Saturday, March 6, 2010

Listing Your Way to a Good Writing Prompt

Writing Prompt: Lists (20 minutes)

This exercise provides a way to find out what it is you really need to write about, the subjects and themes that are so important to you that you'd don't even realize their effect on your life.  This exercise is particularly useful for writing memoir, and it can also be adapted for poetry.

Step 1 - Choose Your Subject

To start, first choose a place, a subject, or an event.  Generally, you want to find something which you are intimately familiar with - your childhood bedroom, for example, or a memorable trip you've taken.  I recommend taking the first such idea that comes to mind, regardless of how emotional or dull it might seem - you'll find there's probably a reason it's the first thing you thought of.

Step 2 - Write Your List

Next, begin writing a list of nouns associate with this place, subject, or event.  Write continuously - don't pause to think about the nouns, just write them one-after-the-other.  You might end up repeating words, and that's perfectly all right - the goal is to keep the pen to the page.  For example, I might write about the inside of my refrigerator (it just came to mind):

soy milk
orange juice
sweet potatoes
pancake mix

It seems like a simple list, possibly a little too revealing (Mold shows up three times?  Why am I so obsessed with mold?  I don't see it in my fridge that often...)  Yet this list carries interesting meanings for me.  Normally, I don't have ketchup - I never buy ketchup.  But I have some that a friend gave me when he moved to another city, and my girlfriend loves ketchup.  I could write a story about how she also likes Thai fish sauce, and now I have a bottle of the stuff in my apartment.  Then we have the sweet potatoes, my favorite food.  It's sad when I have to throw them out because of mold.  Especially since I have to cook for myself to save money.  And saving money is part of my larger plan to become a writer - which would take me to larger topics like how I relate with my family, how I chose my apartment, and other areas of my life I wouldn't post online.  Then we come to the ham, eggs, and pancake mix.  No, there's no pancake mix in my fridge - and no eggs, either.  But breakfast is my favorite meal (particularly pancakes), and my mom simply refuses too cook messy food on the stove in the morning.  So no pancakes, and I spent much of my childhood eating eggs from the microwave - again, this leads to interesting ideas for further writing.

Step 3 - Write Like the Wind

The key to the exercise is to write quickly.  Jot down as many nouns as possible over the course of five minutes or so.  And then, once you have a good list (twenty nouns, more or less - sometimes I go with ten, other times I don't hear the muse until I hit fifty), set a timer for ten minutes.  You can go longer, if you like, but use the timer - it pushes you to write faster.

Now the fun part - writing the thoughts that come from your list.  Timer set, write what you're thinking.  Write whatever comes to mind.  Go as fast as you can, never raising the pen from the page (or never pausing your typing).  Don't worry about typos or grammar - these things can be fixed later.  The goal is just to get the thoughts out on the page, wherever they take you.  It may feel chaotic at first, but you'll find that a hidden order emerges as you write.

Step 4 - Repeat

The beauty of this exercise is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, without a specific prompt to start with.  Even if you're just waiting in line with a couple minutes, you can jot down the first five words that come to mind and then scribble away from association.  And a nice variation would be to rearrange the words into a poem.  Or, if you're primary aim is poetry, then simply write out lists of rhyming words - you'll be amazed by the associations you find.

Happy Writing!


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Friday, January 29, 2010

Iguanas vs. My Little Pony

Welcome!  Thank you for taking a look over today's freewriting prompt.  As always, my goal is that you'll have these few minutes to take a break and begin to feel some inspiration.  For today's prompt, we'll turn the clock back to meditate on childhood, those days when girls had cooties and boys were just gross.
To start, I'd like you to imagine your nemesis from grade school.  Yes, the one person in class you simply could not stand.  It might have been the class bully, it might have been that boy who smeared boogers under his desk, it could have even been the girl who was your best friend in the whole world until she stole all the lipstick from your mom's bathroom.  Or maybe it was your deepest crush, the one you wanted so badly to talk with, but the two of you had nothing in common.  Might not seem like much of a nemesis, but the two of you were never seen in the same room together.  (Little did you know that your crush's nickname was Dr. Horrible...)

Now, write down this person's name.  Think about this person.  Imagine the face, those hands, that hair. Decide this person's animal.  Is this person an iguana?  A penguin?  A rainbow-colored pony with a soft purple mane?  You decide.  This person's entire image is in your hands.  Be as simple or creative as you like.  Write down everything you can about this animal: the type, the size, the shape, whether it has freckles or whiskers or barnacles dripping off its endangered little chin.  And write these things before you read any further.

Were you cheating?  Have you described this animal?  You weren't trying to read farther on before preparing your notes, were you?  I didn't think so...

Because you discover that you've been locked in boxing ring with your nemesis.  And your nemesis is looking mean.  Terrifying, in fact.  And looking horribly, oh-so-horribly, human.

Then you look down at yourself and realize...I am the animal I was just writing about!

Now, write as fast as you can for ten minutes.

Happy Fighting!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 22, 2010: The Door

Freewriting and Memoir

Today, we turn to memoir for our inspiration.  As a freewriting tool, memoir is one of the best ways to reach deep into the subconscious mind in the search for inspiration.  However, it can sometimes be difficult to face past memories, let alone share them with the world.  This is why we never require anyone to share every story for a freewriting workshop - your writing is yours, to keep or to share as you wish.  And I urge you to remember this always - write whatever comes to mind, regardless of what others might think.  You have my permission to tear up any story you don't like.

So, first, please set your timers for 10 minutes (you may take 15 minutes, if you prefer), but don't start the clock just yet .  Once you're ready, please read on.

Now then, for today's prompt:
This prompt is one I personally enjoy.  It's a very simple prompt, and this is why it works so well.  Yet before coming to it, we're going to use a few minutes to center ourselves.  Often, writing feels challenging because it's hard to let go of the stresses of the rest of the day.  But for right now, we're going to do just that.  First, I'd like you to go ahead and take in a deep breath - a deep, soothing breath.  You may hold it a moment, and then let it out.  As you read, know that the shape of these words has been fitted to your next deep breath, and you're already taking in that deep breath.  You're letting it fill your body because today, now, this moment, you have only words and this breath.  And you let it out as a feeling of peace descends.  Breathing, now, is soft.  It is deep.  It is regular and comfortable.  You are enjoying this moment because today, as you read, you imagine a staircase.  It is a tall staircase, lit only enough to guide your way up to the landing.  And you are glad to be on this staircase.  This staircase, it leads to a door, one which you have never opened.  But there is something you want to write about, and it lives behind this door.  You have always wanted to write about it, and you are glad that today has come.  Because today, at this moment, you are at peace with your words.  Today, we relax as we take one step up, and then another.  For this subject - this very important subject you have always wanted to write about - is more than words.  It is an image.  It is a shape.  It is a collection of sounds you hear in your waking dreams.  And just now, at this moment, as you take each step nearer to the door, you hear these sounds coming from behind the door.  And so you reach forward, turning the knob, and opening your door.

Describe what you see.  Write as fast as you can until the time stops.

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January 15, 2010: Freewriting with Heroes and Fruitcake

Everybody start your writing utensils for the first Friday Prompt of the New 1-2-Writing!
We’ll send these out every Friday to all Newsletter subscribers.  To post your work for feedback, please sign up for our Member’s Area.

Now then, Set your timer before reading further (10 minutes for this one), and have your paper or keyboard ready.  For this prompt, you’ll write down some “facts” for the story, and only after you’ve written down these facts should you go on and read the prompt itself.

Now, the “facts” of your story:

Imagine, for a moment, that you live in a mystical, magical land very different from our own.  It can be either a science fiction place with starships and a version of Microsoft Word that doesn't crash, or it could be a fantasy place out of Harry Potter where enchanted quills write stories of their own using lambskin parchment and black dye from Endless Ink, Inc.  Or, if you like, it could be a world very much like our own, except with one subtle change (think The Simpsons: there's a scene where the weather is terrible, it rains every day, but each raindrop is a sweet sugary donut).

Write down the name of this world, and the one key difference between this world and our own.

That done, imagine for yourself a kind of "hero" for this world. It can be an ordinary person with a special determination to "do right" by combating the scourge of donuts that have devoured the local weather, or it can be a superhero with some special power such as the ability to impose Linux stability on Microsoft systems with a wave of the hand.

Write the name of this character and the one "special power" or "special determination" which makes this individual a hero.

And now, The Prompt:

Your hero is getting married tomorrow.  It will be a very traditional wedding.  And the in-laws have brought a loaf of their famous fruitcake as a gift to the bride-and-groom-to-be.  But there's a catch: your hero is very, very, allergic to fruitcake.  And they've already set a healthy slice on our plucky hero's salad plate.  All eyes, now, are on the hero to pronounce this fruitcake delicious or...

(now write as fast as you can for ten minutes)

Happy Writing!


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