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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Jessica Bell, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Friday Speak Out!: Writing Exercises to Feed a Starving Muse (and Book Giveaway!)

by Jessica Bell

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Well, not entirely. I do believe that we run out of ideas or inspiration on occasion, but I honestly think that’s a result of a starving muse.

What do I mean by “starving muse”?

Sometimes, when you are working on one particular manuscript, your brain becomes lazy or trained to think a certain way. It slips into the routines and personalities of what you believe your characters to be, and creates, what I like to call, an inspiration shield. This means that you could be cutting yourself off from new creative stimulation that could improve your work, and help grow new ideas.

If you think you have a starving muse, here are a three writing exercises that might provide it with some nutrients.

Exercise One

Think about the person you are in love with. If you are not in love with anyone, think of someone you love unconditionally, such as a parent, sibling, child, or pet. Write a scene between you and this person that illustrates the extent of your love through action. You must not use the word love at all, any synonyms of love, or any declaration of your feelings. The reader must see that you love this person from the way you behave. Avoid clichés such as cheek stroking, and looking longingly into one’s eyes. Use at least one simile/metaphor in your scene that relates to smell. Use 1st person, past tense. Write no more than 1000 words.

Exercise Two

Write a one-page memoir from the point of view of an inanimate object. Don’t think about it too long. Just choose the first object that comes to mind. Think about its function. Does it need another object, or a living being, in order to efficiently serve its purpose? If so, what kind of relationship would this object have with this other object/living being, and how would that relationship shape the object’s life? Try to avoid giving the object supernatural abilities. Be as realistic with it as possible, but be sure to give it a “voice.”

Exercise Three

Step one: Grab a newspaper (or your iPad!) and open to a random page. Read the first headline that catches your eye. Write it down. Do not read the article.

Step two: Write a fictional article with the same headline. If you know the real story from the news, choose another one. If you know every single story that has been in the news lately, make up your own headline.

Step three: Use the people mentioned in your article, and the things that happened to them, or the events they are associated with, to write a short story or vignette. Try to “show” as much as possible.

Have random writing exercises ever helped you overcome the elusive writer’s block? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is?

***** BOOK GIVEAWAY*****

Jessica is excited to give away a free copy of her writing skills book, Writing in a Nutshell: Writing Workshops to Improve Your Craft to one lucky winner! Please fill out the Rafflecopter form below and leave a comment for a chance to win. Open internationally. Winner is chosen randomly and announced within the widget on March 21.

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* * *

Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist, is a the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


0 Comments on Friday Speak Out!: Writing Exercises to Feed a Starving Muse (and Book Giveaway!) as of 3/14/2014 4:33:00 AM
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2. The Vignette: Jessica Bell

Click through to sign up for the National Poetry Month giveaway!

“Vignette” is a word that originally meant “something that may be written on a vine-leaf.” This image makes me think: small, special, delicate, and perhaps not for everyone to see.

How apt is this image?

Nowadays, a vignette is what you call a snapshot in words. It differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim doesn’t lie within the traditional realms of structure or plot. Instead, the vignette focuses on one element, mood, character, setting, object, or if you’re clever, a unique and smooth blend of them all. It is the perfect form of writing for poetic descriptions, excellent for character or theme exploration and wordplay. 

The language can be simple and minimalistic, or extravagantly crafted literary prose. It’s your choice. Write in the style and genre you are comfortable with and in the genre you love. There are no limits regarding style and genre. In fact, the vignette only has one rule: create an atmosphere, not a story.

If you’d like to read some wonderful vignettes, you can find an abundance of them at Vine Leaves Literary Journal, which is run by me and Dawn Ius. But to be honest, I’d give writing one a go before you allow yourself to become influenced by too much other work.

Set your mind on a moment. Use all the senses to describe it. Especially the neglected ones like touch and taste and sound. Try not to go over 800 words. Anything longer than that will want to become a story. 100-word vignettes are also acceptable. And if you can manage to do it in even less than that, we applaud you. But it has to be good—really good, to get away with something so short.

That being said, one of my favourite vignettes in Vine Leaves Literary Journal Issue #01, called “Flashback”, is two lines long. It was written by a poet named Patricia Ranzoni:

the softness from dialing the phone
is like lifting the lid to my music box

This was a very brave submission. But totally worthy. Can you see why? Read it out loud. Slowly.

Let me tell you why I love this piece:

I can absolutely feel myself in the moment. Silence surrounding me, either really early in the morning or late at night. Alone. That soft click and then purr when I lift the receiver of the hook, and then the dancing notes as I dial. I can see the flashback—a blurry image of a pastel pink ballerina spinning, the tune twinkling, and the box vibrating in my hands. I can hear a child laughing in my head. It’s me when I was a kid. The first time I ever saw a ballerina in a box. Magic.

A successful vignette must evoke emotion. If you can make us feel, you’re on the right track.

If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she'd give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she's written. Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers' Retreat and Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. For more information, please visit her website.

4 Comments on The Vignette: Jessica Bell, last added: 4/15/2013
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3. The Book by Jessica Bell (Review and Giveaway)

When the chance came to review another of Jessica Bell's books, I jumped at it. I loved her writing exercise and instruction book:  Show & Tell in a Nutshell! This novella, The Book, caught my attention immediately--mostly because of the different formats--journal entries, doctor/patient transcripts, and narrative in a child's voice. I know I've already caught your interest with just that list, so wait until you read on. . .

It doesn’t take a tome of 500 pages to tell a powerful, gripping and captivating story. Jessica has managed to do this in less than 150 pages in The Book. Jessica, also an author of poetry and nonfiction, takes on a unique voice for one of the narrators of her book—a five-year-old child, Bonnie; she truly captivates this voice, taking the reader through the story of the girl’s estranged parents and herself trying to figure out her young and confusing life full of adults always acting strangely.

The title comes from a book, which most would call a journal or diary, that Bonnie’s parents started writing in before she was even born. John, her father, has the idea to write special messages to his daughter and to give “The Book” to her when she is older. Penny, her mother, is the one who actually writes in it more, and eventually it becomes a diary for her mother, more than a message for the daughter.

The Book is divided into three parts: “Love is the Beginning,” “Love is a Weapon,” and “Love is Tangible.” In each part, Penny or John tell their side of the story and their feelings through their writings in “The Book”; Bonnie adds to the story through her narration for the reader; and transcripts of Bonnie speaking to a psychiatrist, Dr. Wright, are also included. All of these parts and various techniques work together to complete the story of Bonnie and her parents.

The reader learns that John and Penny don’t stay together after Bonnie’s born, and Penny starts a new relationship with Ted—who has a temper with a violent side. Bonnie explains to the reader what she sees going on in the lives of the adults around her, from her dad’s new family to her mom’s emotional side to “my Ted’s” outbursts.

Bonnie sees the biggest problem as “The Book.” She thinks it is what causes the difficulties in her life and the lives of her loved ones. She wants to destroy it and is just waiting for the chance to get it away from her mother and make everything better for everyone.

Jessica Bell
What Jessica does so well in this short novel is take on the different voices of the characters—readers will be able to hear the child trying to figure out her world in Bonnie’s narrative, while sympathizing with John and Penny who aren’t sure if they made the right choice to split apart. When Jessica writes as John in “The Book,” he has a distinct way of writing, which is different than Penny—this distinction and technique with voice are the marks of a talented writer.

The ending is shocking and can be somewhat disturbing, but it’s realistic, heartfelt, and certainly satisfying after spending several hours getting to know the characters in The Book.

Jessica is a native-Australian who lives in Athens, Greece. She is also a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. She makes a living as an editor and writer for English language teaching publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. She also runs the Homeric Writers' Retreat and Workshop in Ithaca, Greece, which is an annual week-long workshop for writers with instruction from experts in the field. Recently, she re-released her full-length novel, String Bridge, complete with a cover makeover, and is giving away the digital version of the accompanying soundtrack (which is amazing, by the way!) with every purchase.

The Book is a fast read, but one that you will want to read again. The characters are complex, which makes the story memorable, and a great one to discuss in a book club. If you haven’t checked out anything Jessica Bell has written yet, then why not start with The Book?

Margo L. Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, a middle-grade (ages 9 to 12) historical fiction novel.


Enter the Rafflecopter form below for a chance to win a copy of The Book by Jessica Bell!

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Good luck!

8 Comments on The Book by Jessica Bell (Review and Giveaway), last added: 2/26/2013
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4. How to Subvert Clichés

By Jessica Bell

As a co-founder and editor for Vine Leaves Literary Journal, I have read my fair share clichéd submissions. And I'm afraid to say, that most of the time, they make me wince.

As a writer, it is likely hard to comprehend how overwhelming these clichéd submissions can get. You are only one person after all, with one cliché in front of you, and it's logical to think, Oh, it'll be all right, surely there won't be any other subs like this. But you would be surprised. What you need to think is: Am I really going to be noticed amongst an inbox full of 300-400 other submissions if I'm writing about the sea breeze, and quiet dark nights?

Vine Leaves Literary Journal has been around for more than a year now. And the clichés (especially in poetry) that most frequently overwhelm us are:
  • gardens/plants (pretty red poppies, bees, roses and Eden)
  • sun/moon/stars (shining, glistening on sand or water)
  • beating hearts (oh I love you so much my heart is racing)
  • quiet nights (as I caress your cheek, as soft as a baby's bottom)
  • gentle breezes (I close my eyes and feel your presence)
  • oceans/beaches (my toes dig into the warm sand)
  • weather/seasons (birds chirping in spring, heat waves rising off the road)

However, if you are sure that you have written about these things in a unique way, we're totally open to reading about them. But trust me, we will be extra critical.

For an example of one unique way to write about gardens, take a look at The History of Dirt, by Allie Marini Batts, from Issue #03, page 37. This WOWED me.

So how can we twist the above clichéd topics into interesting reading?

For starters, use objects as metaphors for emotions or personality traits; plants in a non-garden context to attract attention and intrigue; give pretty things ugly qualities, and vice versa; compare love to a simple gesture that isn't saccharine; instead of talking about the quiet night, find a quiet detail to draw attention to, an elderly man kicking a newspaper in an abandoned street perhaps, and his echoing grunt. Think opposite, think unpredictable. Tweak a common feeling with a unique bent, experiment with poetic prose.

Sure, clichés exist because they come from real life, and you may argue that they are 'relatable.' But the way in which one experiences things isn't always the same. As writers, it's your duty to make your readers see through a unique pair of eyes. Tell me, which of the following excerpts is the most clichéd? And which is more interesting to read?

As I step foot onto the sand, I realize I'm ready to wipe the slate clean, to start again in a new town where I no longer feel the weight of regret on my shoulders, or the desire to runaway; a place where I can accept who I am.

As I step foot onto the sand, I realize I’m ready to wipe this regret from my skin; to immerse myself in a new ocean, where my desire for fleeing this emotional cage hides like a mermaid ambivalent about growing legs.

What other clichés can you think of that you persistently see in writing? Or better still, what have you read that uses a cliché in a unique way?

Need more help with your writing? Why don't you try Jessica's pocket guide, Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing?

About the Author:

If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written.

She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Visit Jessica's blog, The Alliterative Allomorph, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

8 Comments on How to Subvert Clichés, last added: 3/20/2013
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