Friday, March 4, 2011

Freewrite Friday: Five Easy Pieces (Plus a Big Announcement!)

I have an exciting announcement about Freewrite Fridays.  After this week, Freewrite Fridays will be moving to a new home: The Magpie's Pen!  The new site hasn't gone live yet, as I'm working on some finishing touches, but it will be up and running by next Friday.  Check back here then, and I'll have a link  for you.  In addition to Freewrite Fridays, The Magpie's Pen will be the home of loads of writing inspiration, tips, and links.  If you've been enjoying the Freewrite Fridays series, I hope you'll fly on over to The Magpie's Pen to continue on with the fun.  I'll be including photo prompts, quick exercises, and also some lessons on craft, process, and revision.

When I'm not writing or editing, I spend a good deal of time teaching others how to write, so there will also be information there about my tutoring services.  I work with students via Skype, email, and snail mail.  My purpose is simple: I help people become better writers.  I do this by focusing on writing as a process, and by helping students learn essentials of their craft at the same time they are learning ways to stay motivated and disciplined.  There will be much more information about the tutorials at the new site.  I'm so excited about The Magpie's Pen that I can barely contain myself!  I so hope you'll pay a visit.

You may be wondering what will happen to The Magpie's Fancy.  "It's barely a toddler," you're thinking,  "and she's abandoning it!"  But no, I'm not.  This blog will stay right here, and I'll keep on photographing and writing about everyday life, recipes, vintage finds, wildlife, musings, and my many other magpie obsessions.

And now for this week's exercise.  I am actually recycling one of my all-time favorite exercises this time.  I posted this back in the very early days of the blog, and it's too good not to share one more time.  It will sound a little wild at first, but take a leap of faith and see what happens.  If you give this one a try, please let me know or share a link in the comments!  Oh, and that reminds me, Kamana shared a link to her wonderful take on last week's Scent Exercise.

Five Easy Pieces (reposted from May 26, 2009)

I want to share a writing exercise that I do with my poetry workshop students.  It is not one that I invented, but it is one of my favorites, partly because I borrowed it.  It's like a good recipe for blueberry cake that you've borrowed and made your own, adapting for your fussy oven, your particular love of cinnamon, or your passion for an extra crumbly top.  It's also one that I wait to spring on students until the last week or so of class because it takes some trust to make it work--trust in oneself, in the process, in the person who is asking one to do it.  Even then, some students think it's pretty crazy.  Others, though, create something magical from this foundation.  It works well for writing poems, but it can work for prose, too.

The exercise is called "Five Easy Pieces," and it was created by the poet Richard Jackson, one of my graduate school professors.  I actually never did this exercise with him.  Instead, I found it in The Practice of Poetry, a collection of writing exercises edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.  

Robin was my MFA thesis advisor, so this book is near and dear to my heart, but it is also just a fantastic book for days when one is stuck or needs a new direction to try.  So here goes:

"This exercise, " writes Jackson, "attempts to tell a whole story in a quick scene.  It is to be written in five sentences. . . . There are two preparation steps.  The first step is to remember a person you know well. . . .  The second step is to imagine a place where you find the person.  Then you are ready for the five easy pieces."

  1. Describe the person's hands.
  2. Describe something he or she is doing with the hands.
  3. Use a metaphor to say something about some exotic place.
  4. Mention what you would want to ask the person in the context of 2 and 3, above.
  5. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggest he or she only gets part of what you asked.
About the exercise, Jackson writes, "it is useful in showing how a poem can condense narrative and characterization, how it can quickly shift focus like a photographer going wild with a zoom lens, how images reveal stories behind them simply by knocking against other images and perspectives, how you can use dialogue in a poem--each time I use it I've found different uses."

And I have found my own uses for it, too, but I'd love to hear from other folks about it.  If you try it, please let me know how it works for you!


  1. So looking forward to your new project. Can't wait! OX

  2. I'm very excited to see the new site! Good luck, and see you there!!

  3. great news about the new site. looking forward to it!

  4. So much going on Gigi...Very exciting, I am looking forward to see what you have concocted for us all ;-)

  5. I'm really excited about your new site. I recently decided to put more focus on my writing - both to improve it and to just be with it more frequently. A website of tips and tricks and exercises from someone who has been interesting me so far makes my eyes widen.


  6. was that picture of todd taken outside of peet's coffee in cambridge? it looks like their chairs.

    SUCH an exciting announcement, gigi! we can't wait to see and explore ;)

  7. Cate! You are so, so close! It was taken outside of Crema in Cambridge. Wow, good guess. :)

  8. Gigi - I think even I might be able to manage the time for that one! I just had a dream about being deliriously happy and all I could remember from it were the hands of the person I was with. I spend all my time watching people's hands at the moment :)

    Much love
    PS - looking forward to seeing the new blog!

  9. Oh, Ange, please let me know if you do this one!!! I'd love to see it. What a wonderful dream. I took a nap this afternoon--something I rarely do--and I had CRAZY dreams. :) xoxo

  10. VERY exciting about The Magpie's Pen, Gigi! I look forward to seeing it once its live! I'm wanting to brush up on writing better, so I eager for more of your smart writing workshops. :o) Happy Weekend ((HUGS))

  11. Gigi, I was inspired to write a poem on my mother's hands while she was driving me to London on Friday. I've linked to your blog. Hope you enjoy the poem :)

  12. p.s. Gigi, was the blueberry cake recipe thing just a metaphor or do you really have one you could send me?? I have four boxes of blueberries, each partly eaten and I need to do something clever with them :)

  13. Hi, Shaista--
    I DO have a great blueberry cake recipe, and just happens to be here on the blog! Here's where you can find it:

    It's at the end of the post. Enjoy! :)

  14. Great post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  15. congratulations, so looking forward to the new site!!! :)


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