Category Archives: Priming The Pump

Priming The Pump #2: The 100 Word Challenge

Priming The Pump #2: The 100 Word Challenge
0Our next installment of Priming The Pump comes from Joy Kirr. Joy and I connected via Twitter, which is a great way to find other people who enjoy writing. Joy currently teaches 7th grade language arts and literature in a suburb of Chicago. She was first a special education teacher who worked with deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and next became a reading specialist and National Board Certified teacher. She’s completed 18 years of teaching, but says it’s always like her first.  

The 100 Word Challenge
The 100 Word Challenge  is a weekly creative writing challenge for students under 16 that is easily adapted for writers of any age. At the 100 Word Challenge,  there is a weekly prompt, which can be a picture or a series of individual words. The challenge is that writers can only use up to 100 words to write something related to the prompt. One of the special things about 100WC is that those entering a piece are 3915529903_618b327387encouraged to visit other blogs and leave a constructive comment. The 100 Word Challenge website says, “by setting a limited word count with a focused theme and a guaranteed audience, we have far greater motivation for writing. Those who are reluctant writers feel safe with only 100 words to write, whilst those more advanced writers can really extend themselves with the word restriction.”
As adults, this can be done through setting up a blogging community of perhaps 3-10 adults where you will commit to the challenge, read each others’ posts, and then comment on them. Use the website for your prompt, or take turns creating them.  Peer ‘talking’ to peer is very powerful.  Above all – it’s fun!
If you have a writing exercise you’d love and would like to post, please contact me here.

Priming The Pump #1: True Colors


Ta da! Here’s the first installment of Priming The Pump, a new feature on creative writing exercises:


Two of my writer’s notebooks for my English classes. We read the Seuss book, looked at the O’Neill poems, chose paint chips and labeled them with our “many colored days.”

This is all about using color to inspire you or enhance your current piece.  I learned this technique from a very gifted teacher, Carol Engleman, in a graduate class on writer’s notebooks.

1) Go to your favorite home improvement store and grab some free paint chip cards.

2) Read Dr. Seuss’ My Many Colored Days and/or Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill.  The illustrations are as bright and  vivid as the language.

3) Choose a paint chip and let it guide you.  You can:

  • Pick one of your “many colored days” and label the paint chip with that day (happy day, sad day, morning, afternoon, a holiday, etc.).  Create a web around it with details and then get writing.
  • Peruse the color names.  What could you write inspired by Forward Fuschia or Blue Click?
  • Name a character after a color name.  What kind of character would be named Inkwell or Mauve Finery?
  • What colors would match your characters?  Why?  For example, Marina would totally go between Feverish Pink and Daisy; Arman would always be a steady Samovar Silver.


    My personal writer’s notebook with the paint chip activity that inspired this post. We had to identify, describe and rename colors of how we felt in the morning, afternoon and evening. I miss my Summer Evenings…

Let us know what you did with your paint chips in the comments below.  If you’d like, show us what you wrote. Write on!

Do you have a writing exercise you’d like to share?  Here’s information on how to get it to me. 

We Need You (Yes, YOU!): Writing Exercises Wanted


232323232fp53459>nu=3238>-82>4WSNRCG=3238;3-8-63--nu0mrjMy friends have a beautiful, rustic cabin in central PA.  There’s no electricity, except for brief generator sessions, and no running water, except for the well.  Essentially, it’s quiet, peaceful bliss.  When it’s my turn to fill the bucket to flush the toilet, I have to prime the pump before the water flows out of the spigot.  The woods fill with the squeaksqueaksqueak of the handle as the water makes its way through the pipes and flows into the bucket in cold spurts.

Writing exercises are like priming the pump for my mind.  I remember doing an exercise where I had to change a story into a poem, which helped me with word precision and theme.  My novel, HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME, was inspired by a prompt that read, “Wanted: Dad.”  These small exercises flex my writing muscles, and, although they don’t usually turn into a processed piece, they help me get ideas and hone skills. They pump the ideas through my brain, onto the paper or laptop screen.

In the spirit of getting our own writing wells flowing, I’m going to start a weekly feature called “Priming The Pump.”  I will share exercises I have tried on my own or will have tried with my students.  What’s more is that I need your help!  If you’re a professional writer, aspiring writer and/or a teacher of writing, send me your best writing exercises  aimed at ANY writer (not just students) and I’ll post those that seem the most interesting or useful.  


  • SHORT description of no more than 200 words – and add hyperlinks when possible
  • Include a photo of yourself and a 50 word bio
  • Add an image of the writing exercise after it’s been written, if you can
  • If this writing exercise is taken from a book or website, please cite the source.

Please contact me to submit.  And take the poll below, please!

Let’s get writing together!

Lights and Shadows: How Archetype Cards Can Strengthen Characterization and Conflict

Lights and Shadows:  How Archetype Cards Can Strengthen Characterization and Conflict

 ImageIn my novel, HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME, I knew who my characters were, and, thanks to the sage advice from a graduate school instructor, even knew what their feet looked like.  When the array of choices my characters could make were daunting, I looked for help in a deck of Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards.

Several years earlier, a friend told me she had used the cards to understand her personality traits and how she could harness her archetypes for her benefit. Intrigued, I asked her to teach me about them. My friend opened the heavy, red  box and spread the cards across her glass coffee table. Each card was titled with an archetype name, the light attributes, a bold and beautiful drawing of the archetype, and the shadow attributes.

I sifted through the cards and she explained how to use them.  Basically, we all supposedly possess certain archetypes (Child, Victim, Prostitute, Saboteur) in some capacity, but have to suss out what other archetypes resonate with us. In the cards’ guide, Myss writes, “Keep in mind that your attraction may be positive or negative – that is, an archetype may represent qualities that are important to you as well as some that you wish you had in greater abundance, or qualities you would rather not have.” My friend would then spend time at night sorting the cards that fit and didn’t her life.

By now, you might be thinking this is a bunch of New Age flim-flam hoo-ha, but stay with me. I pinky promise there’s cool stuff here for you.

I bought my own set the next day and began my personal archetype journey.  Some resonated immediately (Student, Teacher).  Others, like Destroyer, shocked me.  It explained my love of rearranging rooms and having no fear about joining the Peace Corps (light attribute) and sometimes abandoning projects or relationships when I shouldn’t have (shadow attribute).  I now work on the shadow attribute, which has prevented me from saying, “Whatever! Forget about it!” many times.

Whatever my archetypes were, I was determining how the light and shadow attributes manifested themselves in my life and how to learn from them. One of my favorite new ways to understand myself and other people is, “Our light is our shadow.”  For example, I’m by nature and through the example of my mother, a giving person.  This is gratifying most of the time, but there have been times in my life when, to quote a line from Gone Girl, I “Giving-Treed myself out of existence.” Light, meet shadow.

If understanding these light and shadow attributes could help me as a person, I was curious to see how they could help me with my novel; so, I spread them out on the floor and started sorting.  The archetype exercise was a guide, not an instruction manual.  It also helped pinpoint my characters’ main motivations and fine-tune plot issues that had been clanking around my brain.  They helped shape my thinking but were not the definitive guide to Marina Koneyesha’s world.

I made color copies of the cards I felt best fit each character. Here’s what I thought were Gilly’s main archetypes:


Gilly is smart, informed and dependable. His work as a civil rights/education lawyer has him advocating for those who need it most. He’s also hiding a big secret from his parents. Liberator is consistent with what Gilly wants to be and what he wants to do; but Companion affirms his loyalty to friends and family, with the shadow attribute of “loss of personal identity” hurting him since he feels he can’t come out yet.  Narrowing one of his archetypes to Companion helped me shape Gilly’s decisions and actions in his misadventures with Marina.

The shadow attributes were especially helpful in creating conflict and planning for the sequel.  For example, there will be a huge disagreement between two Slaves and a Healer because their light and shadow attributes will clash.  I inherently knew about these conflicts, but looking at them through an archetype lens was fun and gave me more direction.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for fun and direction.  Pick up a box and see what happens for you and your story.

Please add comments with your ideas about conflict and characterization: