Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nerd in High School, January 31, 2009

from Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America, by Natalie Goldberg

"You know, I was a nerd in high school," I said. I paused. "Do they use the word 'nerd' now?"

They nodded.

"I didn't know I'd be a writer. I was just bored."

Then I told them about Mr. Clemente, my high school English teacher. One day he switched off the lights above our heads and told us to listen to the rain. My high school had big windows, I told them, and I felt what a blessing it was as I stood in front of this windowless modern classroom. "That's all we had to do--listen to the rain. There wasn't a test or a quiz on rain, on listening, or on cloudy afternoons."

I told the kids in Taos High School that day to trust in what they loved, that you don't know where it will lead you. "The important thing is to love something, even if it's skateboarding or car mechanics or whistling. Let yourself love it completely."

Prompts: Write about loving something completely, or about a day in high school. Or both!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Headline Prompt, January 30, 2009

I clip headlines from newspapers, fold them into little squares, and deposit them in my "prompts" bowl. Looking for a prompt? Pick a headline.

Here's one from today's New York Times, "Weekend Arts"

Prompt: Gaze East and Dream

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Verbs, glorious verbs, January 29, 2009

Prompt: Read this opening paragraph (it's one of my favorites) and write a paragraph in which you employ lively verbs. Notice how Pollan's verbs and prose anthropomorphizes the lawn?

No lawn is an island, at least in America. Starting at my front stoop this scruffy green carpet tumbles down a hill and leaps across a one-lane road into my neighbor’s yard. From there it skips over some wooded patches and stone walls before finding its way across a dozen other unfenced properties that lead down into the Housatonic Valley, there to begin its march south toward the metropolitan area. Once below Danbury, the lawn—now purged of weeds and meticulously coiffed—races up and down the suburban lanes, heedless of property lines. It then heads west, crossing the New York border; moving now at a more stately pace, it strolls beneath the maples of Larchmont, unfurls across a dozen golf courses, and wraps itself around the pale blue pools of Scarsdale before pressing on toward the Hudson. New Jersey next is covered, an emerald postage stamp laid down front and back of ten thousand split-levels, before the broadening green river divides in two. One tributary pushes south, striding across the receptive hills of Virginia and Kentucky but refusing to pause until it has colonized the thin, sandy soils of Florida. The other branch dilates and spreads west, easily overtaking the Midwest’s vast grid before running up against the inhospitable western states. But neither obdurate soil nor climate will impeded the lawn’s march to the Pacific: it vaults the Rockies and, abetted by a monumental irrigation network, proceeds to green great stretches of western desert.

The opening paragraph of the essay “Why Mow,” from Second Nature: a gardener’s education, by Michael Pollan (1991)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How They Flow, January 28, 2009


Mozart said, "When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer — say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep — it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best, and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not, nor can I force them."

Write about how and when your ideas come to you.

Mirror, January 27, 2009

Prompt: Mirror, mirror on the wall . . .

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Dog's Life, January 26, 2009

Prompt: Write from his point of view.
(His name is Ringo.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What's Inside? January 25, 2009

Prompt: Write about the uses of a big box.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

That Day, January 24, 2009

Prompt: Write about a Saturday morning.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Power of Hands, January 23, 2009

Prompt: Write about work your hands do and check out this poem, On the Assembly Line.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Write A What? January 22, 2009

Prompt: Write a letter, a real letter, to somebody and mail it. How do you feel, knowing who your audience is? Start up a letter-writing correspondence as a form of writing practice.

(I'm going to write to my mother, who's in the nursing facility at her retirement community at the moment, suffering from a hairline hip fracture. I call her often but never, anymore, write. A letter a week; that's my plan.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lost Consolation, January 21, 2009

I have lost the consolation of faith
though not the ambition to worship.

Forrest Gander, poet

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Big Day, January 20, 2009

Prompt: Write about how you're spending Inauguration Day and any thoughts you have about past inaugurations.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mothers and Daughters and, January 18, 2009

Prompt: Write about mothers and daughters or fathers and sons. We're all at least one of these.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In the Bleak Mid-Winter, January 17, 2009

Prompt: In the bleak mid-winter

In the bleak mid-winter
frosty winds made moan
earth stood hard as iron
water like a stone . . .

Friday, January 16, 2009

Not Quite, January 16, 2009

Prompt: AlmostBold

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An unusual friendship, January 15, 2009

Prompt: Write about an unusual friendship.

Oh, and watch this clip first.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

First lines of novels and stories, January 14, 2009

Prompt: I had been sick for a long time.

(This is the first sentence of Oracle Night: A Novel by Paul Auster. First lines often make great prompts. Anybody want to send one? And this is a novel about a writer and writing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Company You Keep, January 13, 2009

Prompt: Write about being in the company of women.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Question, January 12, 2009

Prompt: What's hidden . . . and where?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Too Early, January 11, 2009

Prompt: Write about a time when you had to rise early or arrived early. What does early mean to you?

This prompt is dedicated to Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, who was born on this day in 1887, in Burlington, Iowa. Leopold dropped dead of a heart attack fighting a neighbor's grass fire. This essay collection was published posthumously by his children and is still considered an important book within the conservation movement.

Too Early

Getting up too early is a vice habitual in horned owls, stars, geese, and freight trains. Some hunters acquire it from geese, and some coffee pots from hunters. It is strange that of all the multitude of creatures who must rise in the morning at some time, only these few should have discovered the most pleasant and least useful time for doing it.

from A Sand County Almanac, page 59

Saturday, January 10, 2009

To Waiting, January 10, 2009

Prompt: Write about waiting. You might want to use a line or two from the following poem to get you started.

To Waiting

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long

W. S. Merwin
Present Company
Copper Canyon Press

Friday, January 09, 2009

Point of View Exercise, January 9, 2009

Prompt: Write--from your point of view--about an experience involving you and at least one other person. Now write the same experience from the point of view of someone else in the story.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pretending to Be, January 8, 2009

Prompt: Write about a time you felt one way and acted another. OR (and this is kind of the same prompt but might offer some additional possibilities) write about a time you pretended to be someone or something you aren't.

And, as a writer, what are your goals for the year? Check out this blog to respond--and to learn how valuable actually writing, not just thinking about, your goals can be. (You don't have to be a fiction writer to do this. We nonfiction writers have goals too!)

By the way, this morning's Writer's Almanac featured this poem about trees. I have loved all the tree pieces--and others--that you've been sending. Don't hesitate to post comments on what you like in each other's work. And those of you who are shy about posting, and are emailing your prompt writings to me, try being brave and sharing them here. Can't hurt, can it?

Unfortunate Location

In the front yard there are three big white pines, older
than anything in the neighborhood except the stones.
Magnificent trees that toss their heads in the wind
like the spirited black horses of a troika. It's hard to
know what to do, tall dark trees on the south side of
the house, an unfortunate location, blocking the
winter sun. Dark and damp. Moss grows on the roof,
the porch timbers rot and surely the roots have
reached the old bluestone foundation. At night, in
the wind, a tree could stumble and fall killing us in
our beds. The needles fall year after year making an
acid soil where no grass grows. We rake the fallen
debris, nothing to be done, we stand around with
sticks in our hands. Wonderful trees.

by Louis Jenkins
All Tangled Up with the Living
Nineties Press, 1991

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Going Back to Sleep, January 7, 2009

A Barred Owl

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

--Richard Wilbur

Prompt: Write about going back to sleep.
(I often suggest that people take a line from a poem or
an image and use that as a starting point for writing.)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Simple, Homely Occurrence, January 6, 2009

Prompt: Today is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas. Write about a childhood epiphany.

One definition of epiphany:
a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Familiar Trees, January 5, 2009

. . .
There's a cypress on that block, two honey locusts and an oak. I love those trees like my own brothers.

From the poem, "Illustrated Guide to Familiar American Trees" by Charlie Smith

Write about trees or a particular tree.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Returning Home, January 4, 2009

Prompt: Write about returning home after a rough weekend.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Forward and back, January 3, 2009

The name January comes from the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways and gates, who had a face in front and one behind; he could see forward and backward at the same time.

Prompt: Write a letter to 2008 and one to 2009.

Or imagine that you, or a character you're writing about, is approaching a doorway . . . or a gate.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Prompt: January 2, 2009

Write about something that happens
on this park bench.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Prompt a Day

Hi All:

I'm posting a writing prompt every day this month. Have fun and send your writing as a comment if you'd like. I'll use poems, photos, video, quotes, and excerpts as prompts. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write! Write whatever comes to mind--first thought, as Allen Ginsberg said. Maybe a word jumps out at you; if nothing strikes you, write about having nothing to say and see where that takes you.

Here's the first one, for January 1, 2009.

In Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, the astute Frenchman who visited the United States in 1831 and wrote extensively about his American visit: Tocqueville wrote (and this is the prompt):

"Every American is eaten up with longing to rise."

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