Writing prompts

Things I Find on the Internet that Make Me Go Write: Tabitha Teratoma

Random / 2 Comments
September 18th, 2011 / 3:11 pm

Weekend Writing Prompt: Make it rain.

Hiphop has moved—swaggered, even—on from the 2006 rules and regulations. Sure it has. So—yes, I guess—we’re well past making it rain on country’s exotic dancers. Or, well, they’re well past it, those who make themselves their livings rhyming over a usually 4/4 beat.

But maybe you don’t have to be. Over it, I mean. (I mean, who are you to follow the moving-on happenings in the game of being on the grind, right?)

So this weekend when you sit down to do a little writing, do it with a little of the lesson somewhere in Ms. Hoang’s earlier-today lovely disorganalia on overwriting by going in on a story and overwriting it to the point where you move past a disappointing lack of discipline to that moment where excess overwhelms all its many sins and leaves one’s writing in a pure state. Pile on the muck until the muck becomes the point and the muck becomes the beauty.

And if you don’t feel like making it rain in that way, make it rain like this:

Craft Notes / 15 Comments
January 7th, 2011 / 8:42 pm

MEAN WEEK Writing Prompt

How about you just go write something, asshole? Stop: blogging about writing, commenting on blogs about writing, surfing the web for youtube videos that might somehow “inspire” you to think about your “craft”, hanging out at dull author readings, having a beer with a boring writer after a dull author reading, having a beer (or five) alone when the laptop is sitting right there with a barely considered manuscript on it, starting another online literary journal or blog, playing video games and trying somehow to appreciate them on a “narrative” level, reading a book because you are “researching” something, getting involved in some “project” that is loosely connected to “literary” work, masturbating while high, etc. etc., and write. I mean, you’re a “writer,” right?

Mean / 11 Comments
October 28th, 2010 / 12:15 pm

Writing Prompt: Ask a small person for assistance.

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.

Craft Notes / 12 Comments
September 30th, 2010 / 1:45 pm

Writing Prompt: You’re Wrong, Emily Dickinson!

Music For Real Airports from The Black Dog on Vimeo.

An electronic group called The Black Dog thinks that Brian Eno got it wrong. So they have tried to rectify the problem.

In 1978, Brian Eno released an album called Music for Airports. It’s a classic, a sacred cow of ambient music, written by the man who coined the term for the genre. It’s also meant to be used by airports, intended to be played to help release the tensions of travel.

That doesn’t sit right with The Black Dog. They have responded with Music for Real Airports. From their press release: “”Airports have some of the glossiest surfaces in modern culture, but the fear underneath remains. Hence this record is not a utilitarian accompaniment to airports, in the sense of reinforcing the false utopia and fake idealism of air travel. Unlike Eno’s Music For Airports, this is not a record to be used by airport authorities to lull their customers.”

Here’s a task. Take a classic piece of writing. Decide what you think it intends to do. (A famous—and very simple—example: Candide intends to satirize Gottfried Leibniz’s optimism, that we live in the best of all possible worlds*.) Disagree with that. Even if you agree with it, find a way to disagree with it. Embrace the contrarian within.

Not the most original prompt, I admit. But a slight twist on it, I hope.

* And, yes. Voltaire misunderstood Leibniz.

Craft Notes / 10 Comments
May 7th, 2010 / 12:20 pm

most writing prompts suck

So I will try a not-suck one (warning: it might suck). Begin your story/exercise this way:

Socks you wear daily (not yours), revolver, dog you love, dragged out back in the snow falling darkness, dragged behind the dumpster with gun placed to head…Go.

Now, go ahead, say that is lame. Hell, I agree. Way too many images. Crazy off-the-page-subtext. Even seems a bit forced, possibly melodramatic. Even leaning prescriptive.

That’s a prompt?

Maybe the genre of prompt is actually like swimming a true mile (anyone?), as in tougher-than-I-fucking-thought?

Well, fuck. And you. And You try. One sentence, please.

Can I get a non-cliche prompt?

I do not want 1. Which god are you? 2. You drank a milkshake and feel weird. 3. Knock, knock. What was that?

Anything else is cool.

Add your writing prompt (this might appear later in a textbook. And I’m the type of person to pay you .00002 % royalty as opposed to those bastards stealing your idea at 0001%, ha, ha [no, seriously, ha, ha]).

Uh. The point is write ONE sentence as a writing prompt. Let’s see it.

Behind the Scenes & Random / 92 Comments
April 21st, 2010 / 6:57 pm

Writing Prompt: Holy Shit! CHUD Penguins!

Graham Racher

Nicholson Baker wrote a horror story about potatoes. Penguins live in the sewers of Cape Town, South Africa.

Potatoes are a part of the family of plants sometimes called the nightshades. People refer to penguins as “nature’s clowns.”

Craft Notes / 6 Comments
April 14th, 2010 / 1:06 pm

Writing Prompt: Atonality

(With this writing prompt, I have provided a badge. When you have completed the prompt, feel free to print out the badge and pin it to your jacket. Or maybe shrink it and turn it into a 1″ button to put on a sweater. Or maybe print it on that iron-on transfer paper and put it on a shirt. Because, good for you! You’ve done a thing someone on the internet told you to do. Good for you!)

I’ve been listening to this album by a local band called Friends & Family. It’s free to download. It features a guy singing, sometimes atonally, over samples of easy listening records. I like it.

Here’s what I want you to do: take a familiar story theme. Oh, maybe a love story. Oh, maybe a scary story. Oh, maybe a coming of age story. Oh, something.

Write a familiar kind of story. But write it in the wrong tone. Write a love story in a scary tone. Write a tragic coming of age story in a comedic tone. Write a story about an epic—and completely comic—series of coincidences, but write it in an academic tone.

Write something in the wrong tone, as if you are the sort of person who can’t make accurate judgments about appropriate tone.

And then print the badge.


Craft Notes / 4 Comments
March 4th, 2010 / 9:17 pm

Writing/Editing Prompt: Vitiligo

Turns out, Michael Jackson really did have vitiligo. All this time, I’ve assumed—like so many others—that he was bleaching out his skin to look whiter. (Which belief now has me questioning myself pretty seriously. So I’m under the impression one of the richest black entertainers in the world was, when given the resources to fulfill his deepest yearnings, at the very core of his being he found that he wanted most of all to look like me? How’s that for arrogance.)

Anyway, as a kind of tribute to the guy, let’s subject some of our writing to a little vitiligo, shall we? Much like Mary Ruefle (oh, God. Mary Ruefle!) did with her book A Little White Shadow, take a printed page (or two, or three, or 60) and go at it with the white out. But use your own writing—not the writing of some other person. Infect your own work with vitiligo as a way of apologizing for never believing that Michael Jackson had vitiligo.

Remember: vitiligo spreads from a single point. It grow. Start at a single word and move around to surrounding words. Be deliberate, though, so some kind of meaning remains. (Note that I say some kind of meaning. Feel free to define that however you want. Feel free to consult this Poetry Foundation article by Ross Simonini.)

For ADVANCED students: spread your white spots without paying to what you are vanishing. Just make stuff go away. And then, as Michael Jackson did, go right ahead and perform some plastic surgery on what’s left over in order to find a new story in the wreckage of the old. Shaves some letters off the words. Add some letters to the words. Pull some letters from one word and give them to another. Make up some words and add them to the piece of writing. Take some words from the dictionary and add them to the piece in a place that makes the piece look nice. (That is, use the skeleton of the old work to write something new. Maybe keep the skeleton in place, though. You don’t want the body to fall into a heap.)


Craft Notes / 4 Comments
February 10th, 2010 / 5:47 pm

EPidemIC Poetry, a modified Exquisite Corpse

Take a poem or very short prose piece you really like and send it to a small number of poet/prose writing friends. Let’s say five. Send along this message:

“This is the spreading of an infection. Read this piece of writing. Become infected by it. Respond to it with a piece of writing that includes a line or a phrase from it. Send the results to the author of this piece of writing. (If you do not have time to do so, you have resisted the infection. Thank your immune system.) Also, send the results to five more people and infect them. Send this message along with it. When you receive the results, return them all to the person who started the infection.

“This infection began with _____.” (Fill this in only if you are the first person to start the infection.

Collect the results. See how the infection has spread. See how the virus has mutated.

At some point, tell us how it went.

Craft Notes / 2 Comments
January 27th, 2010 / 6:44 pm