Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: The Horizon


This is an exercise for those of you who are currently working on a project and might be stuck on plot or character development. I want you to take a character you’ve been with for a while and have them stop, mid-scene, and look at the horizon. It might sound cheesy, and it probably won’t end up staying in your finished work, but what does the horizon evoke for them? Where are they going?

Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: Childish Things


I think all grown-ups have at least one thing that triggers their inner brat: the voice inside your head that says, “I don’t wanna! You can’t make me! Waaaaaahhhh!.” I’ve got several, actually, but one of my very worst:

The dentist.

See, I had to go to the dentist this morning, and I also had to take my kids to their dentist. And my dentist wants me to buy a very expensive mouth guard that my insurance doesn’t cover, and his argument is cogent but my inner brat is just furious. Of course, even normal things at the dentist’s office get her riled up:

Hygienist: How often are you flossing?

Me: Intermittently.

Inner Brat: Yeah like teeth are so important. I’m going to floss even less now just because you brought it up so nyanyananyanyah. And I’m totally having hot coffee and gummi bears right after you paint on that fluoride stuff, maybe a big bowl of super crunchy chips, just to spite you.

Thankfully, there’s a grown-up person encasing that inner brat but still. The thoughts are there.

Anyhow, while lying back in the dentist’s chair, I realized that I hadn’t posted a writing prompt yet this morning, and that this little, snotty voice inside me would make an excellent narrator. Perhaps a conversation between the rational adult and the inner brat.

Riff on that. See where it takes you.

Reading & Writing

How to Get Through a Writer’s Block (or, How to Be a Healthy Writer)


For writers of all genres, “writer’s block” is as inevitable as death and taxes.

All artists experience this. The brain needs its rest, the muses need their vacations, and everyone who’s ever been serious about creative endeavors has sat staring at a blank page, canvas, brick wall, stage or computer page and thought, “I can’t do this.”

But did you notice that I put “writer’s block” in quotation marks? That wasn’t a typo. I “know” how to “use” “quotation marks.”

Seriously, though: I believe that the phrase “writer’s block” is a crutch we use to make our creative clogs seem more serious than perhaps they are. I’ve known writers who treat it as an illness; when they’re blocked, they can do little more than sit around drinking soup and binge-watching Netflix. They spend a lot of time nursing themselves back to health, so to speak. This can last indefinitely.

Of course (to extend my metaphor) there are people who vegetate through an illness and there are those who just keep truckin’. Then there are those of us who used to vegetate but have had to learn to push through. Continue reading “How to Get Through a Writer’s Block (or, How to Be a Healthy Writer)”

Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: The Sea Urchin


Have you ever seen a sea urchin’s teeth? I did, last time I was at the Seattle Aquarium, and before the docent told me what they were I assumed they’d come out of a shark. Maybe a small shark, but still: they looked fierce. I also learned that while urchins often feed on algae, some species can gobble up fish.

Sea urchins are considered by many to be a culinary delicacy. They’ve been a featured ingredient on Iron Chef and Iron Chef America. I’ve seen Bobby Flay cut one in half, use its innards to make a soup, and then serve it up in the spiny shell. I don’t understand the appeal of it, but the judges seemed to like it. He probably won that battle. He’s good at winning.

Anyhow, this alien oddity from under the sea seemed like good fodder for fiction; this creature that by all rights should never have come in contact with humans, but is a main feature of aquarium touch pools and high-end menus alike. So today, I want you to think about sea urchins. Maybe urchins in general. Consider that some people call it the “hedgehog of the sea.” Consider the French phrase, “the elegance of the hedgehog” (and if you have the opportunity, read the novel of the same title).

As always, I encourage you to share your work in the comments; I’ll share mine if you share yours.

Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: Falling Apart


I’ll keep this one brief, because today’s writing prompt is something I want you to feel more than think about. Look at the picture of Mr. Potato Head. Really look at it. How does it make you feel? What does it inspire? Laughter? Sadness? Dread?

Okay, now add to that the opening line, “I’m falling apart.” See where it takes you.

I’ll share mine in the comments if you share yours!

Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: Respawn

respawnIf you were a fan of 30Rock, you might remember the time the writers played Halo through their entire vacation, sitting in the office wearing diapers and killing themselves (in the video game) before anyone else could so they could respawn and keep playing. They did it so many times, they lost all track of time and had no idea what day it was until Liz came in for their first day back at work and found them all exactly where she had left them.

I find the option to “respawn” quite interesting and not a little strange. I don’t pretend to understand video games, but from the show I gleaned that respawning is an unlimited option. To me, it seems lazy and cowardly: wouldn’t a good player be able to fight their way out of the situation instead of blowing themselves up? And don’t you then have to go all the way back to the beginning of the adventure? So imagine, in The Lord of the Rings, if the hobbits respawned when they found themselves pursued by the wraiths, went back to the beginning, and left at a different time of day or took a different route. Imagine Gollum respawning after losing the ring to Bilbo and then killing him outright the second time through instead of messing about with riddles. Imagine–well, what character would you imagine? And not just from LOTR–anything.

That’s today’s writing prompt: re-imagine a thrilling scene from literature, giving the main character the option to respawn.

Reading & Writing

The Resolution to Write (Or, I Give Myself Very Good Advice But I Very Seldom Follow It)

advice.pngWhenever I talk to a writer, it seems like the topic of writing time is broached. Granted, I don’t talk to a lot of writers anymore (though I’d like to change that); most of my conversations revolve around preschool and poop. But whether conversing with a writer or a mother, I find that the tone is often the same:

How often do your kids poop? How often do you write? Is once a week enough? Have you tried sleep training? I start an egg timer and I stay at my desk until it buzzes. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year. I’m taking a parenting class at the Y. They say things happen in their own time. Have you tried probiotics? Have you read Burning Down the House? Charles Baxter is a genius. I hate Dr. Sears. All you need is fresh air and exercise, and things will fall into place. Continue reading “The Resolution to Write (Or, I Give Myself Very Good Advice But I Very Seldom Follow It)”

Reading & Writing

Writing Prompt: Someone You Don’t Like

funny uncle

Fiction is about empathy. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes helps us to understand the world on a different level, and to relate to our fellow humans in a deeper, more complicated way.

A lot of writers strive to make their main characters likeable, especially if the POV is written from a close perspective. To that end, I think there’s a tendency to write characters we like personally, so we can make other people like them, too. (I’m all for unlikeable characters, BTW, but that’s another blog post.)

But what if we tried to write from the POV of someone we didn’t like?

That’s the challenge I’m setting today. Write from a close perspective (try to do first person) about someone you know and really don’t like–without making them a monster. Maybe you can even make them sympathetic. Continue reading “Writing Prompt: Someone You Don’t Like”