Writing exercises inspired by James Joyce

So back in September I bought a book called Creative Writer’s Notebook. It’s a collection of writing prompts and exercises, 70 in total, inspired by the writings of 20 classic and/or well-known authors.

I had intended to wait to start working my way through this notebook until I had finished the project I was working on (see older blog posts about how I wasn’t doing any writing), but, I’ll be honest, I’m just not into that story anymore right now. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel particularly lovey or loving (I’ve got enough for my husband and the cat each day, and then I’m about at my wits end), or maybe I’ve just procrastinated and the passion is gone for now. Whatever it is, I’ve decided to take the easy out and start working through this notebook. If I do one author’s exercises a week, I’ve got 20 weeks, not including any other writing I do that I can blog about, which I truly do intend to get back to.

The challenge, as I’ve discovered via journaling my own thoughts, is that I’m tired. I work full-time, eight hours a day five days a week being around other humans and trying to make them happy. Then, usually, I come home to cook and clean, which frankly feels like a second job. And if I intend for my writing to go anywhere, I need to treat that like a job. And I just don’t have the energy to work three jobs when I’m already fatigued and working through (honest confession here) anxiety and depression each day too. I’m not going to give up on this dream (with where I’m at in life, I simply can’t give up on this one), but I’m going to go a little easier on myself and make a plan and set some easier goals, and if I don’t enjoy what I’m working on, I’ll move on to something else.

So, this Creative Writer’s Notebook. The exercises I’ve done so far, three inspired by James Joyce, as noted in the title of this blog, have been very different. The first was an interior monologue, essentially writing down your thoughts, following them on paper wherever they go. This exercise I had actually kind of accidentally done (though more formally than just writing down my thoughts as they pass through my brain), and it was upon realizing that I’d kind of already done the first exercise that I decided to continue and finally dust off this second half of my blog (the book reviews are going wonderfully, of course).

The second exercise was making up portmanteau words, words with double meanings. Examples from the book include “kissmiss,” “smog,” and “eleventeen.” This was the exercise that stumped me. Perhaps it’s just the phrasing, but I couldn’t think of many. What I came up with were “brunch,” “sniggle,” and the name of a character from another one of my stories, “Mr. Snidely.”

The last Joyce-inspired exercise was to write descriptions of family members using the same number of words as their age. This, of course, posed some little challenge for me, because my brain naturally was wondering if that meant 23 descriptive words about my husband in various sentences, or do I have only 23 words, so don’t waste any? (Sometimes I don’t think I’m very good at the creativity bit, I’m too orderly.) Anyway, I just did it, and it was fun and an interesting way to think about writing descriptions, and to see what kinds of things I focus on when describing. Looking over what I’ve written, only my first two descriptions had anything physical in them. I tend to focus on character traits, not hair or eye color or the chiseled features or long nose someone may have.

So this gives me something to think on, as I would be the first to say I frequently neglect physical descriptions of my characters, and this may be something my readers would like to see more of.

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