Saturday, January 23, 2010

Working with prompts to begin (or enhance) your fiction

When I was getting started as a writer, I came upon The Writer’s Book of Day by Judy Reeves. Besides being full of encouraging and helpful ideas, Reeves includes hundreds of prompt ideas, words and phrases to spark us to write. I decided to take on writing prompts as a daily practice and for the next 20 months, I wrote nearly every day. Even though a lot of the writing was marginal and some of it was downright awful, it made a huge difference in my writing: it loosened me up and helped me be more creative. I recommend it. Here are some ideas for using prompts.

1. Develop a daily practice. Set aside a brief writing time every day. Make it small (10 minutes was ideal for me) so that even if you forget until late in the day, you can still make time for it.
2. Use a timer. Write for your allotted minutes and stop, even mid-sentence, when the timer goes off. You can always continue with the story at another time.
3. Use prompts provided by a book, like the one by Judy Reeves, or a dictionary or phrases you hear in passing, or create your own. After I used up all of Reeves many ideas, I write a month’s worth of prompts on the first of each month. I did an alphabetical list of words that intrigued me. I did a list of objects in my apartment. I did phrases from poems by Mary Oliver. Anything will serve.
4. In the first sentence of each writing, use the prompt and the name of a fictional character. For example, using the prompt red tea cup, I might write this sentence: “Evelyn sat on the terrace, the red tea cup in her lap.” Then write a scene or brief story. Some months I used the same name for every prompt, beginning to develop a relationship with that character.
5. I wrote the prompts by hand in Clairefontaine notebooks (I love that paper!). I found it easier to get fictional somehow when I wasn’t at the computer, where I work all day as an editor. However, you do it, keep the writings. You never know what might come of it.