Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

A side door to your mind

Filed in Memoir, Stories, Writing :: February 16, 2011

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Here’s how Abigail Thomas thinks about writing prompts: “[O]nce in a while, if we’re lucky, an assignment helps you find the side door into a story you’ve been staring too directly in the eye.”

For the past four weeks, I’ve been teaching a writing workshop at the Community Center in my neighborhood, and as part of encouraging everyone to write every day, I’ve been emailing prompts to the class every morning.

The recipients of my prompts have told me when they liked them, and told me when they haven’t so much.   We’ve read some of their prompt-based writing in class, discovering the vastly different pieces that can come from the same kernel of an idea.

When I’ve been at a loss for a prompt, I’ve taken prompts from the experts of the genre: Thomas, Natalie Goldberg, Pat Schneider.  Increasingly, though, I’ve written my own.

For my own writing, the prompts have become a side door to the side door that Thomas describes.   Writing them daily forces me to distill my thoughts, preoccupations, concerns, and whims into a few sentences with a writing goal as the endgame.  The act of writing a prompt often leads me to somewhere I need to go in the process of memoir revision that I’m in right now.

Tonight will be the last meeting of this five-week session.  We’ll take next Wednesday off, and then start again on March 2.  But I’m not going to stop the prompts–I like writing them too much.

I’ll be posting them here every morning.  If you like them, if you find them a side door that gives you access to rooms you want to enter, please consider subscribing via RSS or a reader or email (click on the Subscribe tab in the right hand corner of this page).

Here’s the prompt for today:

Think of a word that you would never use in conversation, polite or otherwise, one that makes you cringe when you hear or read it, one that has a strong negative charge.

Then write for two pages, and even if part of the writing concerns why you have such an aversion to the word, push yourself to use it, to explore its nuances, to see what power it might hold for those who use it or avoid it.  Create a character for whom “the word” is a part of normal speech.  Or maybe let the word speak for itself.