Writing Prompts for January 2017

Writing Prompts for January 2017
Reflections at the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.

I considered reflecting on the events of 2016, but frankly, there’s lots you really don’t want to know–honest. The above photo is from a family holiday that included visiting Seattle, WA and Victoria, BC. I have great memories of explorations in galleries, museums, rain forests and mountains–and quiet family times of reading while the sun set. I’m very grateful for that time with my family and for every morning that I wake up and know  that I’m another day further into my life after last year’s cancer surgery–and feeling gratitude is not a bad way to start a new year.

But what will 2017 hold? I don’t know, but over the last couple of days I reread Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and I was reminded to “share whatever you are driven to share.” I write lots of non-fiction about writing. I enjoy it, and I’m going to keep doing it. I love motivating people to write. This year, I’m going to seek out other ways to reach new writers and help them share what they “are driven to share.” And if I find myself worrying about whether or not to take a risk, I’m going to remember this, too: “Hey, why not? Because it’s all just temporary.” Exactly, Elizabeth.

I hope that you have a 2017 filled with peace, and love, and creativity, too. To get you started on your creative goals for 2017, here are your writing prompts for January.

Use one, some, or all of the words in the following lists to inspire a story or poem:

  • Slide, column, eye, remember, red, hidden
  • Glass, case, door, fear, run, seal, black
  • Escape, tunnel, race, battle, freedom, star
  • Beam, rescue patience, delay, moment, revenge

Here are some titles that might suggest a story or two: Rate of Decay, Last Chance, Brother Why?, Indefinitely, A New Year’s Resolution, The Captain’s Son, Battle Stations, Just a Step Away, Love on New Year’s Eve, Holiday, Seeing in the Dark.

Try one of the following opening lines to start a story.

  • Most people have a party or, at least, drink a toast with Anderson and Kathy on New Year’s Eve. Instead, I open my back door, a stray cat walks in, and an hour later I have a cat, four kittens and an old college sweat shirt that I will never wear again.
  • The last time I saw Harry, he had that same dumb grin.
  • Saying goodbye is never easy.
  • If they could hear my heartbeats, I’d be found in about 30 seconds.
  • Nothing made a castle colder than three days of uninterrupted rain.
  • His cloak smelled of wood smoke and rain.
  • Security! Report to Deck 9!
  • I still haven’t told my family that I was fired.
  • Helen always knew the wrong thing to say.

Here are a few snippets of dialogue. Can you write a scene using one of them?

  • When was the last time you talked to Henry?
  • This morning.
  • Then, he told you.
  • Yes.
  • Do you want to get caught?
  • No.
  • Then keep up!
  • I thought you weren’t coming back.
  • I have something to say to you.
  • Then say it.
  • I’m getting cold.
  • Just a little bit further.
  • Promise?
  • Promise.
  • So, another hour?
  • At least.

Happy New Year and may 2017 hold only good things for you!

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

I’ve found the perfect way to bring my writing to a complete halt. Lose confidence.

It was the right time to hear the right words.
It was the right time to hear the right words.

I was working on the sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl, and I was about half way through the first draft when the gloom began. I started worrying about the first book. Was it really any good? Am I wasting my time writing another?  And of course, those questions led to … Is anything that I’ve ever written any good? Can I even call myself a writer? Where is the chocolate? Is it time for a nap?

Yeah, well, you get the idea.

So, last week I passed the manuscript along to a friend who has children the same ages for which the book was written. Her son “liked it a lot.” She said a couple of other nice things, too, but I was so thrilled to read just those four words, I didn’t really need any more.  A child liked my book. Wow. Could it get any better? Not for me. Not right now.

I’ve been working on some paid gigs this week, but this afternoon is set aside to get back to the manuscript. I hope that you find some creative time today, too, and that the right person at exactly the right time says that they like what you wrote.


Delaying Tactics

What do you do instead of writing? I don’t mean the things that stop you from finding the time to write, but the things that you do to avoid hitting the keyboard when you actually do have the time.

I’m one of those people that really dreads the blank page. I’m fine once I get started, but beginning something new is a struggle for me. In my head, I know that I’m only writing, in Anne Lamott’s words, a ‘shitty first draft’ (Bird by Bird). I know that every word that hits the page the first time through does not have the right to sprout roots and stay put and that changes will be made later. In fact, I really enjoy editing. However, all that ‘knowing’ does not help the fact that I would rather clean my bathroom than start typing those first words–or put in a load of laundry–or organize my files, or my bookcase, or the top of my desk–all things that normally are regularly on the bottom of my to-do list. On the plus side, starting a new project usually coincides with a much tidier office.

Now, obviously I do get started, or I wouldn’t be much of a writer, but if anyone has some tips for short-circuiting my initial plunge into a story, I’d love to hear them. And now, I’m going to pick up my story where I left off yesterday and get some work done.

Getting it “Done”

This isn’t an original idea, but if you have a goal you want to reach, it’s an idea that works. I got it from an article in The Writer Magazine a few years ago. In the article a writer said that members of her writing group sent emails to each other with “done” in the subject line when they had completed their writing goals for the day.

This is such a simple idea, but I can speak from experience that it is effective. Right now I’m working with a small group of writers and we’re sending out “dones’ every day. The first time we did this our goals were all writing goals. This time we’ve expanded our “done’ to encompass whatever individual goal a person chooses. We’re going to work on our goals for a month and then share what our goals were in August.

So, if you have something you want to do every day–exercise, write 500 words, read War and Peace–find a group of people to exchange emails with daily and you will be on your way to achieving your goal.

Do you have any great goal-reaching tips? I’d love to hear what they are!

What’s Your Favourite Short Story?

I’m starting to write a short story that, I hope, will be one of several. I haven’t read any short stories for a long time, except for mystery stories in The Strand Magazine  and some Sherlock Holmes stories on my Kobo.  I think I should do something about that.

Do you have a favourite short story? What is it? A favourite author? What makes this writer’s stories exceptional?

I look forward to hearing your suggestions.

To Every Thing There is a Season

The official declaration of summer a couple of days ago made me think of the quote that is in the title. Winter was a challenging and sad season for our family, followed by a dreary spring and a wet, cold May that seemed to last far longer than its allotted 31 days. Finally, the sun is shining; more than my weeds seem to be thriving, and it’s summer!

And the sun seems to be shining on my creative life, too. A short email led to my pitching a textbook idea. I finished editing one of my historical romances; the cover is designed, and I’m that much closer to my first ebook. I got two emails last week with offers of writing work. And story ideas are no longer strangers. What took so long?

Healing took so long. Work didn’t come because I couldn’t have handled it well if it did. I needed time to get over a wretched winter, to hunker down with tea and romance novels, to pick up the knitting needles and crochet hook, so I could be whole again and able to do my best work.

Kristi Holl in More Writer’s First Aid – Getting the Writing Done, says it this way: “After prolonged stress, we often are no longer able to unwind. To create, we need a relaxed, ‘loosened’ state of mind … The final task is to coax your creativity out of hiding. It’s not really gone–just merely in hibernation. Often it’s only a matter of changing course, being creative in another area of your life for a time … Each person’s choice will be different.” For Kristi the choice was gardening and quilting–small, “no pressure” projects. For me it was knitting and returning to read some favourite novels.

What do you do to get your creativity out of hibernation?

New Neighbours Part II

Well, the eggs have hatched and there are a lot of worm deliveries being made to my front porch. Fortunately for the robins, the weather has been very wet here for weeks, so the soil is perfect for finding good things to eat for their young ones. The hatchlings have grown so fast. I took this photo yesterday. Last Thursday, they hardly had any feathers and seemed about half this size. Boy did they change quickly!

Things have been changing for me, too, recently. I’ve got my joywriting back and am finally in a place where part of my mind is always occupied with stories and projects. This has been a long time coming, and I had missed it.

I had the pleasure of going to a book signing and reading on the weekend by Susanna Kearsley at her home town library in Port Elgin. She took part in an interview followed by the 10 questions that James Lipton always asks on The Actor’s Studio. It was a great afternoon. She talked about how lucky she was that she got to work in her “happy place’ every day. I’m feel like I’m finally doing the same. My brain is full of writerly things and I can’t wait to get in front of a blank screen or an empty piece of paper.

One reason for this is that I’ve gone back to thinking about and reading good old fashioned romance. It has been the most fabulous escape and a great bringer down of shoulders. I found books by Debbie Macomber that centre around a yarn store, so I’ve been able to add my love of knitting into the mix, too. I reread a historical romance that I completed years ago and am in the process of editing that for an ebook. I’m also writing short stories that I will add to some I have already written for an anthology; they will also become an ebook. I’ve designed a book cover, I’m working on a website, and seeing story ideas everywhere.

Yes, the joywriting is back.

More Writer’s First Aid–A Must-Own Book for Busy Writers

Kristi Holl’s More Writer’s First Aid: Getting the Writing Done is the perfect resource for writers who want to carve a writing career out of a life that seems already full of family, work, and just the “stuff” of living. I printed my PDF review copy, because I read better that way. I used sticky notes to highlight the parts that stood out and that I could mention in this review. I ran out of sticky notes. There were gems in almost every chapter.

This is a book that gives you permission to be human—to be confused, frightened, crazy-busy, in pain, and a first class procrastinator. Kristi offers accessible solutions to the challenges of a writer’s life without being trite or condescending. She writes with a voice that has “been there, done that” and has sought solutions in the work of other writers as well as from her own instincts. She shares her solutions and the struggles to find them and make them work, without a smidge of “holier than thou.” She speaks as a fellow traveller and survivor who has worn all of life’s hats, along with that of writer. Reading the book is like having a special writer friend give you a hug and a nod of complete understanding—just when you need it.

This is not a how-to-write guide. There are no tricks for writing great dialogue or creating a compelling story arc. Chapters are grouped under these headings:  ENJOYING THE WRITING LIFE—EVERY DAY!, WRITING HABITS THAT HELP YOU, A WRITER’S EMOTIONS, FAMILY MATTERS. She deals with the hard stuff. How to work after a loss, while working the day job and juggling family, when serious illness hits you or a family member. And the practical: how to stop procrastinating, the realities of finding writing time—and equally essential—thinking time, in a life full of demands on your time and attention.

I’ve read a lot of books about writing over the years. (I even wrote one!) Only three have made my annual reread list. Now there are four!

Blogger KRISTI HOLL is the author of 39 books, including MORE WRITER’S FIRST AID.


On Reading William Zinsser

Photo by Jamie Anderson published under Creative Commons License

I’m not doing any joywriting at all at the moment– and I’ll spare you the whine about that situation—so instead I’ll share with you what I’m reading.

On the weekend I began the 30th anniversary edition of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. I generally fly through reading material, but this book requires a different speed. Like good chocolate, its contents are rich and meant to be savoured.

Twenty years ago I read an earlier edition of this book, when Zinsser still referred to typewriters and the personal pronoun of choice was always “he.”  I’m a considerably older and more experienced writer and teacher now, and I’m sorry I stayed away so long. I’m only 36 pages in and already I’m underlining sentences and marking pages with sticky notes. I’m also doing a lot of head nodding and muttering things like “soooo right!” and “sooooo true!” and “exactly!” and enjoying every reading moment.

On page 9, Zinsser writes, “Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

I nodded my head at that one, too. He just nailed one reason (and yeah, there are others) why I haven’t done any joywriting lately. I’m quitting before I start. After writing three novels and another few halves, I know how hard the work really is, and there’s a part of me that I can actually hear groan at the thought of going down that road again. Yup. I’m a wuss. But at least I know I’m a wuss.

My sister-in-law’s favourite expression at these moments is: “Suck it up, buttercup!” Well, I’m no buttercup, but I like to call myself a writer, so I’m giving myself two weeks to get my act in gear, carve out some writing time and earn the name “writer.” In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted on my reading of On Writing Well–and hope that, in the meantime, you too are “writing well.”

Photo “Buttercups along the old CN tracks in Kitsilano” from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamieanderson/2568278918/ published under a Creative Commons license

Not A Resolution/Goal Setting/Business Plan Post

I like marketing.

I knew that, when I self-published my book, getting the word out and making sales was going to be my job. And it turns out I enjoy it. It’s like a treasure hunt, trying to find places that will accept the book for review, or tracking down the right person at a school board who might consider adding it to library or classroom shelves. I’ve reached out to teachers, book stores, distribution companies that supply schools and libraries and companies that take book fairs into schools.

Lots of reaching out–not an equal amount of returned interest, of course–but each time I have a success, it’s a nice affirmation of all the work that preceeded it, and it keeps me digging for more opportunities to get the word out. Who knew it would be fun?

And the joywriting? Yes, well, that has definitely taken a back seat while I’ve been wearing my marketing hat. All the “what ifs” that have been ricocheting around my marketing brain have, like little PacMans (PacMen?), chewed up the “what ifs” that used to occupy my story-telling brain, and though I miss the stories, there’s a lot of compensation from getting a good review or seeing a positive rating on Amazon or hearing good things from a reader.

I’m back to teaching next week and ahead are writing workshops for teens that I’m offering at the local library and a workshop presentation at the CITE conference at Ridley College in April. All good. All I will enjoy.

And the joywriting? I haven’t given up. It will come. Marketing is for now; writing is forever.

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