Author Archives: Judi Graham

Day Eight – Monday, June 26, 2017 – Sprints

Welcome to day eight. Yes, day eight. 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. 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.


Day Seven – Sunday, June 25, 2017 – History Through Objects

I have a 707-page book on my shelf called A History of the World in 100 Objects, compiled by Neil MacGregor from a BBC series of radio programs. All objects featured in both the radio shows and the book are housed in the British Museum in London; MacGregor is the museum’s director.

MacGregor and his staff sought to tell the story of human history from earliest recorded time to the present day, of both ordinary people as well as the rich and powerful. One of the oldest items is a stone chopping tool 1.8-2 million years old. Most recent are #99, a credit card, and #100, a solar-powered lamp and charger. Number 15 is a clay writing tablet from 3100-3000 BC. Writing goes way back.

How does this apply to you? Think of a story you’d like to write, but I want you to tell it using no more than five objects. This could be a story of childhood joys, married life, being a mom or dad, a profession you loved, any story you’d like to capture. Identify each object, give a brief description for those of us who cannot see it, and then write about its significance to you, how that item helps tell your story.


photo credit: bluesmoon Cuneiform tablets via photopin (license)

Day Six – Saturday, June 24, 2017 – Set the Stage

In 2012, Paula McLain, author of historical fiction, The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, and the memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, taught a master class about setting at Rollins College. My assistant Catheryne, before I knew her, attended that master class, and I sat in the audience, observing.

During the class, McLain encouraged the students to consider setting as another character in their story because many times, the where is as important as the who, what, when, and why. We often focus on telling the story and neglect the container in which the story rests. Settings matter, in how we grew up and in our stories of today.

For today’s prompt, let’s chew on Bite #81, The Place Where It All Happens, from my book, Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time:

You have many ways to describe the location where your story takes place. There’s always the physical description, but don’t be satisfied with what can be seen. Think about smells, sounds, and the feel of the place. What objects are there? What is the weather like? What’s the season of the year? What is the locale’s historical background? Are people part of the setting, e.g., crowds, street vendors? Are animals involved? What is the mood like? The lighting? All of these elements may be helpful in describing your setting.

Think about an important place where you spent time as a child and one thing that happened there. Take a few minutes and make a list of all the characteristics of your setting. Once you have finished, start writing your story.

Day Five – Friday, June 23, 2017 – Let It Be

Until I watched this cover video of the Beatles’ famed song, “Let It Be,” I did not know the story behind the lyrics. Based on my Catholic roots, I always considered it a religious song, but I learned otherwise. Watch and listen to this beautiful song and see what surfaces for you. I believe you’ll find a number of topics within your experience.




photo credit: SarahElizabethC. via photopin (license)

Day Four – Thursday, June 22, 2017 – Graphophobia

Sometimes, I like looking at lists of unusual words. I’m strange; I know. But recently I ended up viewing a list of phobias. I never knew there were so many things that had their own phobias—knees (genuphobia), fear of buttons (koumpounophobia), fear of heat (thermophobia). Florida, this time of year, would not be a good place for someone who suffers from that condition.

I looked for a phobia related to grammar or punctuation.  The closest I found was graphophobia, the fear of writing. I’ve experienced many writing-related fears. I always feared what I wrote wouldn’t be good, or I wouldn’t do it right. I avoided the words lie and lay and who and whom whenever possible for years. Semicolons scared me, so I didn’t use them.

I wonder if there should be a phobia for receiving papers back from ninth-grade English teachers with bloody red ink pens. My essays from Mrs. Gilbert came back dripping red. I often wondered how many red ink pens she went through in a school year. She scared me, but I learned a lot from her.

So, pick your topic. You can write about phobias and things you fear. You can write about English teachers who helped or hurt. You can write about any writing-related fears you may have. We all have them. If you’re ready to face and overcome those fears, take a look at the Style, Grammar, Punctuation, and More program that begins next week. It may be just the antidote you need.

Day Three – Wednesday, June 21, 2017 – Say What?

Local fiction writer, Bob Morris, says one of the most interesting ways to open a story is in the middle of a conversation.

Many memoir writers shy away from writing conversations, called dialogue, because we can’t remember the exact spoken words, but that’s not what dialogue is. Dialogue is reconstructed speech. It is giving a person in our story a voice based on what we remember was said, what we know about the person speaking, what we took from the situation.

Let’s use Morris’ technique and start a story with spoken words. This could be a conversation from long ago or one you overheard recently. If nothing comes to mind, use one of a writer’s greatest tools—eavesdropping. We all do it whether we intend to or not. If need be, go to a park or cafe and do a little creative listening.

Then open your story with at least three or four lines of dialogue. Include actions and gestures that reveal characteristics of those you are writing about. Chronicle the story from your life or make up a scenario for the people you observed. Ready? Go.


photo credit: Tim Morgan speech via photopin (license)

Day One – Monday, June 19, 2017 – Make Sense

Welcome to the Free Seven-Day Writing Challenge. Each day, you will receive a writing prompt in your email inbox. Some days the prompts will take you on trips back to times long past and forgotten memories. Other days, we’ll challenge you to practice one aspect of good storytelling to improve your writing.

Nothing triggers memories like our senses. Seeing, touching, tasting, hearing, and smelling are memory’s treasure chest. Through them, we travel back to special moments. My assistant Catheryne writes:

I remember well staring at the floor of my high school gym the night of my graduation. The yellow painted floor had hairline cracks, seen only if you looked real close. Everyone wore dress shoes, so each step produced a soft thud from leather soles and high heels. A hint of the sweaty bodies who practiced free throws and layups earlier today lingered in the air.

There we stood, dressed in our caps and gowns, clean and neat, lined up, waiting for the signal to move forward. Some played with the tassel on their caps. Others twirled around, creating fabric-balloons because our too-big gowns hung on us like drapes.

I remember thinking, this is the last time I will see some of these people. And for that moment, I didn’t want to step out onto the football field to graduate. Why couldn’t high school last forever? Moments such as these stick to us. We feel both happy and sad, knowing we are moving into the future, leaving behind what was.

Think about a pivotal moment such as the one Catheryne described. Perhaps, a moment you realized could be the last of something but also the beginning of something else. It could be your high school graduation or some other rite of passage, a mark in time when you knew your life would no longer be the same.

Once you decide on the memory, brainstorm for a few minutes. List all the sensory elements you remember about the event. Then try to incorporate the important ones to give the reader an experience of your story. Ready? Go.

photo credit: wistechcolleges IMG_5379 via photopin (license)

Finish the Sentence

If you’ve done challenges with me before, you probably expected this eighth prompt, but if you’re new to the Free Seven-Day Writing Challenge, surprise! In South Louisiana, we have a custom we call lagniappe that involves giving a little extra gift, something unexpected. So, this is my lagniappe to you—one more writing prompt you weren’t expecting. Ready? This one is short and sweet but oh so powerful.

I wish I would have listened more to…

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.

Don’t forget the free wrap-up teleseminar tonight, February 6th at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Here are your instructions to join me for the call tonight using a program called Zoom:

  1. A few minutes before 7:30 p.m. EST, simply  CLICK HERE or go to this web address: Sign in a bit earlier than you usually do to give you time to get set up for video. You may even want to do this today to make sure you’re ready on Monday night.
  2. Follow the instructions on screen. When you do this for the first time, you will receive instructions from to install the loader file on your computer or device. This only takes seconds, after which you will be asked to click OK when it appears.
  3. You will be linked to the Zoom call where you will see me and other people on the screen. When this happens, feel free to say hello. If you don’t see anything but an empty rectangle you have arrived at the meeting before anyone else.
  4. You will notice at the bottom left of your Zoom window an icon to control audio (mute) and another to control your camera. You will not see this second icon if you don’t have a camera on your computer, tablet or phone. You can turn off the camera by clicking its icon if you don’t want to be seen on screen. You will still get the audio from the meeting.

Video requires more bandwidth than audio, so if you get a screen message that the internet signal is unstable, you can often continue the call by turning off your camera and going voice only with no interruption of the call.

As with any teleconferencing system, all of the usual advice applies about doing all you can do to minimize background noise on the call.

If you aren’t equipped to join us via video conferencing, don’t worry.
You can still call in with just a telephone if that’s your preference. Here’s how:
  1. Dial this phone number: 408-638-0968. You will be prompted to enter the meeting ID number which is 585-449-678.
  2. Then, you will be asked to enter your unique participant ID, but simply press # to skip that step.

I look forward to speaking with you tonight!

The Small Things

During these writing challenges, I like to include a variety of different types of prompts. Some try to tap into long-forgotten memories. Some require a bit of reflection. Some are geared more to the craft of writing, like today’s prompt.

As they say, it’s the little things in life that count, and so it is with writing. To include detail enriches our writing like little else, but to add those delightful adornments, we must first train ourselves to pay attention. Let’s practice.

Today, as you move about your day, be aware of what catches your eye and then take a second look, maybe even a third. These need not be unusual, unique, or intriguing objects. They should simply create a small space in your awareness.

When you wrap up your day, make a list of some of the things you saw. Give each a name and jot down some of the details you observed. Pick one item from your list and tell us about it, in detail, of course.

Ground the item in time and space. Where did you see this? What time of day was it? What did you see when you stopped to look? Pretend you are describing this item to someone who has never seen such a thing before. Paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Think about what caused you to pause and look at this item and recreate that experience for your reader. Tell us about it.

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.