Sunday, October 9, 2016

Exercises for the Curious Creative

  • Are you curious about your own creative potential, but are not sure where to start?
  • Do you love reading literature, and have always wondered if this means you have a writer within you?
  • Do you want to dedicate time towards exploring your creative side, but wonder how you will fit this into an already too-busy schedule? 
Over the years, several friends have expressed to me that they are interested in trying creative writing. They feel the ability might be latent within them, but they don’t know where to start. Others share my love of literature, especially beautifully written language, and I have often wondered if they have writers within. Other friends have expressed their bafflement at poetry, that they enjoy the language but often feel like they “don’t get it.”
As such comments have built up over the years, I am beginning to feel it my duty as a Creative to open the door for these friends. I didn’t start writing poetry myself until I was charged with the task to teach it. Close study with my high school students unlocked the block for me, and I began trying my hand at the techniques we discovered.
“You are what you love,” is one of my favorite Charlie Kaufman lines from the film, Adaptation. If you love language, underline beautiful sentences or read them aloud to yourself just to enjoy the sound, I have a feeling you have beautiful language inside you, too.
So let's explore... All you need is 10 minutes a week to awaken your creativity, to satisfy your urge to explore words, and to get you started. You will not arrive at a finished product after doing a 10-minute exercise, but that’s not the point. You are exploring a side of yourself, exercising your creative muscles. Soon you might find yourself stealing away a few more minutes here and there between errands or on your commute to write down an idea. Down the road, this might lead to a creative project. But for now, think of it as play. Creative play.
If you take 10 minutes a week to create something based on the exercise I provide, I’ll take a few more minutes each week to post a new exercise. Deal? Deal. You can do these in any language; of course, my instruction will be in English, but feel free to play in another language. To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in so you can share your creation in the comment boxes below each post. But don’t read the comments until you create your own!

Week 1 Playing with Metaphors in American Beauty

My Thoughts:

We will begin by exploring the foundation of all creative writing: the metaphor. Metaphors are about transferring qualities from one thing to another, to help you understand that other thing in a more complete way. Check out this metaphor from Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things:

Just then, the first light of day split the darkness like a knife prying the sky from earth.

If we unpack it, Eggers is expressing that when the sun begins to rise, only a very thin sliver of light appears, in sharp contrast to the darkness of the night sky and the earth in shadow. This light slowly widens but not easily; it’s difficult and cumbersome for the sunlight to enter because the darkness of the night sky and the horizon are joined tightly, and the darkness is all consuming. The two things being compared are the first light of day and a knife prying something open. The qualities being transferred from the prying to the sunrise are sharpness, contrast, suddenness, difficulty, and cumbersomeness.
Notice that my explanation is very long, but the metaphor implies all that in a packed punch, a kind of hyperlink to our emotions and imagination.

Your Turn!

  1. Begin by watching this clip from American Beauty. Turn off the volume so you don’t hear the dialogue.
  1. As you watch, brainstorm qualities of the plastic bag. Watch it several times. Jot down adjectives to describe what it would sound like, feel like, taste like, smell like, etc.
Example: crinkly

  1. Generate other things/people/moments that share these qualities.
Example: autumn leaves on a forest floor

  1. Write similes (a kind of metaphor using “like”), expressing some of these qualities, starting with, “This bag was...”
Example: This bag was like leaves on the forest floor.

  1. Take off “This bag was...” and create a new simile from the second halves of the similes you have already written.
Example: Leaves on the forest floor are like an old man’s bones.

Beautiful! A good metaphor gives you an image in your mind’s eye and a twinge of emotion in your gut. Did you write one that does?

  1. Now turn on the volume and watch the clip again to learn the simile used in the film.
  1. To encourage each other and grow a community of Curious Creatives, sign in so you can share your creation in the comment boxes below this post. Also, if you subscribe to this blog (submit your email address in the "Follow this Site by Email" box on the right), you will get an email update whenever I add a new exercise. Thanks for playing!


  1. From this exercise, the following poem was written by a 10th grade class of students studying Turkish as a foreign language at BLIS, Ankara, Turkey:

    Yapraklarla dans eden beyaz torba
    Esiri olduğu rüzgarla
    Çöp gibi çirkin ama
    Çocuk gibi mutlu
    Güvercin gibi uçsa da
    Özgür olmayan torba
    Tüy kadar hafif
    Ölüm gibi ağır

    10BIS Türkçe sınıfı

  2. Here are two new similes I created during step #5 of this exercise. I may use them as writing prompts for a poem:
    A scurrying rodent trying to escape its predator is like an elderly man's crepey skin.
    A newborn's translucent skin is like the fresh air of Autumn's first day.