Saturday, 27 July 2019

Weekly writing prompt: full names


List Full Names

Your weekend writing prompt is a list exercise: get your pen and notebook, and for ten minutes, write down character names, full names if you can, as many as you can in ten minutes. They can be absolutely straightforward ("John Smith"), wildly absurd, include titles real or fantastical, whatever you wish, including a mishmash of all the above. Don't worry if a bunch of them seem banal to you; the benefit of list exercises like this is you don't have to come up with One Good Idea, you can come up with loads and have plenty of space for rubbish ideas or ones that seem rubbish at the time.

If you want to take it further, at the end of the ten minutes, read back over your list of names. Which ones leap out at you? Which ones give you a sense of who that character is, some hints about them? You could pick one (or more) and jot down some quick cameos about them, a few of the things their name tells you about them.

Sometimes a brand new central character can emerge from an exercise like this, with their own story to tell. Sometimes when you're next looking for a secondary character, one of these will be just right. Equally, it can be just an exercise in its own right, developing that particular muscle, especially if you often struggle with naming characters.


This is the 12th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Characters Unlike You, as the character ideas that the list of names generates often takes us in unexpected directions, into quite different characters from what we'd usually create. You can also see all the previous prompts here.

Characters Unlike You is the only workshop with spaces still available: it's running on 17 August (10am–4pm) and costs £65 for the day. More details here.

The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. You can also add yourself to the waiting list for workshops that are full, as spaces do sometimes come available.
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Saturday, 20 July 2019

Weekly writing prompt: morning routine fear


Morning routine fear

Your weekend writing prompt is to play with fear. You don't have to be writing horror or thrillers to play with this – practising writing fear is useful for all manner of stories.

If you have an existing story or character, you're going to write your main (or a secondary) character going about their usual morning routine, except they are terrified. Absolutely terrified. But here's the catch: don't mention that they're terrified, and don't say what they're so very scared of. Just write them going through their usual routine, in a state of terror.
OR
If you don't have a character to use / don't want to do that with them right now, then write about someone who runs a charity shop opening it up first thing in the morning: all the usual routines and setting up, and the same thing – they're terrified the whole time, but don't mention that they're terrified, and don't say what they're so very scared of.


This is the 11th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with the Page Turners workshop, as writing from strong emotion is one of the core sources of suspense.

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Weekly writing prompt: random imagery


Random Imagery

Your weekend writing prompt is a particularly delicious exercise: to play with random imagery.

First, you're going to pick a theme: something that you describe a lot OR that writers in general describe a lot OR that's on your mind. (There are suggestions you can use below.)

Next, you're going to get a bunch of randomly generated words from randomlists: https://www.randomlists.com/nouns?qty=20&dup=false. (I've deliberately set it to 20 nouns). Ignore any words that are abstract concepts or very generic categories - in the example below, I've struck out "peace", "tendency" and "language" because they're too abstract, and "animal" and "metal" because they're too generic. If you aren't sure, leave it in. (I wasn't sure about "flock")

Pic: Screengrab of 20 words. Words crossed out: peace, tendency, language, animal, metal. Words remaining: judge, rod, flock, wren, nest, island, breath, roll, van, jewel, drain, cup, chicken, coat, throne.


Then, you're going to write an image or metaphor for your theme, for every word that's left on the list. In the example, there's 15 words left, so that's 15 separate images / metaphors, written either as sentences or just phrases / fragments. (They don't have to make sense as a group, they're stand-alone.)

This is a brilliant exercise for finding new images for things we describe loads, and also excellent for stretching your own repertoire of imagery - I tend to stick to the natural world, because that's what I see most of, so it's super-fun to suddenly be writing about machines instead. If you need an idea for your theme, try...
  • excitement / nervousness / falling in love
  • your favourite quality of light
  • the thing that recurs most often in your novel / poems / writing
  • the thing you don't want to write about right now

If you're new to writing with imagery or need a starting point, you can start each one with "X is like..." and then use your random word. For example: "Evening light is like a van swooping in front of you on the motorway..." Erm... how so...? Okay, it makes you gasp: "Evening light makes you gasp like a van swooping in front of you on the motorway." Next one: judge. "Evening light is like a judge pardoning every crumble of tarmac, every aesthetic crime..." and so on. It's slightly mad, frequently funny, and surprisingly productive!

Have fun!


This is the 10th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Hone Your Style, as playing with different types of imagery helps you expand your stylistic repertoire. That workshop's waiting-list-only at the moment, but it's worth adding your name if you're keen, as places do come available sometimes.

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Weekly writing prompt: the friend


The friend

Two friends are sitting at a table. One, holding a wine glass, is gesturing widely and saying "It's just outrageous! How can they do that to me?" The other, sitting slumped, is saying "Mmm. Poor you," and thinking "Those poor, poor people..."

Your weekend writing prompt is the friend. You can see the friend above - that's the one saying, "It's just outrageous! How can they do that to me?!" This is another free-writing exercise, so don't worry about planning anything in advance, you'll find out and make stuff up as you write. For who the friend is...
  • If you have a character you want to explore more, from another writing prompt, or maybe a secondary or minor character in something else, grab them
  • If you're not sure, just look at the picture - it could be a man or a woman (men also have long hair!) and discover more about them as you write
Give yourself ten or twenty minutes, your choice. You're going to write this person's monologue. They're upset and outraged about something. What it is, you'll find out as you write. And at first they'll sound convincing and justified, but the further it goes, the more you have a sneaking suspicion that honestly, really, your sympathy's with the other side on this one... They don't have to be a bad person, they don't have to be awful, they clearly still have at least one friend, and they think they're completely in the right. But in this case, we end up not so sure.

Start by writing the words, "Did I tell you what happened?!"


This is the 9th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Characters Unlike You, as writing a flawed character often makes it easier to invent someone unlike us. (This is one of the two workshops with places left: you can read more about it and nab a place here.)

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Weekly writing prompt: comedy job interview


Comedy job interview

Your weekend writing prompt is a chance to play with comedy - time to brighten up after a wet week and give yourself a good giggle.

You're going to write a job interview, where it gradually emerges that the applicant is deeply unsuitable for the job. It might start to emerge through the things they say and answers they give, or perhaps their answers are perfect but their behaviour is... not. Alternately, they might be deeply unsuitable because they're a perfectly excellent candidate and the place they're applying to is a terrifying trainwreck / horror / farce, etc. If you want a possible job they could be applying for, then pick one of these four: * bartender * spy * teacher * accountant. One tip: to keep your comedy from slipping into heartbreaking bathos – the two are just a hairsbreadth apart! – you might want to make sure that the character doesn't urgently need the job. Of course you can always play across that fine line if you want, as some comedy does.

I suggest you don't plan it in advance: give yourself ten minutes, settle yourself with notebook and sippables, then write to discover and let more of the situation, the job, and the characters emerge through the writing. Enjoy it!


This is the 8th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Writing in Scenes, as focusing in on a job interview like this helps you stay in the scene in "real time" and the comedy element helps you intermingle dialogue with description and action.

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Weekly writing prompt: one-sided conversation


One-sided conversation

Your weekly writing prompt is a lovely exercise, "one-sided conversation", with multiple follow-on bits, if you want to do a quick writing stint each day. You can just do the first part, as a ten-minuter; if you want to do more, I suggest you don't keep reading down until you've done the previous one, as it's more fun that way. There are five parts altogether, so if you fancy doing a little series of them, that's five days of 10 mins a day.

I've put pictures between each part to help you not read down by accident, so they stay a surprise! Also, that means I need to tell you up here that each of these weekly prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Characters Unlike You, because the shifts that emerge with the different parts are brilliant practice for moving into different characters' heads. Most of the workshops are waiting-list only, but there are still 5 places left on the characters workshop if you want to book. (Details here.) So... let's start!

Part one

Write an important, emotional conversation, just the spoken words, from one side only - we're only "hearing" what the one person is saying, but make it so we can guess what the other character is saying as well.

Some ideas for content: 🌱 firing someone 🌱 a break-up 🌱 telling someone about an accident or death 🌱 ending a friendship 🌱 declaring one's love 🌱 admitting a long-held secret

University Parks avenue

Part two

Now, write the missing half of the conversation - in a way that changes the meaning dramatically! (It an also change what the content actually is, so we thought it was about a break-up but it's not, or whatever)

Hollyhocks at Freud

Part three

Now write a backstory / event / internal monlogue that casts a completely different light on character A's words and actions.

Swan on the Cherwell

Part four

Now write a backstory / event / internal monlogue that casts a completely different light on character B's words and actions.

University Park daisies

Part five

Finally - who is character C, the eavesdropper? Who was overhearing half the conversation, right at the start? How much do they know about the other information? What effects do their misunderstanding(s) / extra knowledge have?


That's the lot! If you did them all and had fun with them, do let me know on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or lovely old email (megan@thewritersgreenhouse.co.uk) - it's always fun and encouraging to hear how people are using the prompts!


This is the 7th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. As I said, each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Characters Unlike You, as the shifts that emerge with the different parts are brilliant practice for moving into different characters' heads. Most of the workshops are waiting-list only, but there are still 5 places left on the characters workshop if you want to book. (Details here.)

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Weekly writing prompt: Tall Tales


Tall Tales

Your weekend writing prompt is a genre to play with: TALL TALES ~ a story that's wildly exaggerated and unbelievable, told absolutely po-faced, as if it's true. (If you ever saw the film Big Fish, very much like that!) For material, grab an anecdote about a friend or a family member, ideally the kind of tale that gets repeated a lot, and start wildly exaggerating every aspect of it - so if the horse was big, it's now as big as a house, looking into first-floor windows; if the person is beautiful, people walk into poles looking at them; if someone's hair is long, it trails for metres behind them... and so on. The anecdote is your starting point; you can deviate from it into your own invention whenever you fancy.

If you're stuck for anecodes about friends or family, you could try describing your town's history instead. (Oxford is especially fine for this!) Imagine you're showing someone around the town, and just wildly exaggerate and invent all the stories about it. Bonus points for also doing this in real life.


This is the 6th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Page Turners, as the wild exaggeration helps you develop a heightened sense of drama. There's a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Weekly writing prompt: Words of one sound


Words of one sound

Your weekend writing prompt is words of one sound – using only one-syllable words. (Only you can't say "syllable", cos that has three syllables, hence "words of one sound", courtesy of John Finnemore and his marvellous comedy series, Cabin Pressure.)

This is a technique exercise, so you need some content to go with it. If you've been doing the writing prompts regularly, flick back through your notebook and find one of your previous bits of writing, and address the same thing again, this time using only one-syllable words.

OR

If that doesn't appeal / you don't have previous sketch-writing to draw on, you could try it with some ekphrasis - that's Fancy for "writing about an art piece". For a visual option, have a look at these paintings by Henri Rousseau. Pick one that appeals to you, and describe it in words of only one sound. (His style is so bold and exuberant that I think he's perfectly suited to the bold strong effect of single-syllable words, but you could of course pick any artwork you fancy, if he doesn't do it for you. Give yourself a time limit though, so you don't fall down a rabbit-hole of choosing an artwork!) If you want music instead of paintings, you could use Wolf Totem by the HU (wild Mongolian metal, I'm not usually a metal fan but this is amazing) or Beethoven's Symphony #7, second movement - both intensely evocative pieces.

As always, I suggest you do this as a ten-minute exercise: get comfy with your notebook and sippables, set a timer, and off you go. And have fun!


This is the 5th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Hone Your Style, as a way of playing around with different stylistic techniques. There's a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Weekly writing prompt: pitch prompt


Pitch prompt

Your writing prompt for the weekend is a story pitch. You might have seen this table doing the rounds, from Electric Literature: it's a hilariously wonderful pitch-generator, where you use the letters of your name and the columns to create your pitch. I got "A compulsively readable war epic about a misanthropic man's quest to undertake his sexless marriage."

Click on the image to enlarge it or for a VI-friendly version in a new window, click here.

Your mission: to work out your own pitch from your name, then accept it - even if it's not your usual genre(s) or sounds mad. Then, starting from your pitch sentence, you're going to write the back-cover blurb for this story, freely and wildly inventing any additional details you need. Go as over-the-top with the blurb as you can: ham it up, make it cheesy, do the American film voice ("In a world, gone mad...") if that helps. As always, I suggest you treat this as a 10-minute exercise, and just dash it off in that time. If you need inspiration or examples, flick through some of the back-cover blurbs on your own bookshelves - and feel free to add those wildly complimentary quotes, as well.

If you want to keep playing with your pitch (or another pitch using someone else's name) then there are all sorts of ways you can give the pitch further treatment. Some possibilities are...
  • a character sketch
  • a story outline
  • a scene from the story
  • total freewriting around the pitch, in whatever shape or direction that takes
The first time I played with this, I started with what I intended to be an outline which then morphed into a character sketch (I needed to work out how I could get behind a misanthropic character) and then that became a more in-depth outline and some glimpses of scenes...It doesn't have to go any further than that, you're just playing with freewriting, to find what you can find, as a practice exercise. I only got as far as him being called up, and that was the second day when I took it for a further freewriting spin, but I found out all sorts of things about his schooling and why he might end up with a quest for a sexless marriage!

Have fun with it!


This is the 4th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Publishing, as playing around with mock pitches and blurbs is great practice for writing a sincere pitch. There's a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Weekly writing prompt: Where you are


Describe where you are

Your weekend writing prompt is a perfect one for the bank holiday, as this one is much more fun when you're not at home. (If you are at home, right now, you might want to save it for when you're out.) Describe where you are. In detail. That's it. Write a detailed description of your environment, not for any book or project but just as pure process and for the enjoyment of words and ink on the page.

I have a couple of serving suggestions below, but first, a quick explanation. Description is the type of writing we get least practice at, in the rest of life. In emails, Facebook posts, Twitter threads, etc, we'll often give dialogue, action, explanation... but for description, we tend to post a photo or say "It was beautiful - you had to be there." So writing description is often our least-used writing muscle. However, if you take some fiction books off your shelves and highlight all the description, you'll find that it's a third to a half of the text. I've done this exercise with a wide range of genres, and every single time, there's a ton more description on the page than we realise. Obviously in your story, you might not whack it all into four consecutive paragraphs - it's interwoven with the characters' actions and speech - but it's there. So writing description as a regular writing exercise is the perfect way to build your skills at it. Writing by hand in your notebook is ideal for this, because then you're not limited to laptop-suitable places. Onto the serving suggestions then!

SERVING SUGGESTION 1: If you're up for a challenge, take this as a ten-minute-a-day challenge, and every day for the next week, spend 10 minutes describing where you are. (It might also encourage you to go sit in some odd places at lunch or after work!)

SERVING SUGGESTION 2. If you're quite used to writing description, and want to push yourself further, pick a particular approach to try. Some suggestions are...
  • be very exact about describing the colours 
  • describe everything as precisely as possible without using adjectives 
  • pick a particular sense to focus on, eg describe only through sound, only through texture, only through smell
  • look for more interesting verbs to use instead of is / are, eg instead of "the cups are on top of the coffee machine", "the cups nestle on top of the coffee machine"
  • describe it to create a particular mood or atmosphere. If you want to be given a mood at random, try this random emotion generator.
Don't try all the approaches at once, mind, just pick one to focus on. And have fun!


This is the 3rd of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Writing in Scenes, as description is a crucial aspect of scenes, and one that's easily overlooked. There's a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner
You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
All the workshops are stand-alone, and are suitable for any level from beginners to experienced writers.  You can read more about the workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Weekly writing prompt: Playing with voice


Voice

Your weekend writing prompt is to play with voice. To create the character, grab three random character traits from this random character traits generator. Take the first three you get: that way, you're more likely to be playing outside your usual choices. (And less likely to spend the whole ten minutes clicking "Generate three character traits"!)

Then the character is going to either write a letter of apology or apologise in person to someone - written or spoken is up to you. I suggest you do this as a ten-minute free-writing exercise: once you have the character traits, just start writing. Let the voice emerge and the voice decide what they're apologising for (and whether they mean it). Have fun!


This is the 2nd of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August: 5 one-day creative writing workshops for adults, for any level from beginners to experienced writers. There's be a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Characters Unlike You, as the juxtaposition of random character traits helps you step outside your own traits. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Weekly writing prompt: thriller fairytale


Thriller Fairytale

Your writing prompt for the weekend is to write a THRILLER FAIRYTALE. This prompt is to play with writing in a different genre (thriller) and as some readymade content to go with that, grab a fairy tale: we have a plentiful stock of them and they belong to everyone. You can make it a creepy pyschological thriller or an action Dan-Brown style thriller, whichever amuses you more / is less like the way you usually write. (If you write lots of thriller stuff already, try the approach least like your usual style) Pick a fairytale you know well – fairytales lend themselves quite well to thrillers, as they have plenty of Looming Peril. You might find it fun to pick one you mostly know from Disney, to get more of a feel of subverting it.

If you're doing this as a ten-minute exercise, don't worry about getting to the end of the story; just start at the beginning, or whatever seems like the most exciting scene to write, and see how far you get. Have fun!


This is the 1st of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August: 5 one-day creative writing workshops for adults, for any level from beginners to experienced writers. There's be a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

Enter your email address:


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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Page Turners, as the thriller genre has a lot to teach us about keeping a story gripping! The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Introducing... Weekly writing prompts


Pic: Weekly writing prompt

Regular little writing exercises are one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer. When you're gunning ahead with a novel, they keep you limber and flexible, as a place to play with new approaches without pulling your novel in a dozen different directions. When you're short on ideas, they're a constant source of fresh inspiration - not so much the prompts themselves, I find, but the actual doing of them. You do the prompt because you're told to and that's the next prompt, then suddenly, in the space where pen hits paper / fingers hit keyboard, the ideas start spilling out. And when you're struggling to write - recovering from an illness or a loss, struggling with writers' block or mental health - they're a gentle, doable, constrained task.

For all those uses, they work best if you set yourself two little rules. (Creative people might hate constraints, but creativity loves them!) The first rule is simply, do the prompt. The magic is not the prompt itself: the magic is what happens when you do the prompt. Even if it's not your thing, do the prompt. Make a pact with yourself to do the prompt. The second rule is to set a timer for ten minutes, do as much as you can in ten minutes, and then stop. You can choose to carry on with it, after a wee break, but that's bonus writing. If you've done your ten minutes, you've done the prompt. The beauty of ten minutes is that it's just ten minutes, so whether you're loathe to steal time from your main novel, or have very little spare time, or are finding things overwhelming, ten minutes is always doable. The other beauty of ten minutes is that you can do a surprising amount in that time!

In the twelve weeks running up to the Summer of Writing workshops this August, I'll be giving you a writing prompt every week, on the Saturday morning, to whet your writing appetite, starting this Saturday, 11 May. If you want them popping up in your inbox, you can subscribe to the blog here:

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The Summer of Writing workshops are five one-day creative writing workshops for adults, for any level from beginners to experienced writers. They run in Oxford every summer, on Saturdays across August. The workshops which run are voted for earlier in the year, and this year's selection of short-listed workshops are...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

Friday, 29 March 2019

NaPoWriMo: 15 tips for writing a poem a day


After years of eyeing up NaPoWriMo when April was the busiest time of the year for me, I finally got the chance to try it last year - and it was transformative. No amount of study or trying could ever teach me as much as the simple practice of writing a poem every single day, regardless. At the end of the month, I couldn't bear to stop, so I mentally signed up for another month. Then another. Then another. After seven months, I realised it may as well be a year - but then I'd be stopping just as the next NaPoWriMo started, so let's make it a year and a month. After a full year of writing a poem a day, and agog with excitement for the fresh NaPoWriMo, here are the 15 best tips I've learnt:

1. A poem a day doesn’t mean a great poem a day

It’s a chance to try out new forms with doggerel, experiment with technique, explore new ideas in free verse. If you try to write a great poem a day, you'll be trying to make it "good", which means sticking to what you know and not taking risks, which means you're not learning anything, just repeating your existing skills. Drop your standards! Write a rubbish poem practising a particular technique, trusting the results will show up in future poems. Write doggerel when you try out a new form, because you can only understand what the form does by taking it for a spin, and next time you use it, you'll have a feel for it. This is the strongest lesson I've learnt from writing a poem every day for a year - and every time I've tried to make them good, I've started stagnating. Every time I relax again, I improve. Permission to write rubbish granted.

2. Don't save a prompt or content idea to write a good one – have a go

It's so tempting to save an especially enticing prompt - but it'll do you and the prompt no good if you build it up in your mind as a Special Prompt, worthy of a Good Poem. That'll stymie every line, when you finally work yourself up to try it. Write it now. You can always have another go at it as another poem-a-day. You can use the same prompt every day for a week, if you want. Like the special soap, special cheese, special notebook: just use it.

3. Feel free to cannibalise your poems

Yesterday's poems aren't sacred or engraved in stone: you can remix and mash-up however you want. If yesterday's strict form stopped you from exploring the idea in the way you wanted, rewrite it as free verse. Or if today you're trying a form, cherry-pick the best bits from yesterday's free verse. Nab six lines from a previous poem to start you off on your first sestina. Nothing is sacred.

4. Try new forms

Writing a poem a day is a fantastic chance to learn heaps of new forms, each of which teach you something and challenge you in a different way. Tiny forms will teach you economy of language. Sestinas will teach you to go with the flow and let go of control. Rhyme-and-metre forms will teach you musicality of language. Even if you remain a free-verse poet afterwards, you'll learn heaps.

5. Switch between rhyme-and-metre forms and free verse

Writing with rhyme and metre is brilliant for your musicality; free verse is brilliant for poetic language and devices. Switching between the two regularly allows them to feed off each other, so you can bring more of that poetic density into your rhymed poems, more of that assonance, alliteration, internal rhyme, and rhythm into your free verse.

6. Some poems are just exercises – the results show up later

Again, you're not writing a great poem a day: but the other poems are valuable too. In my first NaPoWriMo, I spent one day writing doggerel around the idea of "one sound": heavy syllables only, so all one-syllable nouns, verbs, adjectives; as much rhyme, assonance, and alliteration as possible. It was fun to try and it produced a rubbish poem. A couple days later, the results turned up in Aphrodite II, dense with heavy syllables which was exactly what the subject matter needed. I only made the connection when I typed them up at the end of the month. But if you don't let yourself write the "rubbish" poems as exercises, you don't reap the results.

7. Some poems are just to keep the habit

Some poems have no particular value except that you're keeping going. Yes, that was a boring mile of concrete highway you just drove down, but there are other interesting places to come, and if you'd stopped, you wouldn't get to those. Keeping momentum has its own value.

8. Find out what kind of poem you write when you’re knackered, fluey, tipsy, light-headed, stressed, hormonal…

All the usual conditons when you'd dismiss the idea of trying to write a poem? Now's your chance to try them out. Sometimes the poem will just be about how tired you are or fluey you are; that's fine, and it falls into one of the categories above. Sometimes, you'll be stunned that despite your state, you can still step through the magic door into poetry land, and come back with something that pleases and surprises you.

9. It’s fine to write a quickie

Some days you just don't have much time. That's fine. There are heaps of quickie forms and they have plenty to teach you. If you only have 5 or 10 minutes, dash down a haiku, an elevenie, a nonet, a cinquain... Here's a selection of eight lovely quickie forms, for when you need them.

10. It’s fine to crowdsource a poem from a group

If you're at a barbecue, a wedding reception, a family do, a pub night, and suddenly yelp "WAH! I haven't written my poem!" you can always crowdsource it. Get everyone joining in to help you. Pick a form they might know or which is easy to explain - limericks, haiku, and elevenies are all great for that. It still counts as a poem a day.

11. It’s fine to use a fresh double-page spread in your notebook

You don't have to decide in advance if this poem will be Worthy of a full clean double-spread. Let it have one. I often use one side for brainstorming rhymes and jotting phrases, if it doesn't run over two pages. And it's okay to leave a page empty: you can use empty pages to rewrite clean copies of poems you’ve reworked heavily.

12. Type up your poems at intervals, not immediately, not too rarely

It's useful to have a time-lapse before you type up your poems, as you get a fresh perspective on them. Often ones you felt were rubbish turn out stronger than expected, or problems you were wrestling with are suddenly easier to resolve. Typing up a whole month or more of poems can be overwhelming though: the task becomes a bit too big, but it can also be too much emotionally. About once a fortnight works well for me, which is also a chance to select which ones to show my fortnightly writers' group.

13. Write down & collect new forms, new prompt types, and ideas for poems

Often writing a poem will give you a bunch of fresh ideas or lines for the next day's poem, or things crop up during the day, and you think you'll remember... I never can. Jot ideas in the back of your notebook, and when you find prompts or ideas on websites or social media, save them. You can screengrab them, bookmark things on Twitter, and save things to a collection on Facebook.

14. Don’t share your poems with your friends / family as a matter of routine

If you have a willing audience, it's so exciting and tempting to read them every fresh poem hot off the press - but that quickly becomes an expectation, for you as much as for them, and each poem has that audience in mind. Not sharing a poem also becomes very marked. Leave yourself the freedom to write poems you might not want to share.

15. Have fun with it!

It's a challenge, not a chore. Have fun with it, take it seriously enough that you wrest the time from each day, don't take it so seriously that it stresses you. This is play, and you're in for a mad exhilirating delight.

If you want to join in with NaPoWriMo this year, one of the best sites for prompts is NaPoWriMo.net (open site), which always gives a quality example and features a participant each day. You can also get daily NaPoWriMo prompts from Writers' Digest (written by Robert Lee Brewer), and Poetry Potion offers daily prompts year round. Also look out for the #NaPoWriMo hashtag on Twitter. I'll be sharing my progress on my personal Twitter account, @m_d_kerr and also retweeting some prompts on my Writers' Greenhouse Twitter account, @writersgreenhse.


Friday, 1 February 2019

Meddle with a san san poem


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I’m sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

Love your imagery? Use it to the max! “San san” means “three three” in Chinese – three images, each repeated three times, across just eight lines, plus a rhyme scheme of abcabdcd.

The san san is a lovely variation on the repeating forms - instead of repeating exact phrases or lines, it repeats the imagery, which can be reworded and reused however you please. Each image appears three times, in any order. With just eight lines, that's rapid repetition! It also has a rhyme scheme of abcabdcd. When I'm writing, I break that down into abc abd cd, to help me keep track, and sometimes write it with those line breaks as well. Later, when I type it up, I remove the extra line breaks. Here's an example san san:

Rosebay Willowherb


Arms overflowing with twirls of seed-head froth
as white as the hair of the man who stopped me, said,
“In the blitz, that purple grew in the rubble, throughout,”
arms overflowing with memory, voice like a moth,
“It grows in purple cones in summer – our dread
couldn’t survive the flowers.” November’s white
seeded the broken places, a growing shout
of purple and arms overflowing in white nights.

Here it is again with the imagery in bold and colour-coded, and the line breaks added to help you see the rhyme scheme:

Rosebay Willowherb


Arms overflowing with twirls of seed-head froth
as white
as the hair of the man who stopped me, said,
“In the blitz, that purple grew in the rubble, throughout,”
arms overflowing with memory, voice like a moth,
“It grows in purple cones in summer – our dread
couldn’t survive the flowers.” November’s white
seeded the broken places, a growing shout
of purple and arms overflowing in white nights.

As you can see, you can repeat the words or not to repeat the image: "arms overflowing" is repeated exactly; "purple" interchanges with "purple cones"; and the white seeds are "seed-head froth of white", "white seeded" and "white nights".

Have fun with it!

Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts this week, on 6 and 7 February 2019 (Wednesday and Thursday courses running in parallel) and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. You can also find lots of other fun forms to play with on my poetry advent calendar.


Friday, 25 January 2019

Meddle with a sonnet


For the launch of the Meddling with Poetry course, starting in Feb 2019, I’m sharing 16 delicious forms of poetry I've discovered, each of them a delight to play with.

14 lines, a shift or twist about 2/3 of the way through, and some kind of a conclusion. That’s it: the rest, contrary to the school rules, is up to you! Various types of sonnets have their own rhyme schemes or metres. You can pick whatever type you want or go freestyle.

At school, most of us get taught The Sonnet as a completely fixed form, to be rigidly obeyed, never to be meddled with... so it comes as quite a shock to discover you can meddle with almost every single aspect of it!

If you ever felt frustrated or cross or like you didn't get sonnets at school, read on, because you were probably right, and I'm here to vindicate you. And then when you're feeling thoroughly vindicated, set you free!

*

The rules we were taught went something like... iambic pentameter (de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM), rhyme scheme abab-cdcd-efef-gg, something about a twist or whatnot, wraps up in the final couplet. And that's the Shakespearean sonnet. And then we were given Shakespearean sonnets to look at, to admire how well he did it and work out What He Was Trying To Say, and sat there scratching our heads, because even if we could get through the thickets of Shakespearean English at that age, he didn't really seem to follow the rules...

And you know what? School-You was right! Let's look at one of the most famous Shakespearean sonnets. (I've broken it into stanzas so it's easier to analyse.)
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
So let's assume we've already got past the stuff like tempest=storm, and bark=ship, and "the remover" is death not Vanish, and all that, and start analysing the form.

Rhyme scheme: finds / minds, fair enough. That rhymes. love / remove? Nonsense! Then the teacher starts talking about "visual" rhyme because it looks like they should rhyme and that's... a thing, apparently? That's even good enough for the final couplet, prov'd / lov'd? If School-You was angry and sceptical, you were right. And what about come / doom? They don't rhyme and they don't even look the same! So much for the rhyme scheme, Shakespeare.

Next up: metre. If you're a native English speaker, you use English rhythm perfectly, naturally. And then you're told this sentence
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
is iambic pentameter: de-DUM x 5. In which case, I'd need to put the stress like this:

Let ME not TO the MARRiage OF true MINDS
which is clearly the speech of an alien. Honestly, just try saying it out loud like that. Anyone with the faintest grasp of English will, quite naturally and correctly, put the stress like this:
LET me NOT to the MARRiage of TRUE MINDS
or even this
Let me NOT to the MARRiage of TRUE MINDS
And then you end up thinking that you don't understand metre, because you can't see how that's iambic pentameter (hint: it's not) and rhyme doesn't even mean anything anymore, and then you're told to write a sonnet "following the rules" when apparently even Shakespeare couldn't get it right.

Here's the thing: Shakespeare's sonnets often don't rhyme and aren't iambic pentametre – but they used to, and they once were. The language changed. The way we pronounce words changed, and the way we stress things changed. There's no such thing as visual rhyme. (Well, there is now, but only because people made it up because they misunderstood.) The words that look like they rhyme? They used to rhyme! (Later, other poets came along and thought, 'Oh, those words look like they rhyme but they don't, so that must be okay,' but they were wrong. I'm looking at you, William Blake, with your eye / symmetry.) Mostly this is because of something called The Great Vowel Shift which was a huge change in English pronunication and no-one really knows why it happened. As for the metre – I believe that was iambic pentameter once, and everyone's still frantically embarrassedly pretending it still is, but it's clearly not.

So! Tl; dr: There is such a thing as a Shakespearean sonnet, which does follow those rules, but Shakespeare's sonnets don't anymore because the language has changed. And that's not the be-all and end-all of sonnets! Prepare to be set free...

*

So far I've counted up 28 sonnet forms, and I'm sure there's plenty more I've yet to find. The rhyme schemes vary wildly and they don't even all use rhymes. Iambic pentameter? Pfft! In the sonnet history, that's a modern upstart; the original and older sonnet forms didn't use that, and plenty of the newer forms don't either. We can see it as a phase we went through, in the middle. Ten syllables, at least? Nope: the world's yer oyster. Go wild. Write very short lines, if you want. Or even longer ones.

The only things all the sonnets have in common, the kernel of what-makes-a-sonnet-a-sonnet, are these:
  • 14 lines
  • some kind of 'twist' in the argument (the pivot, also known as volta) about two-thirds of the way through
  • some kind of conclusion (from the neat tie-it-up-with-a-bow rhyming couplet to the slightly vaguer gestured-at suggestions of conclusions in most contemporary sonnets)
That's it. All the rest are variations that people made up. You can copy their variations if you like them, you can make up your own, you can do completely as you please. If you're worried it's not 'authentic', then relax. The first sonnet form was the Sicilian sonnet, which was invented circa 1200 AD. It rhymed abababab cdcdcd, it had no particular metre, and it was supposed to be about courtly chivalrous love. So if 'authentic' is 'going with the original form', then Shakespeare, Petrarch, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Pushkin, Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning were all writing inauthentic sonnets, so you're in bloody good company!

I happen to love writing Shakespearean sonnets (though I'm starting to play more with other ones) and pretty rigorous iambic pentameter, so the example is a Shakespearean sonnet, which really does follow "the rules", but you do you! (And because I live to let other people copy my homework, if you want my summary of sonnet forms, just email me on megan@thewritersgreenhouse.co.uk and I'll happily send it to you.)
TThe empty post-box down the broken drive
was weathered tin. The gravel cut my feet.
You wrote me daily, bringing me alive –
you touched me, then. Each moment, incomplete
without you, stung. I needed you. At night,
I dreamt of hands which crossed the world to touch
in matrices of meaning, gloves of light &ndash
we wrote so many letters. Bore so much.
The future came. My hands, in blind despair,
through emails, Facebook, website stats pursue
your ghost with data gloves, but clutch at air &ndash
and I have no address to write to you.
I'm lost in losses time and I forgot.
The world moves on, but I, my love, cannot.
Note: To respect copyright, these blog posts only use my own poems as examples. On the course, I'm licensed to give my students copyright poems, so you'll see lots of others.

The Meddling with Poetry course starts in February 2019 and explores a host of different poetry forms, as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. You can also find lots of other fun forms to play with on my poetry advent calendar.


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