Tuesday, December 9, 2014

writing prompts

The purpose of writing prompts - to encourage you to write.

They give you a chance to practice your writing skills.
They can get the creative juices flowing.
They offer a challenge.
They are fun.

Can you write something passable in a short amount of time on a specific subject? Let your imagination run free. No one else has to read it unless that is what you want.

Some dictionary definitions for prompt include: To move to action, to incite, to bring forth, and to be ready and quick to act as occasion demands.

A prompt is just a topic. It can be one word, a sentence or even a picture. You jot down ideas and then try to quickly write something from it.

What if your topic was “night writers.” Would you write a memoir about how you do most of your creative writing at night, after everyone else is in bed? Maybe you could create a story where the revolutionaries met at night to write and print information to distribute the next day. Could what they write lead to the overthrow of a dictator or just land them in prison? Is the pen really mightier than the sword? It is your story and it can go where you want it to go.

Prompts can help a writer get past writer’s block by trying different approaches. Instead of just staring at a blank page, a prompt can get you writing.

It is beneficial to write just for fun, to experiment, to see things from a different viewpoint, before returning to your main project. This is less stressful writing.

Many writing magazines provide prompts for their readers. There are entire books written about the value of prompts to ignite the creative process. You also can find sites that offer prompts online.

Writers are pushed to practice, practice, practice. Prompts give you a chance to do just that.

In our writing group, we can share our prompts and receive feedback on what we have written and also see what others wrote. It is interesting to see the different writing topics and styles that come from people using the same prompt.

You might even take the same idea and rewrite it with different characters or set it in a different time period. Sometimes you might expand your short prompt piece into something longer.

I save most of my prompts and sometimes review them for possible story ideas for future writing.
Whether you use prompts to spur creativity, kick-start a writing project, win a contest, or just to have fun, prompts are a writer’s friend.

So here we go. The following prompt was suggested for one of our recent critique group meetings.

The prompt: 

You wake up one morning to find that you are your five-year-old self, with your parents again, with all of the memories and experiences of your current life. Write this scene and express the emotion and frustration your character undergoes as you internally try to sort this out. 

My story using that prompt: 

It was Christmas morning. I was five years old. My brothers were pulling me out of bed, wanting to go downstairs and see what Santa had brought us. I threw on my slippers and raced down the steps with them.

“Mom and Dad get up. It’s Christmas. Santa’s been here.”

We reached for our stockings, which were hung on the banister. We could go through them while we waited for our parents. Jacks and yoyos, candy and fruit, a new comb and a sock? You never knew what Santa would put in your stocking. It was a fun way to wait until Dad came out to turn on the tree.

We could open one present while Mom fixed coffee, then she and Dad watched us open the rest, one at a time. Torn wrapping paper began to pile up around us. I didn’t take time to play with one thing before I was opening another. Finally, the gifts were open and I looked around to decide where to start.

Suddenly I realized everything seemed so immature. I’d feel silly playing with silly putty and did I really want to be a cowboy, with a red felt hat and plastic gun? Something  didn’t feel right. I looked at Mom and Dad, my brothers and then looked at myself in the hall mirror. Yes, I was five, but something was wrong.

I didn’t feel like five. I felt at least five times older than that. Wasn’t I just thinking last night of going to work today to finish the Bromberg contract?  Thinking that Christmas just wasn’t fun anymore. The magic was gone.

Now it was here again, at least for the rest of the family, and for me at least for a little while. But now I was thinking like an adult again, even if I didn’t look it. How was I going to get out of this mess?

They wouldn’t let a five year old into the office. How would I get there? Would Dad take me? He probably didn’t even know how to get to New York, much less where Clark and Patrick, Inc. was located.  He probably would think I was just playing being an adult.

Suddenly I began to perspire and sat back horrified. How long would I be stuck here? True, no one was waiting for this 25-year-old workaholic, but how long could I pretend to be five?

“Are you okay Billy?” Dad asked, moving over to ruffle my hair. I looked up at him and smiled.

“I’ll fix some pancakes for breakfast,” Mom said, giving each of us a hug before going into the 
kitchen. “Just play with your toys until I call you.”

“I guess Santa thought you were all good,” Dad joked. “He must not have been paying much attention.”

“Can we go sledding after breakfast?” Danny asked. “There’s plenty of snow. We’ll show Billy how to steer his new sled.”

“Sure,” he said, but I was no longer listening. I had forgotten how good it felt to do things with my brothers. I still received letters from them, sometimes with pictures of young nieces and nephews, but I hadn’t been home since graduating college and had never invited any of them to my apartment.

I had forgotten what love and security meant  since leaving my family in the cold mountains of West Virginia for the excitement of New York City. I had moved on and up, no longer embarrassed by my coal mining father nor store clerk mother. But I hadn’t realized how lonely life could be, even surrounded by millions of people.

Just last week I was wishing I could turn back the clock to when life seemed full of possibilities. Had that happened? Was this just a dream or part of a Christmas miracle?

“Pancakes are on the table. Come and get them,” Mom called.

 Rushing to the kitchen with my brothers, I decided to forget the Bromberg contract and just enjoy some of Mom’s hotcakes and homemade jam. 

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