Writer's Notebook


Posted on January 28, 2015 at 10:15 AM



This post first appeared on my website http://www.alexandriamaxwellwrites.com, as a part of my Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction class that I was attending. The pictures I’ve used for this post’s graphics are from a family trip to Viet Nam in 2012.



Zeitgeist means “the spirit of the times,” and refers to the mood, feeling, and attitudes of a time period. There’s a lot that goes into a time’s zeitgeist: art, literature, politics, etc. One of the exercises we were asked to do in my Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction class was to pick a place and show the zeitgeist through our writing.

Saigon, Viet Nam, June 2012:


"A Taxi took us through the city, which pulsed with life, even at this late hour. Mopeds, the favorite mode of transportation, passed us. During our stay in Viet Nam, the record amount of passengers we would see on one was 9. But tonight there were only one or two passengers on each."


Wow, that looked a lot longer in my notebook. It took about a page. I guess I write pretty big when I’m in a hurry. The excerpt above was based on the night we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Viet Nam.


The picture below was taken in the park across the street from the hotel, where the taxi was taking us. We got to the hotel at midnight. The next morning after breakfast we walked in the park, and this is what we experienced (excerpt taken out of my diary):


"We took a walk in the park after that. We saw women practicing a fan fighting technique, a man teaching martial arts and gymnastics, and some boys kick boxing. There was a cute little boy with an adorable giggle running around with a soccer ball, and a chubby little kid at the pool about to jump off the diving board in a speedo. We also saw an art class in the park drawing trees."


I didn’t share my diary entry with my classmates, but we did share our zeitgeist exercises, and my classmate totally got it:


“I’m getting the vibe that the time is now–or recent, at least. The ‘spirit of the times,’ I guess, would be bustling with life–fully alive. I feel swept into a place where you can hardly help but be thrown into movement and life.”


I think zeitgeist is a simple to understand but hard concept to master as a writer. And I would not call myself a master of zeitgeist! It takes practice and deep observation. Before I give you another example, try answering one or more of the questions below as a writing prompt!


  • Can you think of a place that you have traveled to? What was the zeitgeist of that place when you went there? Has it changed?
  • Is it different from the “spirit of the time” that you grew up in?
  • In your own writing, what is one of your best examples of zeitgeist?


I love to travel! In high school, I was able to take three separate trips abroad. I visited Ukraine, Viet Nam, and France, in that order! Now, my husband and I live in a 24 foot bumper-pull camper and we travel the United States with our daughter and dog. We get to experience a lot of different cultures and subcultures. Each place we go to has its own “flavor”.


I’m not always the best at it, but I try to keep a diary. I believe that is one of the best ways that I have been able to better my craft. Because of my diary, I’m also able record the mood and feeling of the different cities and states we have traveled to.

In fact, journaling became the basis for my poetry work-in-progress, a full-length chapbook devoted to poems about life on the road. It’s kind of a memoir of poetry, and I am so excited to celebrate its publication in April of 2020!


Below is part of a poem that I wrote in 2017, our first year living in a camper.


It is the color

of my favorite

memories. Of working

hard with Grandpa

in the garden

of eating ice

cream outside on

a june day

I have melted

into a sticky

mess, but still

Grandma offers me


Stanza 4, “Vert”, Already Almost Home, Alexandria Maxwell

I think I’m primarily a poet, so I wanted to show you an example of zeitgeist in poetry as well as prose. Even though I learned about the concept while studying fiction/novel writing, I thought it applied to most creative writing.


The zeitgeist invoked by this stanza is one of contentment, peace, and being generally carefree. Does it bring back summer vacations as a kid? Think of your favorite day. What was going on in the culture that you were a part of at the time? Did that place and time influence your memory of your favorite day? Write about it!


I want to leave you with a few writing prompts that focus on zeitgeist:


Write about something that happened today, even something that’s not necessarily noteworthy. Try to show today’s political and social culture through this event/happening.

If you keep a journal or diary, flip back a few pages and find an incident to write about. Have someone read it and see if they can figure out where the incident took place.

If you don’t keep a diary, I encourage you to! And not necessarily a detailed itinerary of your day–although that can be interesting to look back on for writing ideas. Try to focus on capturing the spirit of each day, not just every single thing that happened.


I hope this helps you with your writing!


Thank you for reading,










Categories: Writer's Notebook, Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction

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