Unlock the Muse – March 28, 2018

As I write this, Spring Break week is half over and March 2018 is rapidly reaching its conclusion. I don’t know about you, but I feel unprepared for what comes next. For me, what comes next is Camp NaNo, where I’ve set a goal to write 25,000 words and complete at least one of my middle grade novels.

What are your spring writing goals?

Your writing exercise for this week is:

Brainstorm about different types of jobs, pick the most interesting one, and write a personal essay about what you think it would be like to hold that job day in and day out.

This makes me think about the Dirty Jobs television series, with host Mike Rowe. Some of the jobs he profiled on that show, I couldn’t imagine doing at all, let alone on a daily basis. Here’s your chance to put yourself into the dream job you’ve always wanted. When I was a kid, I wanted to live on a farm. Sometimes, I think I’d like to raise alpacas. Put your characters to work and see how they do. Are they on a career fast track? Or are they working for minimum wage to pay their way through college? Write a scene with them on the job.

There is so much to be mined from the book Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, I haven’t yet bothered to pick up a new book on writing craft. This week, I’ll examine her essay titled “Be Specific.” In this essay, Goldberg encourages the writer to use the names of objects. Instead of “flower,” use “daisy” or “geranium.” Each one brings to mind a specific image, and will evoke different sensations in the reader. She says:

When we know the name of something, it brings us closer to the ground. It takes the blur out of our mind; it connects us to the earth.

Specificity will also help with the “show, don’t tell” issue. When we use the names of the objects around us, we create a much more vivid scene for our readers – something they can see and hear, even taste and smell.

Goldberg concludes this essay:

Learn the names of everything: birds, cheese, tractors, cars, buildings. A writer is all at once everything—an architect, French cook, farmer—and at the same time, a writer is none of these things.

I have long wished I had in my library field guides identifying the various birds, trees, insects and so on that I see around me everyday. I have finally set about acquiring a few of these, and I hope to expand that to include the flora and fauna from around the world, not just my own corner of it.

There is great value in names. Learn the specific names of things. Use this specificity in this week’s exercise on jobs.

From an author most famous for the macabre and the mysterious, this week, I’ll leave you with this thought:


Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

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