Author Archives: Amber Lea Starfire

Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Getting Started and Staying Motivated 1 – Part 3

THIS IS THE THIRD of a series on achieving your writing and productivity goals. In Part 2, you created an action plan for your Big Rock goal. (If you haven’t been following along, we suggest you start with Part 1 and read forward.)


Today, I want to talk about how to get started and stay motivated.

Getting Started
For most people, once you’ve defined your first step, getting started is the easy part. That is, if you’ve broken your first step down into small enough tasks to feel easy. And that’s the key — not only to getting started but to staying started — each task should take so little effort and time that it’s a no-brainer to get it done.

Let me say that again, in a slightly different way — each task should feel so easy that it would be silly NOT to do it.

Let me give you an example of what easy looks like.

Let’s say that your goal is to write the first draft of your memoir, and your first step is to write an outline. Well, I don’t know about you, but writing an outline for an entire book seems pretty daunting to me. I might be inclined to put that off until I have “enough time” or “enough energy” to focus on it. And if you’ve never written an outline for a book — or even if you have, but this is a different kind of book — you might feel lost about how to get started and flounder around a little.

The answer to that floundering feeling is to break your steps down into minuscule, ridiculously easy tasks.

Break your steps down into minuscule, ridiculously easy tasks. CLICK TO TWEET
Here’s what’s not daunting to me as a first action: brainstorm scene ideas for 10 minutes.

My reaction to that task is, “I can do that. I can set a timer on my watch for 10 minutes and simply brainstorm.” Done!

Then what? Repeat that step, once each day, until I run out of ideas.

Then what? Task #2: Put the chapter titles in the order I think they should go. If that feels scary or like too much all at once, I can work on it for a specific amount of time and repeat until done, just like the first task.

Do you see how this works?

Staying Motivated
Okay, now that you’ve gotten started, you feel good. Anything seems possible, and then life happens. You get a flat tire, or unexpected guests show up during your writing time, or your kids get sick, throwing you completely off your planned schedule.

Interruptions and challenges are going to happen. The important part is to keep your goals in sight and not to let temporary obstructions get you down.

Achieving your goals is like a marathon, not a sprint. And just like running a marathon, it takes determination and a certain amount of grit to keep going, no matter what.

Keeping Your Goals in Sight – the Daily Review
The best way I know of keeping my goals front and center is to review them each morning. It takes less than five minutes. Here’s the process I recommend:

Read each goal and check off any tasks you accomplished the day before (if you haven’t checked them off already). Checking off tasks as you complete them will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Read the reasons you wrote down for achieving that goal. This step is important, because when challenges occur, reminding yourself WHY you wanted to do this in the first place will keep you going.
Decide on your next best step and write it down. Remember to make it easy and doable.
Schedule the time for that task into your day.
The truth is that life will do its best to get in your way, and if you don’t keep your goals front and center — every day — it’s far too easy to forget about them or to keep shoving them down the list of priorities.

What other ways can you keep your goals in sight and stay motivated?


Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at writingthroughlife.com

Your Best Writing Year Yet! – The Action Plan – Part 2

THIS IS THE SECOND of a new series designed to help you create and achieve your writing productivity goals. Part 1 showed you how to set your one-word intentional focus for the year and create your “big-rock” writing goal. Part 2 builds on the first, so if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now. Then come back and continue with Part 2.


In last week’s article, Part 1, I showed you how to set your one-word intentional focus for the year and create your “big-rock” writing goal. Part 2 builds on the first, so if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now. Then come back and continue with Part 2.

First, A Word to Non-Goal Setters

I’d like to take a moment to address those of you who feel an aversion to setting goals. (If you’re already on board, skip to the “Moving On” section below.)

Did you look at last week’s article and think, “Goals work for some people but not for me”? If so, you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. Many people don’t like the idea of setting goals for a variety of reasons.

But here’s the thing: a goal is simply a destination. Do you normally just get in your car and drive without knowing where you want to go? Probably not.

So, ask yourself this: Where do I want to be as a writer in 6 months? 12 months?

Lay down your preconceptions of what it means to work towards a goal and trust me. The process I am laying out in this series works. If you really want to make progress in your writing life, re-read Part 1, create your one, big-rock writing goal, then meet us here again, at Moving On.

Moving On

By now, you have your one-word focus for the year and your Big-Rock SMART writing goal. If your goal is an achievement, you will have included your due date as part of your goals statement. For example, “To complete the final draft of my personal essay by March 1, 2018.”

If your Big-Rock goal is to establish a habit, you will have included your start date, how often you want to include this habit, and the date by which the habit will be established. For example: “To write 30 minutes each weekday for 6 months, starting January 2nd.”

You will also have written down your motivation (the Whys) for accomplishing your goal. If you haven’t written your Why statement(s) yet, stop and do it now! This step is vitally important, because when life happens and things get hard you will need to refer back to your Why statements for encouragement and to remind yourself why you began this journey in the first place.

The next step is to break your goal down into small, doable baby steps (tasks), each with its own due date. So let’s get started.

 Your action plan is a living, breathing document.CLICK TO TWEET

Creating Your Achievement-Goal Action Plan

Brainstorm a list of baby steps you can take toward your goal. For example, if your goal is to complete a memoir that you’ve been working on, you might start with a list that includes items like this:

  • Calculate how many words I need to write between now and [due date].
  • Schedule writing time on calendar and set reminder.
  • Outline chapters.
  • Interview Aunt Jane.
  • Read 2002 Journal entries for relevant info.

Next, put your list in the order in which you want to do the tasks and give each task a due date.

You will need to break some tasks into smaller sub-tasks. For example, the task of interviewing Aunt Jane can be broken down into 3 sub-tasks, each with its own due date: 1) Schedule Interview; 2) Write interview questions; 3) Conduct Interview.

Or, you may need to schedule 15 minutes per day for 1 week to read and notate your 2002 journal (or any other research).

Giving dates to your tasks can feel risky, but you can adjust these due dates later if you need to (more on that later in this series), so go ahead and be bold. It’s the due dates that give the tasks their power.

Put each task on a calendar and post where you can see it or set reminders on your smart phone — whatever works for you. I’m going to talk more about task management in the next article.

Creating Your Habit-Goal Action Plan

When establishing new habits, it’s equally important to start with baby steps. AND it’s important to decide what time of day you will integrate your new habit. Use an already established daily activity to spark your new behavior.

If your goal is to write for 30 minutes five days a week, figure out when you will write. Some ideas: upon awaking, after breakfast, before bed, after dinner, during lunch break, after work before coming home, when the kids are napping (though if you choose this one, also choose an alternate for those times the kids are not cooperating!)

Start small. Plan to write 10 minutes a day to start. When you’ve successfully written 10 minutes a day for a week or two, you can increase the time to 15 minutes. You’ll continue in this fashion until you’ve reached your goal of 30 minutes per weekday.

Important! Add the habit to your calendar and/or set a daily reminder on your phone.

What’s Next?

Do the first task on your list. If you can’t do the first task in one sitting, break it down into multiple tasks or schedule working on it a few minutes per day until it’s complete.

When the first task is complete, do the second. Don’t overlap.

Remember: your action plan is a living, breathing document that you will refine and adjust as you work toward your goal.

In the next article in this series, we’ll how to stay motivated and manage your tasks.


So tell us, how will you get started? What’s the first task on your list?


Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at writingthroughlife.com

Happy New Year! Get Ready For Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Part 1

Happy New Year! Get Ready For Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Part 1 17


“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 
 Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

WHAT DO YOU DREAM OF being or achieving in your writing life? As the calendar flips to a new year, are you looking forward to new opportunities to bring those dreams to life?

Movies and fairytales aside, we know that dreams aren’t fulfilled by wishing upon them. If you want to achieve your dreams, you must do more than dream. You must set the full focus of your will — your intention — on what you want, and then you must act. Put another way, you can only arrive at your desired destination if you pack your bags and get on the road.

Today, I’d like to invite you to think about where you want to go and how you will get there. No matter the level or extent of your writing desire — from wanting to establish a journaling or creative writing practice to finishing that memoir or novel you’ve been working on — it’s all doable. And I can show you how.

To that end, over the next few posts I’m going to share with you what I do each year to set and accomplish my goals — and why my process works. I use these steps to set goals for all areas of my life, including writing/publishing, spiritual, relationship, emotional, physical/health, and financial. And I achieved 95% of my personal and professional goals this last year.

For this series, I’m going to focus on only one area: writing/publishing. You may choose to separate writing and publishing into two separate goal areas. For me, these tend to blend together, so I think of them as one.

You’ll need to arrange a quiet place and time to work through the following exercises. The time needed will vary, but I would give myself at least an hour to start. And you don’t need to do this all at once — you can take several sessions.

Ready? Let’s get started . . .

(1)

Set your overarching intention (focus) for the year.

Our goals do not live in a bubble of their own, outside the totality of our lives. If we want to grow in any area of our lives, we need to understand what we want most and who we want to Be in the world. So before forming goals for any area of your life, get out your journal and freewrite your answers to the following questions:

  • What quality to I want to infuse into my life and into all my decisions this year?
  • What quality do I need most in my life at this time?

Once you have written about what you want in your life, choose the quality that resonates most for you and distill that quality into one word.

This word will be your guiding principle, your focus of intention for the year.

Last year, my guiding principle was “balance.” I wanted (and needed) more balance between the personal and professional areas in my life. Keeping my focus on balance all year helped me make important decisions along the way, including what to keep and what to let go of doing. It gave me permission to take better care of myself and my relationships.

This year, my overarching focus is “perspective,” which is about seeing the bigger picture and seeing things from different angles, as if from an eagle’s point of view.

(2)

Write down your “big rock” goal.

You’ve probably heard of the “big rocks” concept, made famous by Stephen R. Cover, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is that your life is like a glass jar that you fill up with all of your daily tasks, both important and routine. The important tasks are your “big rocks” and the routine, less important tasks are like pebbles. If you fill your jar with pebbles, you won’t have any room for your big rocks. But if you place your big rocks in the jar first, then you’ll be able to fill in the spaces with the pebbles.

At the top of a new journal page, write your answer to the following question:

If I could achieve just ONE thing in my writing life this year, what would it be?

What would be the one thing you would feel happy achieving as a writer, even if you accomplished nothing else?

Be specific. “Writing more” is not a goal — it’s a wish. In order for a goal to have power, it must be SMART, which is an acronym for the following characteristics: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Rewarding, and Time-dependent (or Trackable).

Goals can include either accomplishing something or establishing desired habits. I will give examples of both types of goals as I explain each aspect of a SMART goal.

In order to be SMART, your goal must answer the following questions:

  • What, specifically do I want to accomplish? OR What habit do I want to establish?

    Achievement goal: Last year, the What of my “big rock” goal was to “complete my second memoir, Accidental Jesus Freak,” which I’d already been working on for a year and a half. Your goal might be to “write three personal essays” or “publish two short stories,” or “write 30,000 words.” Do you see how specific your goal needs to be?

    Habit goal: But what if you don’t have an achievement type of goal like those I’ve just described? What if you really just want to write more often? This type of goal — establishing a habit — is just as valid as an achievement goal. And it also needs to be stated in a very specific way. In this case, the What is, simply, “to write.”
  • When do I want to accomplish it by? OR How often do I want to do this habit?

    Achievement goal: The When for my memoir was “by December 31st.” Yours could be “by June 30th” or any other date you choose.

    Habit goal: Using the example above, I might want to write “a minimum of 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week,” or “5 minutes per day, 7 days per week.” Again, do you see how adding this level of specificity helps to define exactly what you will do?
  • How will I know when my goal is complete?

    Achievement goal: You need to define what constitutes “done.” I defined completion of my memoir as when it had been edited, proofread, and was ready for print and ebook formatting.

    Habit goal: In the case of a habit goal, define when you will consider the habit as integrated into your life. So, for my writing habit, I might define it as: When I have consistently written 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for six months, I will consider that I have established this habit.”

“The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.”   Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?

Your Why, your motivation for wanting to accomplish this goal is SUPER important. Without strong motivation, you will not achieve your goal.

My Why for writing Accidental Jesus Freak included the following:

– I want to feel proud of myself for having completed this second book.

– I want to reveal the deeper, inner truth of my journey, discover its universality and what it has to teach me and others

– I want to have it ready for launch in March of 2018

What are your Whys? Write them down below your What, When, and How statements.

  • How will my focus of intention help me to achieve my goal?

    This question might be a little harder to answer, as our goals don’t always have an easy correlation to our broader focus of intention. In my case, focusing on balance helped me stay the course on my one big writing goal for the year. I had other goals, but focusing on balance helped me to adjust my activities throughout the year and still accomplish what needed to be done.

    If you’re having difficult answering this question, set a timer for 10 minutes and freewrite, starting with the following fill-in-the-blanks prompt: “My focus of intention on __________ will help me accomplish my goal of ___________ by ____________.

 

This is the first of a 12-part series on writing goals and productivity. In Part 2 of Get Ready for Your Best Writing Year! We will cover how to establish your goal’s action plan as well as how to keep your goal visible and in front of you on a regular basis.


Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at writingthroughlife.com

From Memories to Memoirs, Part 8 — Balancing Story and Reflection

This is the eighth in a series on moving from memories to memoirs. Click here to read Memories to Memoirs, Part 7.

What could be simpler to understand than the act of people writing about what they know best, their own lives? But this apparently simple act is anything but simple, for the writer becomes, in the act of writing, both the observing subject and the object of investigation, remembrance, and contemplation.

Sidonie Smith and Julia WatsonReading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives

If you’ve been following this 10-part journey from transforming memories into memoirs, you’ll have traveled from defining memoir and truth in memoir to triggering memories and learning how to write about them in ways that will move your readers. So far we’ve focused on the telling of events through scene, and you may have written a number of scenes using the tips and techniques recommended in this series. If we were writing fiction, scenes would be enough.

A novel moves from scene to scene, action to action (even if that action happens only in the mind of one of the characters). But a memoir contains another element — reflection — the writer’s observations, beliefs, meditations, and musings about what happened. In memoir, you paint your understanding of events.

As the quote at the beginning of this article implies, memoir, for the writer, is really a journey of investigation, an attempt to make meaning of and reconcile with life events and their purposes in her life. That process of investigation — the journey of the writing itself — must be transparent to your readers. After all, they too want to understand.

In memoir reflection can appear in many places and forms: sometimes it occurs in snippets in the voice of the narrator in time (the younger self in the middle of the experience); sometimes it takes up paragraphs as the narrator discusses his current understanding of what happened; and sometimes it is presented within scene, within dialogue and gestures, though this is less common than the first two.

For example, in my memoir, Not the Mother I Remember, I reflect both on my own experiences and my mother’s as revealed in her journals and letters. For example, in the chapter, “A Man’s World,” I write:

Everywhere we went my mother was the only woman traveling alone with children and without the protection of a man. I knew we stood out for this reason, but I was too young to understand my mother’s fears, how difficult it was to navigate the language barrier in each new country, or how concerned about money she was.

This passage highlights how my perceptions of events as an adult can reveal aspects of an experience I was unaware of as a child.

Here’s another example from Maya Angelou’s Even the Stars Look Lonesome. In this excerpt, she writes of moving to North Carolina after her divorce and buying a house in which to live. She reflects upon the healing that occurs in the shift from living in a house to living in a home.

This is no longer my house, it is my home. And because it is my home, I have not only found myself healed of the pain of a broken love affair, but discovered that when something I have written does not turn out as I had hoped, I am not hurt so badly.

~ TRY THIS ~

  1. Take out one of the memoir scenes you have written.
  2. In your journal, answer the following questions, as well as any new ones that arise while you are journaling.
    1. How did this event change me and influence who I have become?
    2. How has my understanding of this event changed between when it happened and now?
    3. Why did it happen?
    4. What lessons did I learn, if any, from what happened?
    5. If I could go back in time, what would I do differently?
  3. Incorporate some of your reflection into what you have written. You can incorporate it into the scene directly, using sentence starters such as “Looking back …” or “If I had known …”  Or you can write a separate paragraph including your thoughts about the event.
  4. Only incorporate reflection that illuminates meaning not already evident in the scene.
  5. Keep your reflections short and to the point. Too much reflection can feel like a lecture and bore your readers.
    Join the conversation.

Finally, please leave a comment sharing your challenges and discoveries about including reflection in your writing.


Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
Reprinted by permission from Amber Starfire

From Memories to Memoirs, Part 7: Creating Fresh Metaphor

This is the seventh in a series on moving from memories to memoirs. Click here to read Memories to Memoirs, Part 6.

In Memories to Memoirs, Part 6, I wrote about the importance and impact of fresh metaphor to the life of our stories. Not only does metaphor engage the imagination of our readers, it is key to our own writing voice. Because metaphor is the frame through which we understand concepts, it reveals where we grew up, where we live, and how we think; it is is both cultural and highly personal.

Most of the time, we use metaphor unconsciously. However, when we write — and particularly when we revise — we have the opportunity to use metaphor deliberately and with intention. We can create new, fresh metaphors that set the tone for and communicate the deeper meanings of our stories.

One way to create new metaphor is simply to have fun and play with language.

A Fun Metaphor-Creation Exercise

Select five of the following concepts and create metaphors by completing the sentences using concrete objects for comparison. After you’ve stated the basic metaphor, play with its possible extensions.

For example: A basic metaphor might be “Life is a basket.” If life is a basket, what does that mean? What kind of basket is it? Wicker? Wire? Wood? What does it hold? Is it a burden that you have to carry around with you, or is it something else? My life is an in-basket filled with events, interactions, and possibilities — I can choose what I take out and what I leave in. What else might the image of a basket contribute to a person’s understanding of life?

What happens if you choose something unexpected, such as “life is a cup of coffee,” or “ideas are raindrops”?

Now it’s your turn. Complete at least five of the following, or use concepts of your own:

  • Life is …
  • Love is …
  • Ideas are …
  • Hope is …
  • Faith is …
  • Death is …
  • Education is …
  • Parenting is …
  • A discussion is …
  • Happiness is …
  • Virtue is …
  • Consciousness is …
  • Kindness is …
  • Cruelty is …
  • Spirituality is …
  • Community is …
  • Security is …

What new metaphor(s) did you create? Share with us by leaving a comment.


Photo Credit: tobym via Compfight cc

Reprinted by permission from Amber Starfire

From Memories to Memoirs Part 6: Writing in Metaphor

This is the sixth in a series on moving from memories to memoirs. Click here to read Memories to Memoirs, Part 5.

In the previous installment of this series, we examined the strong verb and its importance to our story’s tone and pace. In this post, we’ll look at figurative language — metaphor.

What exactly is metaphor? Metaphor compares abstract concepts to familiar objects and is the mechanism by which we understand those concepts. Essentially, it helps us understand what we don’t know by comparing it to what we do know.

George Lakoff, in his classic work, Metaphors We Live By, says that metaphor is the frame with which we construct meaning and through which we view the world. In Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach goes so far as to say that metaphor is the “foundation of conscious thought” and “the source of all meaning.”

Bottom line: Whether we realize it or not, we use metaphor all the time.

Here are examples, borrowed from Lakoff, of metaphors we commonly use for the concepts of “time” and “mind”:

  • Time is money (we can spend it, waste it, save it).
  • Time is a moving object (it’s before us, behind us, the time will come, the time has arrived, in the time ahead).
  • Time is a stationary object (we go through the years, approach the end of the year, go further into the century).
  • The mind is a machine (he broke downmy wheels are turning, I’m a little rusty, I’m running out of steam).
  • The mind is a brittle object (easily crushed, fragile, snappedhandle with care, cracked up).

In both speech and writing, metaphor appears in many forms:

  • Symbol — In my memoir, Not the Mother I Remember, tar symbolizes hatred.
  • Simile — He’s crooked as a bent nail.
  • Unnamed metaphor — when someone says, “My business plan is the foundation for all my actions,” he is comparing his business to a building, but the comparison is not stated directly.
  • Named metaphor — “She is the wind beneath my wings.”

The metaphors we employ in our stories are the heavy lifters of communication. (Notice how, in order to communicate their importance, I compare metaphor to strong workers?)

Metaphor puts images into your readers’ mind. It not only helps them quickly understand what you are saying without a lot of explanation, it sets the tone.

Clichés are simply metaphors that have become such a part of our everyday lexicon that we often don’t even know we’re using them — phrases such as dead as a doornail or pretty as a picture (similes, not metaphors, in these two cases), he’s a team player, they don’t pull any punches, she plays hardballthink outside the box, and back against the wall.

As writers, we want to avoid the use of cliché in our work (the exception to that rule is in dialogue, where the cliché is consistent with the character of your speaker). Instead, we want to learn how to incorporate fresh, unique similes and metaphors that illuminate rather than obscure our communication (communication=seeing). How can we achieve this goal without first knowing our underlying, most basic of metaphors and how we build upon those in the way we conceptualize experiences, events, and ideas?

To better understand how we use metaphor in writing, we have three tasks:

  1. Pay attention to metaphors in others’ and our own writing.
  2. Identify the basic, underlying concepts represented by those images and concrete objects.
  3. Identify creative ways to extend those metaphors (more on that in the next installment).

Reading Exercise

Reread a chapter or story by one of your favorite authors. As you read, underline the symbols, similes, named and unnamed metaphors the author uses. How do those metaphors enhance your understanding of the story? How do the metaphors affect tone and mood? Which metaphors strike you as particularly fresh and exciting? Which seem ho-hum?

Now do the same with a chapter or story that you have written. What objects have you used to provide images for ideas? How will your metaphors enhance your readers’ understanding of your story? How do they affect tone and mood? Which metaphors are fresh and unique, and which are overused? Which are cliché?

The more you read with attention to metaphor, the more you will naturally begin to generate more when you write. In the next installment, we’ll continue this look at metaphor and have some fun creating fresh, new images.

In the meantime, share one of your favorite metaphors — by any writer — in the comment box below.


Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
Reprinted by permission from Amber Starfire

From Memories to Memoirs Part 5 — Strong Verbs

This is the fifth in a series on moving from memories to memoirs. Click here to read Memories to Memoirs, Part 4.

You have been working on ways to remember and write your life story vividly, with concrete and sensory details that draw your reader into the world of your story. Now, consider how the verbs you choose effect tone and pace.

In the midst of a story, when you describe a static object, you are in effect slowing or freezing time. When your character, Jane, stops to gaze longingly at the red shoes in the store window, your readers stop with Jane, seeing the shoes through her eyes. And while the shop and the window and the shoes are being described, nothing is going on but the looking and the wanting. Soon, Jane comes to a decision and walks through the door into the store; or she shuffles away, shoulders slumped; or she concocts a way to have them and calls her best friend to share the news. In any event, the action begins again and, with the action, description of the action.

Use Strong Verbs for Action

The verbs you use contribute to (or do nothing for) your story’s pace and tone. Consider the differences in tone and pace in the following sentences:

Jim walks along Main Street.
Jim strides along Main Street.
Jim ambles along Main Street.
Jim sashays along Main Street.
Jim patrols along Main Street.
 
In each sentence, Jim is moving along Main Street, but the verb used describes how he moves. It contributes to Jim’s character (how he moves says something about him) and pace. To amble is slower than to stride, and to patrol has a completely different attitude than to sashay.
 
Rule of thumb: if you find yourself using an adverb to modify a verb, you need to find a different, more effective verb for your character and story. For example, if you wrote, “Jim walked briskly along Main Street,” strode or marched or stomped might serve you better. The point is, use a verb that adds something — a feeling or an attitude and describes how the action is accomplished.
 

Never use a “vanilla” verb, such as walk or look, when another verb, such as ambled or stared would be more effective.

Use Strong Verbs in Description

It’s important to remember that description of an inanimate object does not need to be inanimate. The description can be full of life and have movement of its own. Strong verbs and precise adjectives act together to move your story forward in some way. 

The two following example passages slow the pace of their respective stories by describing moments in time, yet the descriptions themselves do not feel slow.

In her memoir, Sixtyfive Roses, Heather Summerhays Cariou writes about her experience with “primal therapy” in the office of her counselor.

So it was that I found myself shivering on the thinly carpeted floor in Ron’s tiny concrete office, my head filled with a white wind, an icy white wind that was whirling all through me, as if my body was a wide-open space. 

There is no action in Cariou’s sentence. In fact, it’s rather passive: Heather lies on the floor and everything happens to her. But the verbs are strong — shivering, filled, whirling. Cariou uses the image of icy white wind to represent the coldness of her emotion and wide-open space to represent her body. A combination of strong verbs and figurative language (which we’ll discuss more in Part 6) gives movement to the description.

Here’s a partial description of a road — Grand Avenue — as remembered from Bill Bryson’s childhood in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. (The full description covers about a page and half.)

But when the road was being laid out sometime in the second half of the 1800s there was a heavy rain in the night and apparently the surveyors’ sticks moved — at least that was what we were always told — and the road deviated from the correct line, leaving the capitol oddly off center; so that it looks as if it has been caught in the act of trying to escape. It is a peculiarity that some people treasure and others would rather not talk about. I for one never tired of striding into the downtown from the west and being confronted with a view so gloriously not right, so cherishably out of kilter, and pondering the fact that whole teams of men could build an important road without once evidently looking up to see where they were going.

Think about how much is packed into the previous paragraph: There is no real action to speak of, yet his inanimate road deviatesleaves a capitol off center, and is caught in the act of trying to escape; the adverbs Bryson chose add an element of surprise: a view that is “gloriously not right, so cherishably out of kilter; we learn that the road was laid out in the second half of the 1800’s and is not straight due to a rainstorm (or so the rumor goes); and we understand, due to the author’s precise use of modifiers and adjectives, how he feels about the road.

Your Turn

Write a 250-500 word description of a person engaged in an activity that has discrete steps (washing a car, gardening, playing hopscotch, lifting weights). You’ll need to organize the flow of action as it occurs.

Now, examine your use of verbs and rewrite your piece in 3 different ways, substituting different verbs for each action or active description to create different tones and slow down or increase the pace of the action.

Share your experience: What did you learn by playing with this exercise? How will what you learned affect your writing and revising?


Reprinted by permission from Amber Starfire