Thursday, October 06, 2011

Prompted

Lately I've been using my first edition copy of Judy Reeves' A Writer's Book of Days as jumper cables for the muse, mostly reading bits of writerly trivia but occasionally using the daily prompts to do some practice writing. In the process I've discovered I dislike the term free writing; to me it implies that writing by schedule, planning what you write or otherwise organizing your writing time is imprisoning. I for one never felt more smothered or uninspired than the time I tried to write a story organically; even then I kept trying to outline it in my head.

Anyway. I was looking over the writing prompts for this week, and these four started to tell me a story:

October 5 Write about a fragment.
October 6 Write about small mistakes.
October 7 You're in a cafe.
October 8 Losing control.


For me writers don't make especially interesting characters, but I immediately envisioned a would-be novelist parked with his laptop in a book store cafe, indulging in some free writing while he hopes to impress the counter chicks with his stoic suffering. Only he writes something 1) that triggers a repressed, horrible memory, or 2) that another patron reads over his shoulder and then uses as a reason to physically attack him, or 3) finally makes him realize that whatever he writes alters his reality because he's an alien. Or a psychic projector. Or a ghost.

Once I had jotted down these thoughts, I promptly outlined and deposited them in the future stories idea file. The prompts also made me think of an interesting setting for a troublesome scene I've got to write for my current WIP.

I've always thought that writing prompts and practice writing can be great workouts for the imagination. They exercise your vision, warm up your problem-solving skills, and get your head in the right place for the serious stuff. I think the trick is to use them to get you started, but not allow them to distract you with the new/bright/shiny allure of new story. I'd love to spend the rest of the day writing the cafe story, and if my day were completely free I might, but my writing schedule is packed. I feel like the prompts did loosen me up, so now I'll see if I can keep the energy flowing as I transition over to the contracted work.

One more thing the prompts did for me: they sparked the idea for this post and a couple of others. When you haven't been blogging regularly, getting back into a daily routine can be a bit tough. Prompts may be the nudge you need to change that.

What's your favorite online or offline resource for creative prompts? Doesn't have to be for writing, either. Tell us in comments to this post (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, October 7, 2011. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner an unsigned paperback copy of the newly revised edition of A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

28 comments:

  1. Margaret12:58 AM

    I like to look at pictures and get ideas from those -- I wrote a story once from looking at the front of a greeting card.

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  2. One of my favorites is The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer. It's got some really interesting prompts and pictures too.

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  3. I read a lot of online news and watch lots of tv/films. But even if I were outside, I'd still find ideas from observing and make lists.

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  4. I like the site 'musemuggers' on livejournal. Always fun to write there.

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  5. Most of my ideas just pop into my head from who knows where, but when I'm sitting here seemingly stuck for something to write I click on this site:
    http://www.pbase.com/photos/random.html

    After clicking through a couple of pages of random images I always get an idea. It works.

    Paul

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  6. Often i'll read something in the science news, or i'll see something that makes me think.

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  7. I like to watch ancient aliens type documentaries - ancient inventions, pyramid code, mummies - and those usually cause at least one idea to bubble up and demand more attention.

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  8. I'm a big fan of all the different forums withe prompts on http://www.writing.com . In fact, I was about to head over there! Looking for inspiration on today's 100 words for the web-serial we write on our site.

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  9. When I'm in a slump I like to ask someone (usually my sweetie) to just give me a random noun or verb and then I have to write a short story from that word limiting myself to 1000 words. Often the story that comes from this exercise is not worth moving forward with, but I have gotten a couple of jewels this way, two of which I have gotten published. But whether the story is worth saving or not, it gets the words flowing so I can return my focus to whatever project I am working on.

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  10. I've never really had an external prompt source, but I do keep my own list of little things and thoughts and fragments of ideas and it's helped me kickstart a book more than once.

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  11. I have a great little book called "The Writers Block" that's almost a cube (clever, eh?) chock full of photos, prompts and little 150-words or so inspirations from famous authors.

    It's gotten me unstuck a number of times. One of the prompts I used from that book turned into an award winner in a local contest!

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  12. Anne V.9:24 AM

    I have a stash of artwork that appeals to me. I sometimes go through the folder and it shakes a few things loose. I also enjoy watching little creative movies called AMVs (Anime Music Videos) set to music. They often tell stories that can get me thinking.

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  13. My resource consists of photo albums that have been in the family for years.

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  14. I'll google a place, look for photos and find something unusual or interesting. This sounds like a great book!

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  15. Anonymous9:44 AM

    I learned more browsing through my parents' old set of the World Book Encyclopedia than I did in the public schools I attended as a child (well, except for math...), and I still like to pull a random volume down from the shelf from time to time and browse for serendipitous inspiration. Wikipedia is also fabulous, but it's just not the same.

    Cheers,

    Kevin

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  16. For me, music works best. I listen to a song and suddenly a line of the lyrics jumps out at me and gives me an idea. Or the atmosphere described, either in the words, or the overall song gives me a setting. Or I start speculating about what got the singer or the narrator to be in the situation in which he/she would sing/tell this story. It's gone so far that I cannot listen to some songs anymore without the characters or ideas completely overshadowing the original song. :)

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  17. I love Reeves' book. The new edition has been on my wishlist for some time now. My favs for nonfiction prompts are: "Old Friend from Far Away" by Natalie Goldberg and "Now Write! Nonfiction" by Sherry Ellis.

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  18. When I need extra writing-mojo, I go to Panera. There's all the iced-tea I can drink, and an endless supply of people to watch. I'll probably be spending a lot of November there.

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  19. Anonymous11:17 AM

    I get my prompts from everywhere: standing in line at the post office, sitting in the car at a crosswalk, waiting for my turn at the grocery store, overhearing a conversation at the dentist's office. I think my real problem is not where I get my stories, but how can I pick just one to work on.

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  20. Writing wise, I would say the daily prompt on Forward Motion. For a creative outlook I have read The Awe-Manac-A Daily Dose of Wonder, by Jill Badonsky. I'm not sure if you suggested this book or another of her books, but I found this one and liked it.

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  21. clairecherven12:58 PM

    I frequently get my inspiration while riding on the train: the people standing at the terminal waiting for something? and the towns I go through, what's happening in those buildings? Good descriptions for places too!

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  22. I've compiled Photo albums full of articles, quotes, pictures, poems, blog posts etc since I was in my early teens.

    Reading and looking what others have done always inspires me.If I need a prompt I just full out an album and start looking.

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  23. I get my prompts from dictionary.com.
    Something about word origins or language news usually shakes something lose.

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  24. Story ideas usually hit me after I wake from one of my rare, but ultra vivid dreams.

    Other times, I play with "The Brainstormer" -- an app available on the iTunes App store that I have on my iPhone. Three wheels (setting, adjective, person) can be manipulated by the user or turned randomly by the app.

    (Last night, one of the rolls gave me a large part of my plot for my NaNoWriMo story. Talk about serendipity!)

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  25. sometimes I get inspiration in the middle of the night -- need to start leaving a notebook by my bed!

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  26. One of the more intensive courses I took in college required three new pieces of writing per week. The professor assigned us an anthology of multicultural essays that covered all manner of topics (I believe the book was called "One World, Many Cultures"), and we were assigned an essay to read before writing each new piece. Actually using the assigned essay for a prompt was optional, but most of the time I found at least one line, concept, or theme in each essay that warranted an essay or story of my own. Most of the time my piece did not superficially seem at all related to the original essay, but the tangent begun by the reading was absolutely entrancing.

    I still like to use articles and essays as prompts. Anthologies are expensive, but luckily, blogs are free to read. ;)

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  27. I sure need something. I feel like a stagnant pond.

    I did download Way of the Cheetah though. Thanks for that. I had it and then when the hard drive crashed...well, so much for most of my stuff.

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  28. I turn to Page After Page by Heather Sellers - and no matter what page I turn to, I find something that gets the ink flowing again!

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