Author Archives: Judi Graham

Day Six – Marginalia

Do you, or don’t you? Do you push against all the years of threats and take action sure to incite the wrath of teachers, nuns, and librarians everywhere? Do you dare write notes in the margins of books as you read them? Be honest.

If you do, you follow the likes of many literary giants including Mark Twain, Romantic-period poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Darwin, and many others. Oral historian Studs Terkel is often quoted as saying, “Reading a book should not be a passive exercise, but rather a raucous conversation,” and felt insulted if friends did not jot notes in the margins of his books.

My teachers left their mark on me, and for the longest time, I would not dare deface even the books I owned. I felt like I was desecrating something I greatly valued and could not bring myself to do it.

Now, I read with pencil in hand, and I love engaging physically with the text. Over the years, I’ve tried many methods of marginalia, but I have settled on my trusty lead pencil to underline passages that speak to me and commit my thoughts to the surrounding white space. Stars and asterisks call attention to special sections I want to easily find while flipping through the pages.
I circle words I don’t know the meanings of, look them up, and then include abbreviated definitions. I most enjoy underlining well-written phrases and paragraphs, ones that leave me wishing I had written them. My husband says he loves reading books after me, that he often enjoys my notes more than he does the actual book.

So, what about you? Do you write in your books? If so, what do you write? What does creating marginalia do for you? Do you ever go back and look at your notes? If so, what do you find interesting or surprising? If you don’t write in your books, why not? What keeps you from it? Did you ever get in trouble for writing in a book when you were young? What’s your reaction when you come across a book with notes written in the margins? Tell us about your experience writing in books.

Please share your prompt responses in the comments below. If you’d like to be notified when others respond to your post, make sure to click the box beneath your comments that says notify me of follow-up comments by email.

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Day Five – Sprints

Welcome to day five. So, what do you think? Has this challenge been helpful to you? I hope it has. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading your stories each day. Even though I haven’t been able to comment on every entry, I’ve been truly impressed with the way everyone has written their responses. It has been my pleasure and privilege to walk with you these few days.

So, on to today’s prompt. You’re either going to love this one or hate it. I hope you love it. I like to do this writing exercise I call sprints. It involves writing with short bursts of energy on given topics. Each sprint lasts only for one minute. When given the topic, just write whatever comes to mind. Don’t put a lot of thought into it and don’t reject anything. Just go with the thought that enters your mind no matter how crazy it may seem.

I am going to give you five words or phrases. After I show you each word, I’ll set a timer and give you exactly one minute to capture your thoughts. Once the sixty-second mark has been reached, the next subject will appear. Got it?

Do you have your pen and paper or laptop ready to go? I urge you not to play the video until you can do the exercise. Even though we love being in control, the element of surprise in this assignment serves a great purpose.

I encourage you to use the video below to give you the topics and keep track of the time for you. If for some reason, you’re not able to watch the video, you can click here to see the words in the sprint exercise and time yourself. Just don’t scroll down until you are ready to begin. You will see one word per page.

Ready, set, go!

Day Four – Music that Moves

We often use music as soundtracks for our moods. Certain tunes make us feel mellow and help us unwind after a stressful day. Other songs lift our spirits and compel us to get up and move. The beauty of complex orchestrations often transports us to far off places and times.

As a young adult, I piled Anne Murray albums on the stereo when I felt down and wanted to cry. When my boyfriend came to the door, and Murray’s soulful sounds wafted out to meet him, he knew he was in for a rough night. Fun times and lots of laughs were sure to fill our time together if the disco sounds of Donna Summer and the BeeGees greeted him.

Music isn’t as big a part of my life now as it once was, but I still have my go-to songs I use as cures for various ills. One of my favorites when I’m feeling discouraged is “Overcomer” by Mandisa. Just hearing the lyrics and seeing the far more serious struggles others have overcome assure me that victory is possible.

Tell us about your overcomer songs. What music makes you feel like you can take on any foe or conquer any mountain? What songs give you the energy to stand up and do what needs to be done? How did you find these songs and what is it about them that motivates you? What do you feel listening to your song? If you’d like, find a YouTube link, and let us be inspired with you.

Maybe it’s not an overcomer song that’s most important to you. Maybe, it’s the music you use to write or dance or sing along with. Share with us the music that fits your need and fills your soul.

Please share your prompt responses in the comments below. If you’d like to be notified when others respond to your post, make sure to click the box beneath your comments that says notify me of follow-up comments by email.

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Day Three – Forgiveness

I read an article by Deepak Chopra where he said, “Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves.” Hmmm. Typically, forgiveness implies mercy or pardon extended toward another, then why is the gift ours?

Chopra goes on to explain, “If we want to experience loving, life-long relationships, we need to be able to let go of grievances, hostility, and anger. These feelings keep us mired in the past and weighed down with emotional pain. Ultimately, forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. It is an act of grace that restores the memory of wholeness.” Chopra also makes the distinction that forgiving someone does not necessarily mean condoning their actions.

So, today, let’s write about forgiveness. Think of an instance of forgiveness in your life. It could be forgiveness you extended or forgiveness you received. This act of forgiveness might involve a small slight or a deep wound.

First, write about the circumstances of the injury. When did this incident occur? Who was involved? What happened? Then explore the path toward forgiveness. If you granted forgiveness to someone, how were you able to do that? What did this forgiveness look and feel like to you? What actions were involved on your part?

Maybe, someone granted forgiveness to you. What did this mean to you? What did you feel? Take a few minutes and write a memory about forgiveness.

Please share your prompt responses in the comments below. If you’d like to be notified when others respond to your post, make sure to click the box beneath your comments that says notify me of follow-up comments by email.

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Day Two – I’m Sick

Both my husband and I have been down and out for the last week with severe cases of the flu. Usually, I deliver these prompts to you via video, but this time, I thought I’d spare you my current death-warmed-over look. I’m not often sick, thankfully, but when I go down, I fall hard.

From all the coughing, my abs felt like I had done a million sit-ups. I slept more than I had in the last month combined. I ingested more vile-tasting liquids in hopes of providing a moment’s relief from the constant aches, chills, and fever. My ribcage hurt, as though someone played Chopsticks on it with a baseball bat. I couldn’t read; my eyes would not bring the words into focus. Television supplied background noise, not storylines I could follow. I wasn’t really dying; it only felt that way.

For today’s prompt, think back to a time when you were bad sick. It might be a recent ailment or maybe a time in childhood when illness struck. Write about this time. When were you sick? From what ailment did you suffer? How did you feel during this time? How did this illness impact your life? How did you occupy yourself while sick? How were you treated by those around you? Are there any particular moments that stand out for you during this time of sickness—a special kindness, a hurtful remark, a memorable gift, etc.? Tell us about a time of sickness.

Please share your prompt responses in the comments below. If you’d like to be notified when others respond to your post, make sure to click the box beneath your comments that says notify me of follow-up comments by email.

Day One – Born to Game

Welcome to day one of the Writing Your Life Seven-Day Writing Challenge. I’m so glad you decided to join in the fun.

I find that with activities like this, the more you participate, the more you get out of the process, so I encourage you to comment below, tell us how your writing is going, share a snippet or two, say hello to the other writers, make your presence known. You will benefit in many ways, especially, one by being a part of a writing community, and two, by making yourself accountable to me and others participating in the challenge.

Let’s get started. If you’ve read my book, Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time, or worked with me before, you know what a big fan I am of lists. I believe making a list is the best way to get started writing any story. It’s non-threatening; we make lists all the time. Plus, you’re able to capture a lot of information in a short space of time. It’s easy to do, and it ignites your memory.

So, let’s make a list. Set a timer for five minutes and write as quickly as you possibly can. Don’t write complete sentences; simply jot down a few words for each entry. Even if it doesn’t make sense, write it down. That very item may end up being a priceless gift from your subconscious. Okay, are you ready? Well, then, let’s go

Set aside all the electronic entertainment of today and make a list of board games you’ve played in your life. These games may have come from your childhood or ones you played with your children or grandchildren. List the names of the games and any specific memories you have associated with playing that game. Don’t stop to ponder. Just keep your pen moving and make your list as long as possibly in the allotted time.

Once the five minutes have ended, pick one of the items on your list and write about this game in detail. What was the name of the game? How was the game played? With whom did you play it? What did you like or dislike about this game? Were you good at it? Why do you believe you remembered this game in particular? Do you have any specific memories of playing this game?

Please share your prompt responses in the comments below. If you’d like to be notified when others respond to your post, make sure to click the box beneath your comments that says notify me of follow-up comments by email.


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Say Hello

A fun part of every journey is getting to know your traveling companions, and the same is true for the Free Seven-Day Writing Challenge. Now that you’re signed in, let’s get to know each other. Scroll to the bottom of the page and tell us about yourself in the comments section below.

If you’d like to be notified when others say hello back to you with a response, make sure to click the box beneath your comments that says notify me of follow-up comments by email.

Fork in the Road

A fork in the road is defined as “a metaphor, based on a literal expression, for a deciding moment in life or history when a major choice of options is required.” 9468151425_1ca4b21cb0_bFirst, make a list of all the forks in your life that you can remember, large or small. Then pick one fork-in-the-road experience from your list and write about it. When did this fork occur? What were the choices facing you? How did you decide to go left or right or was it decided for you by someone else? Do you look at this fork as a positive or negative in your life? If you were able to go back and change your decision, would you? Why or why not? Write about a significant fork in the road.

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A Window into a Life

Zinsser_photoNoted journalist and teacher of writing, William Zinsser said, “Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life.” (On Writing Well, page 99). Within this statement is his admonition to “think narrow” and make your story “much like a photograph in its selective composition.” I love both the quotation and its message.

Invariably when we begin to write our memories, we take too big of a bite, choose too broad a subject, and the power of the story is diluted into generalities. What Zinsser urges us to do is not write a summary but look through a single window and tell the story of what we see inside.

So, that’s your assignment for today. Be selective in your focus. Take one sliver of your life, one memory, one incident, one moment and write the story in detail. Choose a story that occurs within a short period of time, minutes or hours, not days; one that involves only two or three people, at the most; one that happens in one location. Focus only on what you can see through one small window into your life.

Say Cheese

6244847659_8c25346d5a_bGrab a photo from one of your family albums. Define family as you wish; this does not need to be people with whom you share DNA. Once you’ve selected the image, tell the story behind it. Where was the photo taken? Who are the people in it? 4977913833_72c706e410_bHow are they connected to you? What are the people saying in the photo? What is in the photo? Why was this snapshot taken? Who took it? What happened right before the photo was taken?What were the circumstances in this moment? What happened right after this photo was taken? Is someone missing from this photo? Write about the photo of choosing in detail.6244806617_1c1226823f_b

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