Write for You: Using Writing Prompts

By Nancy Casey

Imagine a ball sitting still on top of a hill.  With a simple nudge it will begin to roll.  Or maybe, if it sits there long enough, a breeze will get it moving before it goes flat and turns into litter.  Your mind can be like that ball when you are trying to decide what to write about.  You sit up there with a tremendous view–your experience, your ideas, the truths, the falsehoods, the people, the stories.  Thinking about all the things you could write about is enough to keep you from writing anything at all.

A writing prompt is the nudge that gets you going.  In one direction or another.  It doesn’t matter which direction.  It’s always an interesting ride.

A writing prompt is a set of instructions.  It sounds like an assignment, the kind you might get in school, but it’s different.  If you don’t follow the instructions, nobody will say you did it wrong.  If you nudge the ball and after it begins to roll, it bumps a rock and bounces off in another direction, you don’t tell the ball it doesn’t know how to roll.  If the ball bumps a rock and sails away to land on a different hilltop, you wouldn’t tell the ball to quit being silly, pay attention, start over and do it right.

Many writing prompts take the form of a fill-in-the-blank sentence.  Here is one you can try today:  Some people have [blank] but I have [blank].

Don’t plan ahead what to say.  As you write, “Some people have” relax your mind and watch the words spill from the end of the pen. Whatever idea floats into your head, use that. It can be long or short.  Then you have to add something about what you have.  Again, don’t plan, just watch the words “but I have” roll onto the page and write whatever comes into your head next. If more things come into your head, write them down, too. Then start again, “Some people have…”  You can find an example here: http://www.authornancycasey.com/prompts

Remember, however, that you don’t have to follow the directions.  Your mind has a mind of its own. You might start to write about a particular thing that you or other people have and find out you have so much to say about it that you run out of ink, paper or time before you finish. You can even write, “I don’t care what anybody has, today I am going to write about…”  Or just ignore the prompt altogether.  What’s always most important is that you write something.  If the prompt seems dumb, but you can’t think of anything else to write, use the prompt.  What you write won’t be dumb.

Play with this writing prompt a couple more times this week.  Here are some ways you can change it around:

·         Instead of beginning with “some people”, begin with a plant, an animal or an object.  Trees have…  My dog has… Bricks have… The internet has… 

·         Turn it inside out:  Some people don’t have….., but I don’t have….

·         Change “have” to something else.  Some people like…  Some people eat…  Some people want…

·         Reread what you have written using this writing prompt and write about what it makes you think.

When you are finished, make sure the date is somewhere on the page and give it a title.  Decorate the page as needed. 

Pay attention to your writing hand.  Is it tired?  Does it hurt?  Where? Don’t punish a hard-working hand by shaking it or pressing your thumb into a spot that hurts.  Lay your hands on the table and gently roll your shoulders.  Think about that ball sitting on the top of a hill ready to go in any direction.  As you wait for the pain and tension in your hands to dissipate, imagine yourself sitting next to that ball.  Imagine the view.

Nancy Casey is a writer and teacher who has lived in rural Latah County for many years.  You can see more of her work at http://www.authornancycasey.com

If you like the idea of writing every week, but want to do it with others in a class setting, you are welcome to attend “Writing Journeys” with Ginger Rankin on Wednesdays from 4-5 at the Latah Recovery Center.  The class does exercises from this blog and other things as well.

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