Denver Writing Project

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Denver Writing Project Advanced Institute 2014

Published June 20, 2014 by Elsa Pla

Flower Bed at CU Denver

The Denver Writing Project Summer Institute at CU Denver provides writing teachers with tools and time to develop as writers and teachers of writing:

http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/CLAS/Centers/denverwritingproject/Pages/DenverWritingProjectHome.aspx

I recently participated in the DWP’s Advanced Institute, a week-long mini-institute for DWP alumni. I’d been in a writing slump for the past five months or so and needed to jumpstart my writing motor, so to speak. I also needed fresh teaching ideas. By the end of the week I had gained insights and gathered seeds for my own writing and had learned several new teaching strategies to use with my students. The presentations, the readings, the small-group workshops, and the camaraderie were helpful and inspiring. What I liked best, however, was the large amount of time we were given to work on our own writing. Being able to step away from the cares and constraints of daily life and devote such a substantial amount of time to my personal writing was such a blessing.  I feel that now I’ll be starting the new school year with self-assurance and clarity of purpose.

Here are seven simple writing exercises (shared by various presenters at the Institute) to help writers unearth memories to use in memoirs, stories, or poems. (I won’t share my attempts because they’re too personal.)

1- Draw a detailed map (all you can remember) of a place you lived in as a child.

2- Make a detailed diagram (all you can remember) of a house you lived in as a child.

3- Make a list of remembrances. Start each statement with “I remember.”

4- Write about the colors of things you’ve lost.

5- Write a list of five things you know, five things you don’t know, and five things you are. Then, using the list, describe yourself in 3rd person.

6- Write about a time when you failed at something.

The following empowering exercise was shared by Slam Poet Jovan Mays and is inspired by the movie Saving Mr. Banks:

7- Write about something sad that happened to you or to someone close to you, but change the story so it has a happy ending. Try adding magical realism.

I love that last exercise. It makes me realize how powerful writing can be. As fiction writers we can change our stories and the stories of others. We can bring closure and significance to senseless or tragic events. We can turn something ugly into something beautiful. We can even create new memories. Stories can indeed save us.

“Now, we all have our sad tales, but don’t you want to finish the story? Let it all go and have a life that isn’t dictated by the past? Maybe not in real life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” –from Saving Mr. Banks