Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Day 25: Bonus Unexpected Sabbatical April 9–Parables

Last night I was rereading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, and I wanted to share this parable about a man dealing with fear:

“He said he was determined to get rid of his negative emotions. He struggled against anger and lust; he struggled against laziness and pride. But mostly he wanted to get rid of his fear. His meditation teacher kept telling him to stop struggling, but he took that as just another way of explaining how to overcome his obstacles.

Finally the teacher sent him off to meditate in a tiny hut in the foothills. He shut the door and settled down to practice, and when it got dark he lit three small candles. Around midnight he heard a noise in the corner of the room, and in the darkness he saw a very large snake. It looked to him like a king cobra. It was right in front of him, swaying. All night he stayed totally alert, keeping his eyes on the snake. He was so afraid that he couldn’t move. There was just the snake and himself and fear.

Just before down the last candle went out, and he began to cry. He cried not in despair but from tenderness. He felt the longing of all the animals and people in the world; he knew their alienation and their struggle. All his meditation had been nothing but further separation and struggle. He accepted–really accepted wholeheartedly–that he was angry and jealous, that he resisted and struggled, and that he was afraid. He accepted that he was also precious beyond measure–wise and foolish, rich and poor, and totally unfathomable. He felt so much gratitude that in the total darkness he stood up, walked towards the snake, and bowed. Then he fell sound asleep on the floor.

When he awoke, the snake was gone. He never knew if it was his imagination or if it had really been there, and it didn’t seem to matter. That much intimacy with fear caused his dramas to collapse and the world around him finally got through.”

The power of parable, and the reason they have such a lasting effect, is because parables use the power of narrative to show rather than tell. And since human beings are by nature storytellers, the lessons are more usually understood, absorbed, and assimilated.

Most religious texts use parables, but other books I love that use parables and allegory are The Tao of Pooh and The Alchemist, if you are looking for some quarantine reading.

Your prompt:

Write a parable.

(These three steps are adapted from here)

  1. Start with the moral lesson. Think about a moral principle that has been important in your own life, or one that you’re still struggling to learn fully. You might also choose something that you’re curious about and want to explore.
  2. Consider its consequences. What might happen as a result of behaving (or not behaving) according to your moral lesson? In “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” the consequence of dishonesty is that liars will not be believed in important moments, and it’s hard to live without people’s trust.
  3. Write a story following a basic beginning-middle-end structure. The beginning sets the stage and tells us who all the main characters are, while establishing important themes; in the middle, some kind of problem, conflict, or danger emerges; and in the end, we learn about the results of that conflict.

(And for fun: here’s a picture of me with a cobra in Nepal when I was about 27. Unlike the lesson of the man in the parable, my face is saying: take the picture quick!)

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Happy Writing! In solidarity!

xoN

 

Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Bonus Unexpected Sabbatical: March 22

I received this very evocative “then and now” picture from the president of CU Boulder yesterday: This is the Old Main Building in 1918 and now:

CU snip

Which got me thinking about history, and how our story will be told 100 years from now. Let’s not forget that history is always written by the victors. So today, let’s do a little more time traveling, but this time:

Rewrite a scene from history.

In solidarity and love.

xoxo

Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Bonus Unexpected Sabbatical: March 20

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious s***” ~Doc Brown, Back to the Future

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I’ve talked with many people lately who are thinking about the future: what might our new world look like? It’s fertile material for all your sci-fi leaners, but it’s also just an interesting question. Will society go virtual like Ready Player One? Will we someday take virtual vacations (or virtual writing retreats!) like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall? Or will the Terminator show up with a message for us from the future?

So…let’s have some fun with our imaginations. Who knows–the future could be amazing.

Write a story in which your character receives a message from the future.

Of course what this message is, and how they receive it, is up to you.

Have fun with it!

Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Bonus Unexpected Sabbatical: March 18

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ said Alice. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all mad here.’ ~ Lewis Carroll

I’m sure the world is feeling pretty mad to you right now. One of the reasons I love absurdity in art is because I believe when we stop looking for TRUTH with the capital T, when we embrace the madness, we’re able to see the more subtle, more real, and usually more potent truths bleeding through the surface of “silly” or “weird.”

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SO…let’s enter the madness and embrace the weird.

Write a real story, something that happened to you or someone you know that was so ___________(insert adjective here) that no one would believe it’s true.

BUT, when you write it, do not stay bound to TRUTH with a capital T. Instead, invite the story to get even weirder, allow exaggeration and hyperbole to take it in strange directions, and see if something even more interesting starts peeking through.

Nancy Stohlman, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Not Writing: Why You Might Be Avoiding Your Work

I was inspired to address this issue after I read multiple social media posts, all from writers I admire, all lamenting that they “weren’t writing.”

Not writing is painful. Unfinished work sitting there is painful. You might beat yourself up with a bunch of “shoulds” and berate your lack of discipline. It can make you feel hopeless, drained of energy and questioning if it’s even worth it. No wonder you keep avoiding it!

head-in-sand

But there are usually some very good reasons why you’re avoiding your work. To start with, you’re a better writer now. Just do the math: if you started even one year ago, then you’re a better writer now. And that’s a good thing! That’s the beauty of practice paying off. But it can also feel frustrating when you realize that first story or first draft, the one you labored over, might have made you a better writer but isn’t at your level anymore.

Or you’re in a different emotional place. Often the impetus that drove us to the page resolves or fades; whatever we were grappling with has been settled. Perhaps we’re on the other side of a life change, and the early writing was part of our process, but now we aren’t “feeling it.”

Or you’re overly loyal to your original vision. After all, you’ve probably put in countless hours of work. But sometimes we become too attached to our original vision; sometimes we’ve read and reread our sentences so many times we can’t imagine them any other way. And when we can’t imagine new possibilities for our work, when everything is known and nothing unknown…well, then it’s no wonder we’re not writing.

And, finally, you might be shifting gears. This almost always happens to me after finishing a big project. After a book for instance, I like to consider myself creatively postpartum, recovering from the birth and taking care of the new baby for at least 6-12 months. Anything I try to write in that time will end up sounding exactly like what I was writing before because I haven’t shifted gears, yet.

But it’s discouraging, regardless of the reason, to find yourself fallow, quiet.

So what to do?

1.Give yourself a break. The creative process ebbs and flows, and what goes up must go down…and back up again. Trust the process.

2. Read. I especially like to reread favorite books in these periods. Sink into the familiar and remember why you love words.

3: Remember: creation is ultimately play. Get silly and messy and re-discover what is joyful. Be curious. Be ridiculous. Be shameless. Take a bold risk into new territory and allow yourself to fail. Remember: no one has to know.

Love, Nancy xoxo

*excerpted from Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction coming this summer