As a young girl, my father gave me this valuable advice: TELL THE TRUTH OR SOMEONE ELSE WILL TELL IT FOR YOU.
So I became a memoirist. Today, a lot of people come to me and say, "But you're too young to have written a memoir already." And I correct them ? actually, I've written two. As much as I find it both therapeutic and rewarding to write about my life, sometimes I feel restrained and need to shake the stale out of my writing. That's when I rely on writing exercises ? just about the only exercise I actually enjoy.
I mostly look to fiction writing prompts, replacing "two characters" with "two people" in the instructions. Sometimes the fictional activities free my writing up, and I'm able to tell a truthful story of my past with an improved creative structure. Here are some of the books I've used; the list is not expansive.
Sometimes I'll pluck a word or phrase from a book of slang and try to weave it into a fictional exercise. The phrase faute de mieux ? which Crosby, Stills, & Nash turned into "Love the One You're With" ? led me to write from the perspective of Ibsen's Nora on my blog. I find that some of the prompts in the first two books I've mentioned are helpful because they limit how much time you should spend on each exercise to a few minutes. They aren't supposed to be sensational works of art, but instead are vehicles to get your brain lubed up. It's why I laugh when anyone comments that I could "try harder" on my blog. I think people forget that I don't TRY to put my best foot forward when writing my blog. They forget I'm working on writing two other books, that I'm raising my twins, and picking my nose. These things take time. I blog for fun and see my site as an online space for me to dump my days. It's my "today I..." place. When you think about it, it's really a writing exercise of its own. Except, it's one that writes back.
Here's my take on faute de mieux:
I'm with you, but I prefer him, especially now. Now that you've revealed you, now that we're past polite and I see and live with what lives behind door number two. You weren't my first choice; you were my downfall. We had a rhythm, a cadence between us; something you and I don't have. Won't have. I hid with him, under the lip of a sheet, and I could stare at him for days. His perfect face, the crinkle of his eyes. He sweats when he sleeps. "You smell like sick," I told him. Or was it, "you smell like dead." It doesn't matter. I saw his flaws. I could live with him. Forever. Vacuuming the floors of our house, the one we may never have because I chose wrong. I'm here with you, instead of in bed with my likeness. Listening to his music, the stuff he played me on his iPod, and then kept asking if he'd ever played it for me. I could listen to the way his mind works and want to drink it. I loved his body. I want you to hurt. I can't sleep. He can't either. I have an unspoken insomnia with him, where we know, without speaking, we're in each other's thoughts. I cheat on you with him in sleep. When you come to me, sleep marks still on my hands, impressions on my face, you can see him. "Give me a kiss," you say, your breath a rancid blanket, and I want to tell you, you're not my husband. I kiss you quickly and feign a smile. You're not the life I should be living.