner conflict.

Before we move on to the next step, could could also take a moment to check out this blog post on ‘Crossing Bridges’, for another perspective. There’s a poem shared there that could also give you another point of view:

Step 2: What’re you going to write (about)?

You’ve already got material to write with from your brainstorming, but the next crucial step is to decide what theme/experience you’re going to focus on in your piece. You have several options by now, actually:

  1. Go through your brainstorm and pick out one idea/theme that seems to dominate most of the page (perhaps something like ‘making difficult choices‘, or if it’s just one of the two topics, ideas like proceeding with the journey or leaving someone behind)
  2. Go through your brainstorm and pick out interesting oppositions that you’ve either intentionally or inadvertently written down (because of the two halves of the topic), and make this opposition of ideas your focus: two ends of the decision-making process; bridges we cross vs. ones we burn; or even the central conflict of choosing whether to cross or to burn
  3. Recall a personal experience of having to make that decision (crossing/burning a bridge) and illustrate the physical, psychological and emotional layers of the conflict
  4. Recall a non-fictional or fictional experience of the same — pick a character from a fictional story (could be from a short story or a novel) or a non-fictional one (could be historical, of instance) who might’ve had to do this; try to work through his/her/its experience — you could experiment with either 1st person perspective and write from their point of view, or maintain your position as an outsider and write in the 3rd person perspective
  5. Create a fictional experience based on the topic and work through it; experiment with perspectives, try to make the most efficient use of the metaphor as possible

Step 3: Let’s write!

Now that we’re done with all that reflection, and you’ve decided on your focus, it’s time to start writing! 😀

You can draw as many images, words or phrases from your brainstorm as you wish, just make sure they fit together and can be worked into whatever your theme is.

If you’ve chosen to deal with those oppositions:

  1. You could write something that’s interestingly structured — a poem written in two columns, perhaps, where each stands for one respective end of the bridge, i.e., the possible consequences of decisions. It could even be a list poem.
  2. You could write a story where the oppositions run parallel to one another, perhaps depicted through decisions two different characters make (each character could reflect a personality — one who constantly ‘crosses’ bridges head first, another who often chooses to ‘burn’ them).

If you’re writing a poem, see if you can structure it to work with the progress of thought in your poem! You could make it a concrete poem — structured in the shape of a bridge, for instance. You could have a fixed rhythm, rhyme, etc. and suddenly break it when you hit the climax (where either the bridge is crossed or burnt); depending on the resolution, you could either set back into rhythm (perhaps a new one), or choose free verse. This free verse could be cluttered, chaotic, or clumsy — depending on why the persona has not come to terms with the decision — or it could flow smoothly, and utilize the “free” quality of free verse to express the persona’s sense of liberation.

Of course, these are all only suggestions. If you’ve got a picture perfect idea of how to let your poem’s theme spill unto its structure, go with it! 🙂

Happy writing & happy weekend!

I hope you find this exercise useful and/or challenging! It’s always up to you to take as much or as little as you want from all of this. The most important thing is to be able to find something to write about, and of course, write.

Have a great weekend, and as always, happy writing! 🙂

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Friday Reflections: A Year Ago & Letters

Good day, folks, hope you’ve had a great week so far! This holiday season always gives me a chance to wrap up my year with quality time with family & friends, catching up with overdue reading (especially since I have time off) and, of course, loads of writing 🙂

I’m just going to give this a try — two reflections topics in one post. As a celebration! The first topic is A Year Ago, which was incidentally inspired by the fact that it’s the one-year anniversary of The Horse’s Fountain  😀 and I also thought of it because of one of my November PAD poems I’d been re-reading today.

A Year Ago

This thought always hits me whenever I sit myself down to write my Time Capsule letters, or just reflect on my New Year’s Resolutions every January 1st. It’s amazing how much your life can change in a year. How your habits have changed, friendships perhaps, or maybe even something as big as your job or where you live!

You could reflect on all the big and little changes in your life over the past year — why or how did they come about? Do you like these changes? How many of these changes were your own decisions? Were any forced on you? Would you prefer how things used to be, or are you very comfortable with how things are at present? How drastically do you think things may change over the next 365 days? And how many of these coming changes are going to be under your control?

Perhaps you don’t like controlling things much at all! I know people who love going with the flow and taking life a day at a time! 🙂

Perspectives

I mentioned that this reflection was prompted by one of the poems I wrote in November. That poem was, in fact, prompted by a news item. One that occurred a year ago. My poem was a reflection on how that incident has impacted the country and the mindset of the people — and of course, me personally. You could always take something like that as a prompt.

A news article or any incident from around a year ago.

You could write from the perspective of someone who lived ten years ago, writing about something that happened eleven years ago. Perhaps something that, at the time, seemed small, but became a revolution.

Political situations change a great deal over the course of a year; and in wars, so very many lives are lost in that same span. Personal perspectives on public matters make for powerful poems!

As for fiction–there are plenty of novels whose stories take place over the span of a year, and it’s more than obvious that things have changed a great deal by the end! It’s the how of it that could make it interesting. How will your character journey through it? How will it be different? How will that make a difference?

So go ahead, start with: a year ago… and let your experiences and creativity lead the way. Perhaps you’d prefer “one year later/a year later” (which is what I chose for my poem). 

Reflections: Letters

The second topic for today’s reflections is letters. A glance at the dictionary tells us that there are several meanings for, and usages of, the word.

Letters of the alphabet (The letters in someone’s name, or initials; you could have fun with palindromes, even). The relation between letters and their phonetic equivalents!

Letters — those ol’ things we (once used to) communicate with, sending them off in envelopes stamped with loved ones’ addresses.

The letter of the law.

Men and women of letters.

Letter size paper!

A name lettered on a plaque.

And more. Take your pick at any meaning and try to write around that!

Letters, for me, first mean–those long personal messages (or communications) written in longhand on quality stationery 🙂 They could be letters exchanged by pen-pals who’ve never met, or ones sent by distant family members or friends, or love letters. I’ve often given letters to friends for their birthdays, or if we’re parting ways. And I’ve written poems about writing letters to people!

They make for great symbols in stories (think Poe’s The Purloined Letter, in which we never know the contents of the letter!). The success or failure of communication could be implied through letters. A packed, unopened mailbox could say so much about a character. As would a mailbox that always remains empty (perhaps the character checks it every day), or a mailbox that has a regular letter every day/week/month!

You could write a novel in epistolary format – i.e., in the form of letters, as Alice Walker has in The Color Purple and Stephen Chboksy has in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Or write a poetry collection in epistolary format, but in verse, of course.

Whenever you write in letter format though (unless it’s actually a letter meant for someone) whom do you address? Do you think of any particular family member or friend? Or that Dear Diary kind of personality? The person you choose to address would make all the difference. If the poem is about your father and you address your grandmother (father’s mother) throughout, that’s going to sound very different compared to how you’d talk to your other grandmother, or your mother, even, about your father. How is the piece most effective? (The form of the poem/text is a part of its meaning, after all.)

Thank you for stopping by & Happy Writing!

Before I sign off, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to stop by my blog -read a post, to like a post, to follow- everybody! Thank you so much!

I hope the prompts have been helpful! Wish everyone a great weekend, a merry Christmas, and a wonderful end of the year! And, of course, happy writing! 😀

For fiction writers: on writing what you know

The Novelist’s Guide to Writing (Only) What You Know

Ms. Divakaruni’s piece “The Novelist’s Guide to Writing (Only) What You Know” is up on Writer’s Digest, now. In this article, she talks about how you can make even the most ordinary experiences of your life fascinating and compelling through good storytelling.

(Her short stories happen to be among my all-time favorites!)

Hope this gives a fresh perspective on how you can make the most of your personal experiences for your fiction! Happy writing, folks! 🙂

Friday Reflections: Silence

I happened to be reading up on effective language and rhetoric (plus, right after making a presentation on identity and voice) and that’s what led me to this Friday’s topic! 🙂

silence.

It would be an understatement to say that a lot of people have had a lot to say about silence. (Well, perhaps an ironic understatement!)

But before I get into what others have had to say, or what I may have to say — first comes first: what you have to say!

Take some time to brainstorm, mind-map, or free-write (whatever floats your boat) about “silence“. Give yourself at least fifteen minutes; if you’ve got time on your hands, go ahead, take half an hour or maybe even forty-five minutes if you’re so fuelled!

Next: do give this exercise a shot — it’s a way of looking at “silence” in a rather direct fashion, and how it may affect your creativity.

An exercise in & out of silence

It’d be great for this exercise if you could split your session into two halves and spend each segment of time in these two contrasting atmospheres: one where you do not have silence, and another where you do have silence. It’s up to you which atmosphere gets to go first! You could even try the exercise twice; you could choose noisy first and silent later the first time, and vice-versa the second time, or of course.

Note that the atmosphere which doesn’t offer silence doesn’t necessarily have to be “noisy”. You could be listening to music, or maybe there’s the sound of the rain pattering away outside your window. Just don’t restrict yourself. If you want to place yourself in utter chaos, like in a crowded supermarket, instead – go right ahead!

Prompts from music

Silence plays a great role in music – whether it’s a song, full with lyrics, or just one instrument crooning away by its lonesome. Take a piece of music (or maybe two or three, perhaps a whole playlist, if you’ve the time!) and listen to it a few times, paying attention to segments that you think may qualify as a kind of “silence”. How do these segments make you feel? What effect do they have on you?

silence

Sometimes, in my favorite pieces of music, it’s when I’m suspended in these segments of “silence” that I feel it truly touches me – so much, I get goosebumps when I hear it!

Silence matters

Whether people are advocating silence over speech, or speech over silence, we can’t deny that silence does matter:

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Silence, for centuries, has been seen as both a brilliant tool of rhetoric, and a sin, which perpetuates subordination. Amongst other things. We have poetry that stands firm that only breaking silence and communicating can save us from isolation and death. We have had scholars and orators insist upon the power of silence.

It has great meaning for us, whatever the context. What is silence for you? What does it translate to for you? Do you believe in comfortable silences? Do you believe in communicating through silence, or just words, or a good balance of both? Where is this meeting point, where the balance is found, for you?

How do you express silences in your writing? In your characters? Your poems? More importantly, why do you express silences in your writing? What role do these silences have?

your word/silence

However it is you fit your Word into Silence, do explore and write about it! Happy weekend and happy writing, folks! 😀

I’ll sign off here with a couple more famous quotes:

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
Abraham Lincoln

“Silence is as deep as eternity, speech a shallow as time.”
Thomas Carlyle

And finally, this poetry excerpt, because I just couldn’t close without recalling these lovely words:

“Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Back after a break + a Writing Exercise

Hello, folks! I’ve been offline for a couple of weeks, but I’m back and I thought I’d offer something useful with this post: a writing exercise.

“Create or Die!” – What took me there:

I was rather burnt out after the April Poem-a-Day Challenge. I didn’t notice it because I shifted my focus from poetry to the novella I started writing in May.

It hit me when I was done writing the novella. I came back to my desk the next day and thought I’d write; but the novella was done. Maybe I’ll poem for a while, I thought, certainly in the mood to pen a verse or two.

Nothing came to me, not a phrase, not a word, nothing. I was sure I’d come up with at least an idea of a poem, but…naught! My mind was far too preoccupied with all of those other activities that fill up the To-Do list. The mundane, the day-to-day, the routine work…these were cluttering my thoughts, I knew so.

And whenever I feel “blocked” or am simply not able to write creatively for more than a handful of days, I become rather restless. I suppose somewhere in my mind, I have Mr. MacLeod’s message blaring like an alarm:

This time, though, I was not willing to simply wait for the dry spell to pass. I wanted to do something about it.

The answer seemed obvious and impossible at once: I’ll have to break through the Writer’s Block by…writing.

Immediately, I thought of an exercise I’d read about long ago…

The exercise in question, however, is not just a one-time thing – it’s a commitment. You have to stick with it, at least for a few weeks.

Ms. Julia Cameron’s famous Morning Pages.

The Pages

It’s relatively simple: Every morning, you have to write. Fill three pages of a notebook in longhand (it must be in long-hand), in streamofconsciousness style. It’s more or less a free-writing session.

Don’t stop for anything. Just write. Anything. Don’t even think. Even if you have nothing to write, you’re allowed to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, until you come up with something. And you have to do this every morning, without fail. Don’t skip it, even for just one day. Keep at it. It’s supposed to be a commitment, as I mentioned, not just a one-time exercise.

Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, style, content, theme. Write.

“I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.”
-Katherine Mansfield

Check out Ms. Cameron’s official website for a better idea of Morning Pages and its purpose, as well as the rest of the journey she suggests to all creatives.

What I’m attempting is actually a slightly tweaked version of this. I’m not writing in the mornings, as of now (I might do so later). I generally do it whenever I get time in the day to write without interruption. It takes me anywhere between twenty minutes to half an hour to dish out the three pages.

After I’m done with the pages, and have cleared my mind of, I’ll call it “noise”, I set about with the creative writing. I’m well into my Writing Mode by this time – the momentum keeps me going. Whether I work on a poem or a short story, I’m more focused. Less distracted by life’s other responsibilities and demands.

I’ve been at it for less than a week, but I can definitely feel the difference. Yes, it’s a mind-over-matter thing, and it helps putting it down on the page.

Making it a Habit

Forcing myself to keep at The Pages is precisely what has made it effective. You can freewrite in your journal any time. But the commitment to do it every day, and for at least so much (three pages), and in long-hand – these are the key aspects of The Pages. Whether you’re just starting to write creatively, or you’re at a “Block”, this is an exercise you can use to kick-start your writing sessions. Morning Pages can also augment your daily writing quota. Whatever floats your boat…as long as you’re writing! 🙂

That said, twenty minutes to half an hour is still a considerable chunk of time, and there are a lot of people who have schedules much too tight for it. Well, there’s a solution to everything these days! Especially on the internet 😉 Do check out this wonderful place for daily writing prompts, as well as a brilliant answer to not-having-enough-time: becoming a One-Minute Writer!

As a last note, I’ll add this: if you feel like writing more than three pages for your Morning Pages, or feel like writing for a longer than the One-Minute – go ahead! Don’t let the restrictions work against you, let them work for you.

Minimum three pages…makes you dish out a considerable chunk of writing, good, bad, or ugly. Minimum one minute…makes sure you get it done. All of this so that you may produce more, make writing a habit, express yourself, open your mind. Search the deep, dark, ugly corners. Dare to write what scares you. Create.

Writing is a difficult journey, one full of impediments, self-discovery, joy, sorrow, loneliness, restlessness, even ecstasy… Let us keep writing, give every piece our best effort, and love doing it.

I hope this helps my fellow writers in some way 🙂 Happy writing, everyone!