Tag Archives: prompts

Inspiration in Sneakers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a response to a writing prompt, and since I’ve got a new one in my portfolio, I figured I’d share it with y’all. I met with my local writer’s group this week and we all wrote on the same subject: a picture of a man’s feet in seriously beat up sneakers. Honestly, I had a hard time with it. Didn’t find it as inspiring as I felt like I should have. But I pressed on and came out with something I actually kind of like. Not really sure where I was going with it, but the character seems really interesting.

I’m going to kill the next person who offers me a free meal. Just cause I like to breathe through my toes don’t give you the right to think I live in a cardboard box behind the dumpster on Sixth Street. If I could afford those fancy loafers imprisoning your tootsies, I’d rip the toes off those too. I’ve got to have room to wiggle, got to feel the breeze airing out the spaces between my piggies. Got to evict the fungus before I start charging it rent.

Like I’ve said before, I can be resentful of the challenges prompts present, but I usually get something out of them. I learn something. I like to think that stretching my brain around problems like this on a regular basis will serve me well the next time I’m staring at my screen suffering from writer’s block. If I can find words to write about old beat up shoes, a story that’s been haunting me for years shouldn’t be a problem, right?

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Brave the Blank Page

Blank pageFor a while I’ve felt that I should write about writing: the writing process, writing tips, the dreaded rewrite. I’m hardly an expert. I don’t have a degree in writing (just a BS in biology). But I have been doing this awhile, and along the way I’ve come up with some things that have worked for me. W. Somerset Maugham said “There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Following that sage advice, I’m not going to try to come up with rules or even guidelines. I’m just going to talk about the things I’ve learned and you get to listen (lucky you).

The first thing I learned about writing while writing is probably the simplest concept, but it also seems to be the hardest to implement at times. The most important thing to do to improve your writing is….write. Just write. Put words on a page. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet this is what trips most people up. I hear, “I want to write a book, but I don’t know where to start” or “I want to finish my book, but I have writer’s block.”

One of the hardest things about writing is putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) when all you want to do is prance around the room in your granny panties because that’s easier than staring at a blank page. Yeah, I know all about that. I’ve been there. Wait, you don’t do that? Maybe it’s just me. Regardless of how you deal with writerly insanity, blank pages are scary things. I mean, it’s just sitting there waiting for you to fill it. Who wants that kind of responsibility? Well, if you call yourself a writer, then you’ve volunteered for it. So writers, what do we do with a blank page? Anyone? Bueller…Bueller? Well, we fill it with lovely words: poetry that captures the feel of a winter evening, fiction that takes us to new worlds, essays that teach and inspire. What do you want to add to the realm of literature?

“But I don’t know where to start,” you say. Don’t worry. No one else does either. Start with a sentence. I’m serious. At the top of that terrifyingly blank page, write one sentence.

The dog runs.

Look at that. There are words on that page. You’ve started. What next? How about another sentence?

The dog runs. But the dinosaur runs faster.

I don’t know about you, but that looks like the start of a story to me.

Pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants) probably have less trouble with this step than planners (people who plan everything before they write). I’m a tried and true pantser. I only outline if I figure out what happens next faster than I can get it on paper. But it’s easy to get stuck no matter what your method. I know planners who get bogged down in the outline, wanting to plan out every detail. And they never write a word of the actual novel. Pantsers have problems too. I’ll get halfway through a first draft and realize I have no clue what comes next. Or there are people like my sister, Arielle, who get words on the page, even a whole chapter, but they won’t move on until what they’ve written is perfect.

My advice to all of them is to just write. Planners, if it never makes it onto a page, then it’s never actually a novel. It’s just an idea. Pantsers, do what you do best and just see what happens. Add an agoraphobic assassin, sink the pirate’s ship. Run with it. Arielles of the world, write the next part. One chapter of a novel will never be perfect, only incomplete.

Once you’re past that first hurdle – when the first sentence is written, and the second sentence, a whole page, a chapter, a book – you’re still not done. Yes, there should be editing and revising, but I’m not going to talk about those here. What I mean is that you should still be writing. Hey, don’t complain to me, you were the one who wanted to be a writer.

I finished my first novel when I was nineteen. 200,000 words (yikes), and I was so proud of my first draft, I packed it up and sent it to an editor. Here’s a healthy tip: don’t do this… ever. I also didn’t write much for a while after that. Don’t do this either. Remember when your piano teacher told you practice makes perfect? Same thing. The only way to get better at writing is to keep writing. So write. All the time. Every day if you can. Need help fitting it into a busy schedule? There are plenty of books to help. Writer Mama by Christina Katz and Pen on fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett are two I’m going to look up myself. A friend of mine writes a blog Writing While the Rice Boils. Trouble finding ideas? Use prompts and exercises (Writer’s Digest has lots). Do research. Write another novel. Make it better. One of my critique partners likes to say, you can’t edit what doesn’t exist. I’ve written five novels over twelve years and all of them have taught me something. Things like don’t send a first draft to an editor, aMy story starts herend sinking the pirate ship can actually work out. Another big one was trust your readers (little sisters played a part in this one). So brave the blank page. Set off into the unknown armed with only your pen. Almost everyone wants to write a book, but only you writers will actually do it.

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Writing Promptly

Every month I go to a writer’s group at my local library where we talk about books, publishing, and all the things that writers specifically like to grumble about. Recently we’ve had some fun with prompts. I got a kick out of the one I did last month so I thought I’d share the results. The prompt was: “You’ve been asked to buy ingredients and prepare a meal for another family. Write about the experience”.

“Sue-Ellen resettled the casserole dish in the crook of her elbow, the rich smell of barbecue floating up to remind her of home. Her barbecue was world famous…well, only if you counted the small town of Cut-n-Shoot, Texas as the world and only if famous meant winning the cook-off at the county fair. Still, she was proud of that barbecue and rightly so. It could lay Jim flat for an entire afternoon- knock him out on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, proudly displaying the hole in his sock, his mouth open in an odorous, sonorous snore which drowned out the football game playing on the TV. Lord, she loved that man and how he ate her barbecue.”

Nothing earth-shattering, but I have to admit I fell in love with Jim a little bit. I know, I know. I got kind of derailed and somewhere out there that poor family is still waiting for their dinner.

We’ve had some discussion in our group about the helpfulness of prompts. Some people felt that prompts were only for those beginners who needed help with their writing. Prompts were below Advanced writers.

I think that’s a bunch of hooey. Now, to be fair, I never used to like prompts. I hate being told when and what to write. I also really suck at short fiction (flash fiction isn’t even on my radar). Ideas that start off as short stories somehow gain the momentum of a runaway truck and end up 60 or 70,000 words long.

But I’ve started to see the beauty of prompts. They make me stretch and grow as a writer. Just like rehab, the process can be painful. Sometimes tears are involved. I definitely get that look my therapists recognized as extreme concentration: eyebrows lowered, tongue sticking out, and sweat pooling in places where girls like to pretend they don’t sweat. Having to write something so specific and not in my genre is scary, but it’s not pointless. The only way to get better at what I do is to practice. I write young adult fantasy. As you can see, the prompt above does not scream fantasy, but I learned something from writing it. And no matter where you are in your writing career, you can always learn something new.

So, stretch yourself a bit. If what you write is totally stupid and you just want to crumple it up in a melodramatic gesture common to writers throughout the ages- but you can’t because it’s on a computer screen- then you never have to look at it again. But who knows? It might spark a greater work. Or breathe life into something you’ve been slaving over for a while. Writing’s hard. Admit it, suck it up, and put in the time.

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