Writing Prompts for August, 2015

Like a good Canadian, I’ll begin with the weather. Wow, has it been  hot!

And now for the writing.

I’ve been working on a couple of things: one, a journal with writing prompts to guide writers toward a daily writing habit (draft cover below); and two, the last of my business communications books focusing on improving grammar and writing skills. They are both at the ‘nearly there’ stage, so fingers crossed they’re both on Amazon by the end of next week.

I’ve had a good think about my writing. I realized that in my head I’ve been splitting my writing into two categories—non-fiction and joywriting (fiction.) I believed that I had to get the non-fiction finished in order to reward myself with the fiction, as if one was work and the other was pleasure. Well, that thinking was just plain wrong.

I get a lot of joy out of writing and publishing non-fiction. I love that what I do helps people learn to write, or get inspired to write, or helps them become better communicators, or saves teachers from reinventing the wheel when  they have to teach Shakespeare for the first time. So, since this all makes me happy, it is now officially joywriting, too. (Okay, well, sometimes it takes me longer than most to see the light, but at least, I finally made it.)

I hope that August’s writing prompts help you find some joywriting, too.

draft cover for journal

1. Pick one of these groups of random words and use one, some or all of the words in a story or poem.

  • Crown, red, stone, door, blade
  • Flower, wall, blue, eyes, shell
  • Wind, rustle, footsteps, black, shelter

2. Here are some opening sentences to try.

  • The town was shrouded in silence
  • Mary lied.
  • Medicine bottles cluttered the bedside table.
  • Hank loved football—and murder.
  • For a secret code it was pretty lame, but I got the message.
  • The pool was inviting.

3. Maybe one of these titles will inspire a story: Mystery on the Menu, Harry and the Bear, The Mage’s Promise, Half Love, Day’s End, An Ocean View, Yesterday Again, The Convertible

4. Can you imagine a scene to go with one of these short dialogue excerpts?

  • That’s the last one.
  • Are you sure?
  • No, but I sure am hoping.


  • Are you sure that belongs to Harry?
  • Yes, I’d know that blood anywhere.


  • I don’t like flying.
  • It’s a bit too late to decide that.
  • I don’t like jumping either.
  • Also, too late.


  • I didn’t know that she liked cats.
  • Is that a problem?
  • Yes. No. Well, maybe.


  • Is Harry home?
  • No,
  • Can you tell me where I can reach him?
  • I can, but I won’t.

5. Where would be your favourite place to sleep—your own bed, a four-poster in a Scottish castle, under the starts, on a ship sailing to a special destination, you choose? Why did you choose this location? Answer this question for your character.

6. NaNoWriMo starts in three months. Are you planning to sign up? It’s never too soon to start thinking, planning, and researching for your writing marathon. Set up a file, buy a new journal, grab some paper and think about the kind of story you want to live with for those crazy 30 days in November. I’m signing up this year, so I’d better start following my own advice. Onward!

Happy Writing!



December 2013 Writing Prompts

New JournalNovember just flew by, and I’m sure December will, too. I’m working on a big freelance gig right now, and there’s the possibility of another project for a children’s publisher before the month is over–lots to keep me busy! I’m determined to find time for joywriting, too, in amongst all the other commitments, though, believe me, I’m not aiming for a high word count. I have a book idea that I’d like to plot out to see if it’s worth pursuing, and I want to go back to journaling every day. That’s my limit.

I hope you find some ways to stay connected to your writing through the holidays. It’s a tough slog getting reacquainted with those writing muscles after they’ve been allowed to be lazy for a long time–and, trust me, I speak from considerable, sad experience. If you need some inspiration to help you fill a journal page this month, maybe some of the following writing prompts will help.

1. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem:

  • holiday, red, flash, tin, tremor, find
  • salt, light, hand, turn, cover, water
  • bag, handle, glass, date, black, walk

2. What is your character’s favourite holiday movie? When and where was your character the first time he or she saw it? Who was your character with? Does the memory make your character happy or sad? Why?

3. See if you can imagine a story to go with one of these titles? Behind the Curtain, Red Mittens, The Centre Closes, Mr. Snow, Dead on Time, The Last Photograph

4. Imagine what might be happening before, during and after these lines of dialogue.

  • Where is it?
  • I left it at school.
  • Then you can’t come with us.
  • We’re done here
  • But we haven’t —
  • I said, we’re done.
  • Have you heard from Gregor?
  • No. We’ve not heard from him for five days?
  • Then, there’s no news of the battle either?
  • No.

5. See if some of these opening lines suggest a story.

  1. “No. You unwrap your present first.”
  2. I yanked out my earbuds. That noise had to be a scream.
  3. Margot always ate her vegetables first.
  4. The smell of smoke lingered long after the blaze had died.
  5. I huddled in the stern as the sea slammed the little boat.
  6. Why was her floor covered in broken glass?

Hope you have a creative and happy month ahead!

June 2013 Writing Prompts

Peonies - My favourite June flower
Peonies – My favourite June flower

I can’t believe it’s June already. We had every kind of weather in May from snow to a heat wave with thunderstorms, high winds and hail in between. I’m hoping that June calms down a little–and not just here, but for those other parts of North America that have already had enough destructive weather to last a lifetime.Here are the writing prompts for June. If you don’t find any of these inspiring, you can find lots to write about at the Writing Prompts tab above, too. Hope you have a creative month!

1. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem.

a) music, heart, fear, jacket, flower, door

b) basket, park, jewel, mirror, thunder, hope

2. Here are some opening lines for your story.

a) Jenny smelled like cookies.

b) It was only 8:30, and already I knew I should have stayed in bed.

c) Red cars are best.

d) The wind moaned in the chimney.

e) Flat tires aren’t funny.

3. Some things I think of when I think of June. Maybe they’ll inspire a story or poem.

weddings, the longest day, summer solstice, “June is busting out all over,” June bride, D-Day, Juno, school’s out, June bug, report cards, graduation, Father’s Day, midsummer, taking off the first hay, fresh mown grass, bird song, gardens, planting, change.

4. Here are some lines of dialogue that you can use to create a story.

a) I’ve had enough

Enough what?

Enough you.

b) I’ve stepped in something

You’re right. Now, keep moving.

What is it?

You don’t want to know.

c) There’s a light flashing.

Don’t worry. It’s only a problem if it’s red.

It’s red.

5. The year is nearly half over. Where are you with the resolutions you made in January? Is it time to make some new ones? Are you making progress? Are New Year’s resolutions just dumb anyways?

Hope you have fun with these prompts and find some joywriting time for yourself in the next 30 days!


March Writing Prompts

Whether March comes in like a lion or a lamb, it’s usually a blustery, unpredictable month. One day teases us with promises of spring in warm breezes and bird calls, and the next (in my part of the world) covers everything with snow and freezing rain. Amid March’s see-saw weather, one constant is the need to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and do some joywriting. Here are some prompts to keep the words flowing this month.

1. March 21st marks the vernal equinox when day and night hours are perfectly balanced. Do you strive for balance in your life? How do you achieve it? How do you cope when the dark overwhelms the light in your life? How would your character answer these questions?

2. Consider words/ideas associated with the words ‘lion’ and ‘lamb’ and see what stories are hiding in them: Lamb Chop, soft, woolly, Mary and the lamb, lamb to the slaughter, MGM’s lion, roaring, fierce, Androcles and the Lion, Africa, Serengeti, pride, hunter, Lion King.

3. Use one, some, or all of these words to spark a story or poem: march, crock, blue, bloom, roof, stone

4. March has two astrological signs: Pisces the fish and Aries the ram. What characteristics are suggested by those two animals? Do they apply to anyone you know? Think about what animals your characters could be. When Laurence Olivier created his role of Richard III, he saw him as a spider.

5. Some opening sentences to play with.

a) Marnie sat in front of her computer, staring at a screen full of photos. “Delete,” she whispered and the screen went blank.

b) The room looked so dull now all the cards were put away.

c) A year had passed and it still hurt to walk in the house and not hear his/her voice.

d) Pat walked ino the library and flicked the light switch. A flash, a hollow pop, and darkness.

Have fun!

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.

A Different Direction

In my fantasy life, I write a wonderful book and a traditional publisher can’t wait to take me by the hand through editing and production and present me with the printed copy that I can see on bookshelves everywhere. And of course, this is followed by the sale of movie rights and the author’s tour with TV and radio and … well, you get the idea. In my fantasy life, this all takes place over a matter of months, but that isn’t the reality. Getting a book from manuscript to the book shelf can take 1-2 years. And in my real life, that follows a year or two writing and editing the book to get ready to put in the envelope in the first place.

I’m just not getting any younger. So getting published by a traditional publisher is a goal/dream that I am going to put aside in favour of a different model for now. Yup. Self-publishing.

I self-published my book, Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens, and really enjoyed the process and writing my promo blurb and choosing the cover. I enjoyed the writing and editing, and I actually enjoy doing the marketing. Luckily, reviews have been good and from sources I’m proud of such as CM Magazine and Canadian Teacher, and  my favourite one from a teen reviewer in What If? Canada’s Creative Magazine for Teens. The book has opened doors to my doing writing workshops with teens at my local library (so much fun!) and this summer at the Southampton Art School (can’t wait!) Last Saturday, I took my workshop “25 Ways to Get Your Students Writing” to the CITE conference at Ridley College. I couldn’t be happier.

If you look at the first two sentences of the previous paragraph, you’ll see the key reason for my decision: the word “enjoy.”  I earn money by writing magazine articles and short stories, website copy, brochures, and lots of other things.  I also teach part-time at my local college. I want to keep my “other writing” as close to joywriting as possible. I’m heading toward non-fiction and I have ideas bubbling away that I can do the market research about and decide whether or not they are worth the risk. I know qualified editors that can help guide my work until it shines and I am willing to put in the time and energy it takes to market my product. I can research my publishing options, costs and benefits. I, frankly, like the idea of being in control of the process and I enjoy (there’s that word again!) doing all that stuff.

Am I closing the door to other options? No. Am I going to find myself 6 months down the road totally obsessing about a novel I just have to write and want to submit to a publisher? Probably. But for now, this is the path I’m choosing. Just for me–and just because it makes me happy.

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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