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“A Writer’s Notebook” – Writing Tips from Nan Sweet

The Writer’s Notebook

by Dr. Nanora Sweet

Most creative writers need a place to make notes, warm up, or try new things. You might want to try keeping a journal. It is a bit like keeping a diary, however, with the journal, the writer is interested in stretching and growing as a writer. Below are suggestions on how a writer could use this resource to move from raw writing to the stories and poems within them:

Dr. Nanora Sweet

1.  Observation: For ten minutes, write everything that is happening in those ten minutes. Everything around you, near you, everyone, within you, beyond you. Sights, sounds, lingering tastes, internal rumblings, people, silences, invisible processes (like the rotting of wood),  daydreams, fits of insanity, mistakes, comments, everything.

2.  Clear your mind. Write down the first word/words that come to you. Continue writing as other words, phrases, images, thoughts, and comments come to you. Write off one subject and on to another and another. Free association.

3.  Writing to music. Turn on some of your favorite music and let it give you scenes, and actions. Write them (colors, everything) as they come, go, or change.

4.  Out of the ordinary. What have you seen, heard, experienced today that seems out of place? What is the ordinary that it is out of?  Is there some of the ordinary that it is in?

5.  Dreams. It helps to keep your notebook beside your bed, and as soon as you wake up, write the dreams. Your mind is trying to tell you stories. (Don’t analyze them.)

6.  Conversations: Sit at McDonald’s, or in the hall at school, or on the bus, or at home. Write down what people are saying. Sounds immoral? The writer’s vice. And don’t worry if you get only snatches.  That’s how we hear anyway. Eavesdropping!

7.  What are you thinking? Can you remember what you were thinking of while you were brushing your teeth? Washing the car?  Driving to school?  Having a day off? Put your feet back into those tracks, pick your thoughts back up and write them down and go from there.

8.  And a bonus: Here’s the recipe for Theodore Roethke’s list poem. Make a list of nouns, one of verbs and one of adjectives, the same number of words in each list, however many lines you want your poem to be (8, 9, 12?) Each line of your poem must choose one word from each list, until all the words are used up. Make new sense of the words to compete a poem. Happy writing!


Dr. Nanora Sweet is an associate professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Sweet  is currently working on a critical book about the nineteenth-century’s most popular woman poet, Felicia Hemans (Hemans and the Shaping of History, A Romantic Poetics). An expert on Hemans, she has contributed to numerous publications on the poet.

Author of two poetry chapbooks, she is a joint appointee in UMSL’s Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies; a founding member of  Loosely Identified, a Women’s Poetry Workshop; and a board member of River Styx Magazine and Reading Series.

4 comments for ““A Writer’s Notebook” – Writing Tips from Nan Sweet

  1. Tif
    November 23, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    This is such a fabulous piece, filled with tons of advice to get you writing when you are simply stuck. I’ve tried a few of them, but I now have more tools in my toolbox when that block comes again! Thank you!

  2. November 18, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Nan always gives positive concrete advice, that if followed, leads to a positive outcome. I had let my journals drop by the wayside and got off track with my writings. Thanks for the gentle reminders, Nan.

  3. November 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Thank you for sharing the wonderful tips. I TRY to remember to do these types of things…Guess I better try harder!:)

    • lisamiller
      November 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

      You know even with all the tips and tricks out there – one rule seems to bring them all together – just write. Once you keep that in mind, you end up doing all the other stuff.