Writing Prompt: Ask a small person for assistance.

Posted by @ 1:45 pm on September 30th, 2010

In 1966, Ornette Coleman did something odd. (Or, well, odder than usual for him.) He sat his ten year old son Denardo down at a drum kit in a recording studio and made a record with him called The Empty Foxhole.

Certainly this may not be the product of thinking something through completely. Having a shaky-timed ten-year-old play drums on your free jazz record plays into the “anyone can do that,” (see My Kid Could Paint That) critique leveled against Coleman’s pioneering musical career. And certainly, listening to the album reveals that the young man—now a respected pro—was, to be generous, a bit outmatched by his dad and Charlie Haden.

But what it may lack in musical virtuosity—a concept I will admit I am only passingly familiar with and devoted to, as I am more in the poorly record punk rock/noise/psychedelic/and black metal records camp—it sure does make up for with ENTHUSIASM! Enthusiasm is the wheelhouse of the ten year old. And the nine year old. And the eight year old. Etc. Working from a bed of this youthful enthusiasm, Coleman finds a way to weave some music I really like in and around the constraints of the young man’s limitations.

Here is a writing prompt. Ask a small person to tell you a story. Take notes. Tease out details when you think necessary. Encourage the small person to expand on promising ideas now and then. Mostly, though, just listen.

Treat the notes you have taken as a outline. Write a story or a poem. Whatever it is you write. Be faithful to your co-writer’s enthusiasm. But be your usual writerly virtuoso self within the outline’s constraints.

And credit your co-author.

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