Category Archives: Writing Prompts

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.

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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: https://zoom.us/j/585449678. 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 Zoom.us 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.

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.

photo credit: romana klee #360 perhaps you do not need to write all over library books via photopin (license)
photo credit: davidmulder61 Day 250. Homework. via photopin (license)
photo credit: Maurits Verbiest Session 2- Books via photopin (license)

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.

photo credit: Simeon Berg Day 29 – Blast From The Past via photopin (license)
photo credit: Nico Kaiser Landesjugend-Akkordeonorchester Bayern, Stefan Hippe. Erding, Germany. 2016. via photopin (license)
photo credit: Alan Kleina Dosed via photopin (license)