Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prompted to Write

Links for Writers
Every middle- and high-school English teacher knows a good writing prompt spurs fluency on the page. Even students who claim they hate to write will produce three paragraphs if the prompt is interesting/inspiring enough. The challenge, of course, is to devise an assignment that makes students reach for their pens or pencils.

Recently, Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the  memoir WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, gave a group of writers some of her favorite prompts. Make no mistake; writers need good prompts as much as the eleven-year-old who insists he hates school and anything that's not skateboarding. Ever spend half the precious hour you scheduled for writing locked in resistance? (Don't wanna write. Can't. Have nothing to say. Who cares what I think?)

Here are a few of Strayed's prompts:

Write about all the secrets that have been kept from you.
Write about a gift that was not well received.
Write about a time when you’d dressed inappropriately for the occasion.
Write about a question you wished you’d asked.
Write about when you knew something was over (or had begun).
Strayed told the writers she met with to respond in their own voice or that of a character. I don't know about you, but I see character turning points in her prompts.
Find more from Strayed in this blog post from Albert Flynn DeSilver:  Albert Flynn DeSilver » Great Writing Prompts. Thank you Cheryl Strayed! Meanwhile, keep the prompts handy for your don't wanna/can't moments
Writer and editor William Zinsser, author of ON WRITING WELL, is losing is vision to glaucoma, but his editing skills remain sharp, so he listens while students read their drafts to him. “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not,” Mr. Zinsser says. I dare you to say don't wanna/can't after you read about Zinsser. (Anna DeStefano pointed me to the article. Thanks!)

The next two links come from a post I did this past Sunday for the Women's Fiction Writers Association. I repeat them here because they deserve attention.

Want to be a better critique partner and focus on big-picture problems rather than grammar? Becca Puglisi shares the questions she uses as a checklist when reading her critique partners' work. (I found this one via Gene Lempp's Writing Resources blog post) 

Writer Elle Cosimano didn't coin the expression "high stakes plotting," but she explains how to do it

Your turn: How do you break through don't wanna/can't moments? 


Jennette Marie Powell said...

Don't wanna moments are a great time to work on book covers, updating my website, and other non-writing stuff. Sometimes I read! Sometimes it's just a matter of skipping the problematic scene. Half the time when I do that, I find that I didn't need that scene at all. The trick is to not get mired in playing computer games, an all-too-easy trap to fall into.

Lark Howard said...

Love the prompts, Pat. Thanks.

I need a hard kick in the butt to get going when I'm stuck--usually WRITE OR DIE. The only way I seem to break through the fog is to shut down my conscious mind and let my subconscious take over. The results are sometimes startling, but often up my game dramatically.

Anonymous said...

Gee,Pat, this time you left me speechless. Couldn't get past the middle-school or high-school English teacher introduction. God bless the teachers that can handle that - don't think I could do it!

- Patrick

Lynette M Burrows said...

I am a pretty stubborn you-know-what. I usually try to just plow through don't wanna moments and sometimes that works, often it just frustrates me more. Most of the time the reason I don't wanna is that I'm trying to force the plot or the character into doing something that isn't right or is downright stupid. I try to step back and relocate the essentials of the scene or plot. The list from Becca Puglisi is the best, most concise list of questions I've seen for this. Thanks for sharing!

Sheila Seabrook said...

I freeze at writing prompts, Pat, so instead, I read writing books. They always get me going again. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Good tips, Jennette! I like to shift from fiction to this blog or to the Industry news column. I'm writing, but nonfiction doesn't seem like work to me. That's not to say fiction is HARD. It does, however, require me to put myself in a character's shoes, and sometimes those shoes pinch, or they won't stay on my feet.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I love those prompts, too, Lark. I know you're a big fan of Write or Die, a program that DELETES words if a writer doesn't maintain a certain rate of wpm. I get the shivers just thinking about it.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Patrick, it's a flat-out thrill to see a reluctant student-writer put words on a page. That rush compensates teachers for the times we have to point out run-on sentences and verb-tense problems.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lynette! Glad you like the list from Becca Puglisi. You, stubborn? All the best writers are.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sheila! Do you freeze at the prompts or at their delivery during a meeting or workshop? I'm always intimidated when everyone else in a big begins writing immediately. It usually takes me a little time to figure out the prompt and how I'm going to approach it. By the time I start writing, someone's usually waving her hand, volunteering to read her response.

Coleen Patrick said...

Most of the time I can push forward because I don't like to leave things hanging--closure needs and all that. But I also like what Jennette said, nothing like some busy work to make me want to shift back to the creative! By the way, I just read Wild last week--loved it!!