|Week||Topic||Restriction (if any)||Theme #1||Theme #2||Theme #3||Theme #4||Theme #5||Wild Card Theme (if any)|
|1||Settings: The World in Words||Set a scene in which something will happen—or in which something has happened (or, just as likely, both): a death or an argument, say, or a revelation. But don’t say what has happened or what will: allow that to be implied as part of the scene you evoke. If you like, choose a scene that entails some deliberate preparation: a meal, a ceremony (official and institutional or improvised and individual), a game, a job. The type of scene, actual or imagined, is up to you. From what point of view is it seen? Who sees it? What are the limits of that point of view?||Describe a specific moment of your day by looking out the window and describing in clear, vivid, evocative detail the weather or the play of light (or shadows) on what you see. Don’t make explicit your feeling state, but instead let the way you describe what you see convey what you are experiencing. You may choose a time that is usually meditative—sundown, sunrise, or midnight, for instance—but you may also choose the moment randomly.||Describe a scene as viewed by way of a reflection in a window. Thus, there is the superimposing of the reflected scene on top of what is seen through the window. How do the two scenes come together? What does that superimposition do to each setting? OR|
Describe the funniest event or action you have ever seen (in real life, not in a video or on stage). Make sure that you make it sound funny to readers.
|Start with a place-name. It may be a place you know, or one you have never visited. In either case, it should be a place-name you find evocative. This assignment is about the power of the name: you are writing about the name as much as, or possibly more than, the place. Think about how you encountered the name, and how it became resonant for you. You may make the name prominent in your theme, or barely mention it.||Write a theme about the first time you remember writing something you cared about. Who was it for and what was it about? What did it feel like to write that? What was the response? Or did you keep it private? If so, why? OR Describe a time when you were new somewhere or just beginning something new (other than coming to Yale). Describe the situation, the place, what happened, and how you felt at the very beginning in vivid, clear terms. However, don’t use the first person perspective. Instead of “I,”use “you.”|
|2||Things||Do NOT write any of the following from the point of view of an object.||This theme is a still life—in words—of a set of objects. The arrangement can be found (on a desk, in a window) or composed. Bring these things to life with precise description. Describe rather than analyze (or rather, analyze by describing). Do not use the first person.||Narrate an incident in which an object stands as a representation for a host of complex emotions. See Hass’s “Story of the Body” as an example. Or write about some object that triggers a memory as Proust’s cookie does.||Following James Tate’s lead, write a description of a famous person’s possession (either real or invented). Show its significance and how it sheds a new or a surprising light on the owner. This can be serious or funny.||Take an object and describe it in a series of discrete sentences, separating aspects of its essence. For example: “The orange is round. It is called an orange but is really yellow,” and so forth. Think of it as a cubist still life. Perhaps let the sentences become more and more metaphoric rather than strictly observational. Or write about an object you once had that was important to you. Why was it important? How did you get it? How did you lose it? Resist sentimentality. In other words, don’t assume your reader will care. Use the precision of your language to make it real and meaningful.||Find a way to be invited into the room of someone you don’t know well (or really much at all). Note some small keepsake (a stone, a poster, a playing card, a ribbon, a Star Wars action figure) and ask them where they got it, but don’t ask anything more. Then write a theme about what you might extrapolate from that object and it context, just as a detective might. Or instead, ask the story behind the object and write a theme describing not only the story you are told, but your experience of the way the person describes the object (are they sad? Excited? embarrassed?).|
|3||Le Mot Juste; or, Economy v. Extravagance||Style involves a way of doing or saying things that ends up expressing aspects of the self. There are all sorts of styles, and anything we do or say is likely to convey a specific sense of style. Write a theme about a style you admire or, at least, find interesting and worthy of description and reflection. It could be a way of talking or dressing, of singing or cooking, of dancing or painting. Focus on one person’s way of doing that thing. Be aware of the style your own theme employs. In other words, write in a way that resonates with the style you are describing. It can be a version of the style you choose as your subject, or it may be very different and contrast with your subject (possibly for ironic effect). Or: Write a theme about a time when you found that the words seemed impossible to convey how you felt or what you wanted to say. Why/how did the words feel insufficient? How did you respond to this “crisis” of language?||Write a theme about your favorite word. What makes it your favorite word? Discuss the sound, the meaning, its etymology. Perhaps describe the first time you ever heard it or used it.||Take a look at the excerpt from Hemingway’s “End of Something.” Using the present tense, depict an exchange (observed or invented) between two people who have different ways of talking. You might make the difference glaring or subtle or somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. What are the features of their respective verbal styles? What do those styles imply about their different perspectives and experiences? What do they understand and what don’t they understand in what each other is saying? What, if any, adjustments do they make to each other’s way of talking in the course of conversation? Make the conversation a dramatic encounter not only between two people, but two styles. It’s also an opportunity to use narrative and dialogue analytically. Restriction: don’t make this a conversation between romantic partners or between a parent and child.||Using plain, ordinary words, write a theme about someone or something you love passionately or about a particularly fraught memory. Write the theme so that it brings such things to life for a reader but use as spare and as sparse a style as you can. In fact, don’t use any word more than one syllable in length. Explore the tension between strength (and possibly complexity) of feeling and simplicity of expression. You may, if you want, even describe the difficulty of trying to convey that intensity within the given constraints. Let particularity, precision, understatement, and implication convey emotional power.||The French writer Raymond Queneau wrote a book entitled Exercises in Style in which he represented the same basic event in ninety-nine different ways. Here is the anecdote: On the S bus, at rush hour. A chap of about 26, felt hat with a cord instead of a ribbon, neck too long, as if someone’s been having a tug-of-war with it. People getting off. The chap in question gets annoyed with one of the men standing next to him. He accuses him of jostling him every time anyone goes past. A sniveling tone which is meant to be aggressive. When he sees a vacant seat he throws himself on to it. Two hours later, I meet him in La Cour de Rome, in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He’s with a friend who’s saying: “You ought to get an extra button put on your overcoat.” He shows him where (at the lapels) and why. Rewrite this anecdote in two different styles/modes. You can even parody or emulate two different authors. How would Fitzgerald write it? How would Milton? See how Quneau did it (you’ll need to skip the prefatory elements). http://monoskop.org/images/4/49/Queneau_Raymond_Exercises_in_Style_pp_1-26.pdf Or write an anecdote of your own in two extremely different ways/styles. Make one tragic, for instance, and one comic. Again, you can emulate or parody other styles.||For any one day this week, you can choose to write about anything you want in place of that day’s prompt. However, if you do this, you may not use the letter “e” anywhere in that day’s writing.|
|4||Memory||Over the course of this week read the first twenty pages of Paul Auster’s Winter Journal. Try reading a few pages every day, just before or just after you write your own theme.||The writer/visual artist Joe Brainard wrote a book entitled I Remember comprised of a series of statements that all begin, “I remember…” (see the excerpt I have posted under “resources.”). You will note the way that the language is straightforward and unadorned. The work builds by accruing the memories and suggesting connections by way of juxtaposition rather than explanation. Write 15-20 “I remembers…” of your own drawn from your whole life. Don’t rush in writing these but don’t take too long either. Give yourself a set amount of time to come up with these—say 45-60 minutes. Then go back and revise and exchange anything you would like. Move between specific details and slightly longer events.||Write a second theme that builds on the first. Take one of the “I remembers…” you have written and expand on it, filling in details and specifics, setting tone and mood. This time paying attention to the style and form of how you render the memory. Bear in mind that you need to make the memory compelling to someone else. This means it must have some narrative tension or significance or revelation in order for others to care as well.||Take a memory you have of a particular event that you saw or that you participated in and write about it from someone else’s perspective (a friend, an enemy, a disinterested party, the newspapers—the choice is up to you). Feel free to fictionalize this perspective (at some level it is unavoidable) or to call someone and ask him/her about his/her perspective (and thus see how it veers from your own). The more different the perspective is from your own, the more you will be able to discover about the memory. Avoid making yourself the hero of your memory. Or: Write about the first memory you can remember having. Write about it with as much detail as you can—and also perhaps describe the process of remembering (where does the line between remembering and inventing start to blur). Note, too, what you can’t recollect of the memory.||Sensory information is a crucial component of the structure of memory. Choose a song that generates free associations and write about the song and what comes from this. The task here, however, will to avoid mere nostalgia or sentimentality. Find an association that is more than merely “pleasing”—that is, go beyond just the pleasure of remembering. Write in such a way that you reflect on the connection between music and memory. Or you might try a different sense and choose instead a smell or scent or taste that triggers memories. Or: Write about the first time you can remember feeling physical pain.||Look back on the themes from this week, and write about the processes of memory and writing they embody. These are some questions you might address: What differences did you find in writing about an early memory versus a recent one? Where and how did you find yourself questioning your memories? Where and how did you have to invent those things that fill gaps in your memory? What was your response when you discovered other people had different memories? What did you learn while writing? What did you discover about those memories, memory itself, writing, or yourself? This theme might be free standing, or it might incorporate one or more of this week’s other themes. |
Or: What memory comes back to you most often (either big or small)? What is it? When does it come back to you?
|5||Curses, Magik, Dreams||Over the course of the week, jot down each morning some notes when you wake up about a dream that you remember from the night before.||Choose one of the 4 images provided in the file marked “Daily Themes Images” under “Resources” in the folder for week 5 on the classes server. From this image construct a narrative for what is happening in the scene that would sit alongside the image (that is, your reader will also be looking at the image).||There is a form of bibliomancy called “Sortes Virgilianae” in which predictions of the future are determined by randomly selecting lines from the Aeneid. First, determine what your Aeneid is—that is to say, the book that seems most important to your sense of yourself. Then determine a way to randomly select a line from that book. Once you have a line, use this as either the first line or the last line of a theme—this can either be fiction or nonfiction, just don’t make it a “reading” of the line in terms of literary criticism. Use the line to generate something new—don’t use the same characters, situations, and so forth from the source text. Or write about a dream (or nightmare) that you once had as a child but that sticks with you. How and when does that dream come back to you?||Write a theme that includes or becomes a long curse directed towards something—the snow, for instance or cancer or Valentine’s Day or the discontinuation of Twinkies. Obviously, this can be in earnest or satirical. Or: Write a magical prescription for an ailment or problem of some kind. Think folk remedies, apothecaries, and of toads, beetles, and bats. Or: Write a theme in response to/thinking about one of the entries in your commonplace book.|
OR: Write about something you are afraid of.
|For today, let us pay our respects to the ancestors. Write a ghost story that you have heard or experienced. Make it vivid and direct, though you can take as much “poetic license” as you like. The challenge will be to evoke the right mood.||Looking over the dream notes that you kept all week, flesh out one of the dreams into a theme. You can shape this and craft it anyway you would like—and bear in mind you have an audience.|
|6||Voices and Quotations||Wild Card: One time this week you can submit a free theme (writing in any way about anything) for any single theme. If you do use the wild card, you must work the word orison into the theme in some way.||Create a dialogue between two characters. Take the two sentences that you were given by a classmate and use one sentence as the first line of dialogue by one character. Use the second line as the final line of dialogue by the second character.||Write a conversation between two very different people who run into each other (literally, they walk into one another) outside a police station or a supermarket or at a place where each are embarrassed to be there. The two must be strangers. You must give a sense of character in terms of their reactions to one another and the situation.||Monologue: do an internet search for images by any of the following photographers: Diane Arbus, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, or Jeff Wall. Use a person from one of their photographs as the inspiration for a monologue. The voice should be articulating a poignant (or funny) memory or story, weighing a decision, or perhaps making a confession. Decide how that voice will reveal itself—is the monologue fast and breathless (and so long sentences with little punctuation)? Is it choppy and hesitant (and so marked by short and abrupt sentences)? Imagine the addressee for this monologue (even if it isn’t specified in the theme) as that will make it more specific. OR: Think of a character from a myth or legend and write a monologue from their point of view. Try to use contemporary language.||Create a conversation between two characters in which everything said on either side is in the form of a question and every question advances the conversation. Avoid rhetorical questions and repetitions. See this clip for an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-Sx4W2cKlU The limitation will allow you the opportunity to see how a full range of sentences (rather than just statements) can establish character, detail, and exposition. Or: write a theme describing someone’s voice. You might invent this or base it on a memory. What is the person saying? What is the tone of the voice like? What is the texture of the voice like? Make the voice vivid and real using sense details, analogies, and metaphors. What does their face look like as they talk? Does the listener need to sit close? Does the speaker seem to forget someone is listening?||Ask a friend or friends to read aloud to you a theme from this week (or, if you prefer, a theme from one of the previous weeks). Write a theme about the experience of hearing the voice(s) dramatized or enacted by someone else. Did it sound how you thought it would when you were writing it? How does it sound different than you expected voiced by someone else—someone other than yourself. How did you create a voice different than your own? What insights about voice and composition and the way that voice represents character did you get from this experience?|
OR: Take a theme you wrote earlier in the semester and revise it in such a way that it is told from someone else’s perspective. Imagine someone else in the scene or story describing what was seen or heard.
|7||People/Profiles||Write a small sketch of someone you know. The challenge here will be to find a way to be specific enough that the representation stands on its own. Thus, details and specifics (clothes, mannerisms, etc) will have to be suggestive of behaviors, beliefs, and personality. Also, don’t talk about him/her by way of the person’s relationship to you. Don’t mention yourself at all. And remember, you need to write about this person in such a way that he/she will be compelling to a reader. Don’t let it be sentimental. You might stay away from writing about people who are closest to you because it is hard to get the necessary distance. Also, make sure the opening sentence grabs the reader’s attention. It is sin’t enough that the subject is compelling to you—you need to make him/her compelling to your reader.||Go to some place off campus where people congregate—a restaurant, the train station, grocery store. Stay for awhile and “people watch” (something most of us do anyway). Choose someone to write about (preferably not a fellow college student). Describe their mannerisms, the way they look, the way they sound. Don’t invent a story but do indicate what drew you to this person and suggest the things you can deduce (however provisionally) just by looking and observing. You can opt to include yourself in the scene, commenting on your process: “He almost catches my gaze and I look away—his darting eyes suggest he’s nervous enough without thinking that someone like me is watching him. I pick up my phone and pretend I get a call…” etc.||For this theme, you might focus on someone you know (someone different from #1), or you might focus on someone well-known (someone fictional or a celebrity or some public figure). In any case, instead of talking about the person as a whole, concentrate on an object that tells us something important about the person you are describing. For instance, you might describe how a specific person always talks while holding a silver pen, punctuating everything he says with a quick darting in and out of the pen. What seems to be the subject’s relationship to that object? How does that object represent some larger aspect of the person? Or you might try another route and look at a suggestive distance between the person and some object. For instance, is there an object that a person has but seems to avoid (i.e. he or she won’t let anyone see his or her glasses)? If you want to write about someone well known, consider going to the Beinecke and seeing if you might look at some realia.||Often, fiction writers will draw on their own lives and experiences to develop characters. Think back to a moment of your own life—some specific but poignant scene—that occurred to you or that you were a part of and write about it from a third-person perspective. You may change and adjust anything you would like, but make sure that the scene and event reveals something about the character at the center (that is, a fictionalized version of yourself).||This time you have two choices: 1) Revise extensively (in the sense of “re-seeing”—don’t just polish or fix mistakes) a theme that you wrote this week or pull one from an earlier week. If you work with something from earlier in the semester, make sure that as part of the revision the theme now revolves around a character or person. 2) Develop a theme about the process of writing about a person real or imagined (maybe specifically someone you wrote about this week or earlier in the semester). What are the challenges and risks? What is the weight of that responsibility for describing a person accurately? What is at stake in depicting a person (either real or invented)?|
|8||Travel/Place||Wild Card Challenge—you can substitute a free theme for any one theme this week; however, the theme must be exactly twenty-five sentences long with each sentence being exactly ten words each.||Plant yourself in some public space for at least half an hour and watch how people move through and interact with that space. Describe how spines and ankles and chins move through the air; how the walkers’ shoes touch the pavement; the way arms swing and tote bags hang from shoulders. Then try both to account for the physical facts of what you saw and to consider the effect of those facts. Or: Return to a theme from earlier in the semester in which the setting was flat, generic, or not mentioned at all. Grant it foreground, and see how the rest of the theme shifts with a stronger sense of place.||Describe a place without using your sense of sight. Try, if possible, to pick one other sense and explore how you experience the place through it.||We've talked about how absence is presence; presence, absence. Portray a place by focusing on absence --that is, describe what isn’t there or what you can’t do, get, hear. "You won't find x in Place Name..." Or, focus on a single "ghost feature" in a given place--something that was once there, perhaps, but is now gone--and write a story around it.||Write as specifically as possible about a place toward which you have mixed feelings. Try to account both for your love and your antipathy (disgust, repulsion, fear, anxiety... It’s best if this is a place that you know well—not somewhere you’ve visited once. Keep your account of the place as grounded in detail as you’re able.||Write a letter to a stranger you once encountered on a trip— the man from the flight to Detroit flight, the kid in Kerala, that cabbie in Athens. Choose someone you crossed paths with briefly but who cast a long shadow in your memory. Write to explore why they linger in the memory, addressing them in the second person, letting the story of your journey (and a sense of the place) leak in.|
|9 & 10||Spring Break||Over break, keep a writer’s notebook. Carry your notebook with you all the time. It should fit into your pocket or a bag, and you should have something to write with. Use the notebook as you wish: to record your daily activities; to experiment with self-dramatization, reflect on your practices of writing or your reading, draft fictional vignettes, brood on the act of diary-keeping, or use it as an opportunity to catch your stray thoughts, record choice bits of conversation or a comical road sign, play with anagrams, try out aphorisms, write a letter to a friend (or yourself), make a to-do list, write travelogue. |
The point is to use your notebook to record, reflect, experiment, practice. In your notebook, you will begin putting your experience on paper, and turning living into writing. What you produce can then serve as raw materials you can turn to as a basis for more formal writing, including themes in the remaining five weeks of this course. Then, before the end of the break, prepare your entries for submission to your tutor. This is not simply a matter of data entry but another stage of writing: expand, revise, and rearrange what you put down at first. Begin to think, at this stage, about concision and precision. There is no requirement for the number of entries, but you should try to keep things short and frequent in order to maintain the practices you have established. Aim for something around a total of 1500 words over the break. ALL PROMPTS DISCUSSED HERE ARE OPTIONAL, FOR GUIDANCE IF NECESSARY
|Write a journal entry describing a journey. What can--or can’t--you see along the way? How does your perspective change with the change of place?||Carry on with the “I Remember…” prompt.||Write a journal entry describing a single day written by another person actual or imagined, contemporary or historical. (This might take the form of an imitation or parody of a famous diarist like Woolf or Boswell.)||Read some entries from a notebook, diary, or some other kind of journal---either unpublished or in print, and possibly a diary of your own from the past. Then describe how the writer uses the journal, describe the sense of self that arises in it.||Write a journal entry that explores a memory that surfaced during the course of your day, and connects the memory to the situation in which it arose.|
Write a journal entry centered on consumption, hygiene, work, or exercise.
Write a journal entry that records and reflects on a conversation.
Write a journal entry about your habits or rituals of writing.
|11||Character||Wild Card Theme: For this you can write about anything you wish in place of one of the prompts provided for this week; however, you must 1) use the first two words of Auster’s Winter Journal as the first words of your wild card theme; and 2) the last line of Winter Journal must appear somewhere in one of the themes for this week. You can do with it as you wish—it can be something you clearly cite or it can be something a character says…use it as you wish.||Think of a character (from your own reading) who's portrayed in a negative|
light—anyone from Captain Ahab to Darth Vader to Nurse Ratched to Ebenezer Scrooge to Aaron Carter. Write a theme from that person's point of view (and be sure to identify the person in some way—perhaps through a title or some aside). You don't have to mention the negative portrayal, but try to make your version of the character sympathetic in some way. Or: Write about some event from your own life in which you were in the wrong. Don’t try to excuse or justify your actions (and don’t present it as a confession). In other words, write about yourself as if you were a character (maybe even using the third person).
|Consider the exercise that Professor Barton presented in class in regards to observing a specific person. You may recall there was a theme similar to this earlier in the semester. This time, take a different approach: go to a public place somewhere off campus and not a coffee shop. Surreptitiously observe someone and notice what can about this person. Then, decide what you think you might be able to infer from that. Make a list of things you’re sure you see about him/her, then make a list of things you think you can guess about them based on that evidence (behavior, clothes, voice, etc).||Invent a scene involving the person you observed in #2. In essence, you will be translating that person into a character. Or you might even turn the theme back on yourself and write about yourself as a kind of ersatz private detective observing another person—specifically that person you described in #2.||Create a theme constructed around the specific tics, foibles, compulsions, or phobias of someone you know (or create someone). This might be a reflection on the role these mannerisms or characteristics play in a given event or moment or it might be a short meditation about how these behaviors impact that person’s day, decisions, and so forth. Or it might be a scene that features these behaviors.||Revise into a theme something from your spring break journal. Focus, perhaps, on a specific detail or person.|
|12||Storytelling||At this point in the semester you might be ready to start trying something a bit longer, so there are two possible threads you might take this week. The first is the standard process of writing a theme in response to that day’s prompt—just as you have been doing all semester. |
The second thread you might take is to begin the first day with any one of the themes and then build a story from that over the rest of the themes of the week (that means you don’t have to address the other prompts). The week’s themes will be interconnected when you’re done. These different themes could be mini-chapters of a narrative that you develop over the week or they might be simply different scenes using roughly the same character in different situations. Try having each theme add something to the narrative. For example: the first presents the event; the second indicates the character or characters, the third is the point of conflict or tension.
Write a scene (real or imagined) that is the beginning of an emotionally charged argument. How does it start? Describe the place as well as the people, but write about it in somewhat detached way. That is, don’t let the emotions take over the writing.
Write about an accident you were in or that you witnessed. Be as specific and vivid as you can. Use the language and the sentence style and length to provide a sense of the feeling of the chaos at the level of form.
Revise any theme you want from the entire semester; however, be sure that you change the focus. Write from a different person’s perspective, for instance, or change it from nonfiction to a fictionalized account. Or change the language—if it was very simple and straightforward, write it fairly ornately with long sentences (or vice versa). In other words, let revision mean “see again” and not merely “fixed mistakes.”
Describe a scene (real or imagined) in which a person is caught in a lie.
|13||The Forms of Anticipation||Wild Card theme: You may substitute for any one theme this week a revision of any theme over the semester. It must be substantially different (not just “fixed”) from the first version. Really re-envision it. Be prepared to discuss with your tutor why you chose that one and how you changed it.||Describe a time when you were the hungriest or thirstiest you ever were. Why were you so hungry or thirsty? Were you lost? Were you fasting? What was the situation? What did it feel like? How did your body start to respond? You can choose something specific if you’ve never been all that hungry or thirsty—for instance, you can write about being deprived of coffee or cigarettes or something else that you have to have pretty consistently or your body responds.||Describe a time when you wanted something, really wanted something, but didn’t get it. Try to be specific and talk about something particular rather than trying to meditate on some sweeping or general thing (such as success or happiness).||Describe a time when you were lost, really lost. Or describe a time when you felt really trapped (literally or figuratively).||Tell the story of your first real kiss—make it specific and vivid. OR: Write twelve possible first lines to twelve different stories (fictional, non-fictional, some combination of both). For a real challenge, let those lines start to feel like they hold together by juxtaposition. See the work of David Markson for a model: http://www.cbeditions.com/userfiles/file/markson-this-is-not-a-novel.pdf||Ask someone to tell you a story that happened to her/him. Use that story as the bare bones of your theme today—make it your own by filling in details, changing elements, adding or deleting characters, changing the tone, and using your own language. What do you need to keep in order to maintain the essence of the story you are told and what can you change? OR: Take this opportunity to reflect on your writing process. Write about when (what time of day, what do the conditions need to be like) and how you write. Try addressing some of the following: How do you begin? When do you know when you’re done? What does it feel like when it is going well? When it is not going well? Have you ever had writer’s block? When and what was it like? Have you ever been compelled to write? When and what was it like?|
|14||Fables, or, Once Upon a Theme||This week will again offer the possibility of two different threads. The first would be the usual practice of undertaking each of the following prompts in order. The second possibility would allow you to begin with just one of the first four prompts below and develop this into a narrative written in four installments or mini-chapters. Or you might keep writing different variations of the same theme—each written from a different perspective, with a different ending, different language, and so forth. Let your tutor know ahead of time which thread you will be following. No matter which thread you opt for, everyone will have to write a theme for #5. Put this above your desk this week and look at it each time you sit down to write: He who writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read, he wants to be learned by heart.—Friedrich Nietzsche from Thus Spake Zarathustra.||Choose a fable from Aesop, Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, or another folklore tradition, or perhaps from a favorite childhood story, and re-tell it from memory as best you can—don’t look it up to refresh your memory. Or try this with a religious parable. Try to use somewhat plain language. The purpose of this prompt is to get a sense of what we do and don’t remember from those childhood stories. Characterize the animals or people that you represent through a few well-chosen words of description or dialogue.||A) Rewrite a parable or fable (perhaps—but not necessarily—the one you chose for the focus of #1) as a piece of modern day fiction. Make the style, form, and diction contemporary, though stay close to the original idea of the narrative. You can do this in your own style or as homage to (or parody of) a favorite author. |
Or: Write a brief, concise meditative essay about some aspect of a myth, parable, or fable—how does it have contemporary relevance?
|Create an imaginary creature, like Bishop’s “Man-moth” or turn to an “actual” one such as Borges does with the Simurgh and describe it in a way that suggests both human and non-human qualities. This theme could take the form of another fable, or naturalistic description or meditation or an invented Wikipedia entry.||Write an original parable or fable. You can draw on real events to help give yourself a narrative framework. Decide whether this will be a kind of moral lesson or political satire (though these are not mutually exclusively). The reason is that you will want to have a sense of whether you are trying to create personal or political change.||Take this opportunity to look back at the work you have produced in Daily Themes. Which theme would you put forward as most representative of what you believe is closest to the voice that you are trying to develop? What makes it seem most like yours? What was the process of writing it like and what is it like to look back at it now? What does it feel like to think about it representing you? Be sure to make this theme more than a self-evaluation—reflect in powerful, probing ways on what you are coming to see as the elements you value about writing and what writing makes possible to you and to others.|
|15||The Sense of an Ending||Take one or two of the quotations that you have included in your commonplace book and write a theme about how these shape your sense of writing and being a writer. These should concentrated meditations or responses to the lines you offer up. Be sure to integrate the quoted materials elegantly into your theme.|
Or: write a letter to an author you admire (living or dead). What would you say? What would you ask? Why would you ask the things you ask? Why are you turning to that person?
This one follows up on prompt #1’s “write a letter to an author you admire (living or dead)” option: Write a letter to a friend. Feel free to make this a real letter to a real friend, or a real letter to a former friend, or a letter that you want to write but would never actually send. You can also choose to write an entirely fictional letter.
The X theme meta-theme. You have two choices. The first is to think back over the X themes from the semester, and to remember one that stood out as excellent and admirable—it did something that you would want to do with your writing, too. Write a theme that emulates that quality, or qualities. (Writers will often call this “stealing,” but remember that that’s an exaggeration; what we mean is that we borrow, we imitate.) The second choice is not to emulate an X theme, but to think of one you can use as the basis for satire. Satire has many tools: exaggeration, surprising juxtapositions, absurdity, etc. Satire also only goes after worthy subjects: i.e., it’s only funny if you point out that the emperor has no clothes—it’s not funny if you point out that the poor starving orphan has no clothes. So in your satire, you’re not trying to mock the writer of a theme, you’re trying to make use of the content and style of the writing. A dispassionate tone, a traumatic experience, an intimate confession, a stylized voice—instead of emulating that quality, could you heighten that quality, or match it up with completely ill-fitting subject matter, in a satiric fashion? (For example, you could write a theme where a male athlete describes in sensual, intimate detail his careful ritual of putting on smelly tube socks. The theme wouldn’t be making fun of the original author, but borrowing her stylistic approach to satirize gender-based differences in body image.)
If you feel more comfortable satirizing, say, Orwell rather than one of your classmates, you could also start with one of the quotes from published writers around which Deming built his lectures.
For either approach, let me know which X theme (or quote) served as inspiration.
The “to hell with everything” theme. Write something absolutely terrible. Awful clichés, painfully obvious points, alliteration gone berserk, absurdly twisting run-on sentences. Go nuts with bad writing. It shouldn’t be impenetrable nonsense, of course—it should be readable, but dreadful. This, too, should be fun, but with a point: to attempt to write something “bad,” you are of necessity thinking about what it means to write something “good.”
This is your chance to reflect on the work you have done all semester. What have you learned about writing—its craft and process—through the discipline of writing so much, so often? What have you learned about yourself as a writer in terms of subjects, topics, and forms you have been most drawn to? What has it felt like to live the life of a writer for the past semester? Make sure that this theme is strong and powerful and that it would be compelling to other writers (and thus not simply summary or evaluation).