Newsletter: 13/6/10: Writing and the Brain, and Other Activities

Hi everyone,

When it is dull and grey outside, writing colours your day.

Good works of writing are like good friends. You have to write a piece that you will like, the one you have been searching for in the book store, but can’t ever find. If you like it, others will too. Sometimes you get blocked, or you rush to get to that next great section; your readers pick up on that like sharks. So how do you finish that poem or post or short story or novel while keeping your readers engaged?

The Power of Story

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Some interesting research has been done that illustrates how writing affects the brain. Click on that link; it is intriguing stuff. Did you know, for instance, that writing

  • is calming: it slows your (and your readers’) breathing; immerses each of you in the zone, where words flow freely from your heads; and puts you each into a state of meditation,
  • helps you (and your readers) remember: it is more memorable than remembering facts because it activates and engages focussing-centres and detail-specific areas of your brain,
  • provokes you and your readers to experience what you write: along with improving memory, it provokes your readers and you to feel like you are experiencing the writing first-hand,
  • communally syncs you and your readers’ brain activities: it syncs (as seen by brain waves) your and your readers’ experiences and influences the emotions, thoughts and ideas you each feel (essentially you asynchronously control your readers’ minds), and
  • is subverted by adverbs and clichés: these become nothing more than words that are so familiar to us that the sensory responses they are supposed to evoke are often severely diluted. Learn how adverbs and clichés subvert the experience of your readers and how to deal with them.

Our writing, whether poems, short stories, novels or posts, is very evocative and immersive. When we write powerful pieces, we create powerful experiences. Phronesis says emotion is the key to engaging a reader. So increase the emotion and up the stakes. Pace these with breaks both for reflection and escape; both your characters and readers will thank you. You are the creator of what you write, so write what you want to create.

(No clichés there at all.)

Writing Prompts

The following prompts might help you create the story or poem you want to read. Let’s start with the prompt I created to end our last meeting with. Since we have three months until we meet again, my challenge to you is to complete a work — a poem, a story, a chapter, a post, a collection — to share when we meet again in September. Specifically, if you have nothing on the go right now, write a poem or story to yourself about how Summer influences your desire to write. Perhaps include things you did over the Summer. This can be a letter from yourself at the end of Summer to yourself at its beginning. It can be a letter from yourself now about what you hope your ideal Summer (writing) will be. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a letter, and it should not be broad. Focus on something significant (in Summer), even a single moment or realization, and get us to experience that.

Writer’s Digest offers a couple of prompts: Child’s Play and A Note from the Past. Classroom Collective suggests a zentangle prompt: 100 Things I Love About Writing. It is not exactly a zentangle as it is made of words rather than lines. It can also be an end to itself or a means to further writing. You could even give it a Summer theme.

Similar to Figment prompts, 30 June Writing Assignments, from Robert Brewer, deals with building craft, whether character, plot, scene, revision, etc. These prompts also serve as advice on how to write better. So they are worth reflecting on and trying out. Brewer calls them assignments, rather than prompts, since they often require that you look seriously at your own writing and craft. See what you can do with these to improve your writing.

We really need equivalent prompts for poetry. Oh, wait. Robert has poetry prompts too, but they are not craft building prompts. What prompts would you think are appropriate for helping to build poetry craft?

And finally we have this week’s Figment prompts. These prompts are offered courtesy of Mediabistro, which offers courses specific to each prompt (yes, this is a means for Mediabistro to promote its courses). These prompts are all about character development from character opposites to strangely named ones to ones who are dead or just meeting. Where would your characters fit in this spectrum? How would they differ and behave in each situation?

Writing Competitions

The following competitions are open.

Standing Competitions

  • The Your Story Competition is offered every other month by Writer’s Digest. Writer’s Digest provides a short, open-ended prompt. You submit a short story based on that prompt. The winner is published in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest. Competition 51: Write a short story, of 750 words or fewer, that begins with the following line of dialogue: “Heads, we get married; tails, we break up.” Deadline: July 15, 2013.
  • The Writing Competition is another open-ended contest. You can enter anytime, and your (non-transferrable) entry is judged during the period in which you submitted and paid. Money and publication on the winner’s page are the prizes. Submissions of 500 years are short-listed to the top 20 before judging. First Judging: August 28.

Competitions with Deadlines

  • The Investigative Journalism Grant is offered multiple times throughout the year by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Grants average $5,000, but can be as low as $100 and as high as $10,000. Next deadline: June 10 (tomorrow).
  • The Industry Insider Television Writing Contest for best TV pilot script. Top 50 contestants attend a TV Pilot 101 webinar and are short-listing to continue in the contest. Top 10 of these enter into a Story Specialists mentoring program and into the final contest. Winner receives unparalleled Industry experience, a meeting with an executive producer and more. Entry fee is $50. Deadline: June 15.
  • The Drue Heinz Literature Prize is offered annually by the University of Pittsburgh Press for the best collection of short stories. The winner receives $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. No mention of a fee is made. Deadline: June 30.
  • The 1st Annual In Shadows Writing Competition for Unpublished Writers is hosted by Brynna Curry along with authors Lily Harlem, Alvania Scarborough, Lucy Felthouse, and Natasha Blackthorne for the best manuscript (initial submission is first five pages). The winner receives a full in-depth manuscript critique. Second and third place receive a full critique of the first 15 pages of their manuscript. Entry is free. Deadline: July 1.
  • The Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Short Story Competition for best 4000-word-or-less short story in science fiction, thriller, crime, horror, romance and young adult categories has a top prize of $2,500, a trip to the 2013 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City and much more. Entry fee is $20. Early Deadline: September 16. Final Deadline: October 15.
  • The 14th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for best short story of 1500 words or less has a $3,000 prize (and more). No categories are listed. Entry fee is $20. Early Deadline: November 15.

These competitions are updated on our Competitions page on our wiki. You can find even more competitions on our Diigo Competition page.

And that is it from me. Have a great week and keep writing,

Att: Jun 3-7, 2013 Figments