Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Category Archive: Writing Prompt

  1. One Story

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    Sarah Payne is the exhausted writing teacher in Elizabeth Strout’s novel My Name Is Lucy Barton.

    Strout’s narrator says, “…recording this now I think of something Sarah Payne had said at the writing class in Arizona.  ‘You will have only one story,’ she had said. ‘You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.'”

    What is the one story you will always be telling?


  2. Freedom To Wear the Hat


    I’ve been writing a series of freedom-centered writing prompts, and I want to share some of them here.

    Here’s the first one:

    In ancient Rome, slaves who were to be freed were given a hat called a pileus during a ceremony of emancipation. Reading that, I thought, “why would they want to wear a special hat–couldn’t they want to look ‘normal’ and hatless, not showing that they had ever been enslaved at all?

    I caught myself. Isn’t that the same thing as asking why we can’t “pass” as someone who’s never experienced abuse or trauma of any kind?

    Most days I can accept, and some days I can even celebrate, who I am because of my experiences. I am proud to wear the hat of a survivor.

    Can you wear your hat? Are you free enough?



  3. I’m back.

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    I didn’t plan a “digital sabbatical,” but a blog break evolved.

    I want to tell you about the Peaces of Prosperity series on Bridget Pilloud’s site.

    My piece will be up later in the month, but here’s today’s Peaces of Prosperity post–including a prompt for your own writing (you know I love a good prompt!).

  4. What we see

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    Tonight in my workshop we described the scene outside our window: a policeman supervised the removal by tow truck of a tar kettle that had, apparently, somehow collided with a streetlight before we arrived.

    Each of us wrote the scene quite differently.

    In The Art of Description, Mark Doty writes, “It’s incomplete to say that description describes consciousness; it’s more like a balance between terms, saying what you see and saying what you see.”

    Did we change the scene by writing it? Did the scene change us?


    In this excerpt from  “Planetarium,” Adrienne Rich writes,

    What we see, we see
    and seeing is changing

    the light that shrivels a mountain
    and leaves a man alive

    Heartbeat of the pulsar
    heart sweating through my body



    The light, a heartbeat, a mountain, the pulsar, a man, my body.

    Or Doty’s balance between the terms.

  5. The Survivors

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    From The New Yorker, December 21, 1957:

    Quite rightly, we remained among the living;
    Managed to hoard our strength; kept our five wits;
    So far as possible, withheld our eyes
    From sights that loosen keystones in the brain.
    We suffered, where we had to, thriftily,
    And wasted nothing on the hopeless causes,
    Foredoomed escapes, symbolic insurrections.

    So it is we, not you, who walk today
    Under the rebuilt city’s raw façades,
    Who sit upon committees of selection
    For the commemorative plaque. Your throats
    Are dumb beneath the plow that must drive on
    To turn the fields of wire to fields of wheat.
    Our speeches turn your names like precious stone,

    Yet we can pay our tax and see the sun.
    What else could we, what else could you, have done?

    –Adrienne Rich

    How do I answer the question of the last line?


  6. Provenance


    A (wonderful) former student read about Colton’s birth and emailed me, mentioning that she loved the “provenance” of his middle name, Atreyu.

    I inferred that she meant its “origin,” but I don’t think I’d ever used the word “provenance” myself in speaking or writing. So I looked it up.

    It does derive from the French provenir, “to come from,” but it refers to a chain of ownership, a subject which has been on my mind,  most often the chain of ownership of a work of art.

    I don’t know about you, but as much as I like to wear beautiful things, I would, given Oscar Wilde’s choices, prefer to be a work of art.

    And if I am a work of art, what is my provenance?

    I’ve passed through my family, my schools, my beliefs, my fears, my husbands, owned by all of them in various ways. I hope the final entry in my personal provenance will be myself.

    What is your provenance?



  7. Ground, Part Two

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    I spend a lot of time up in my head.

    Thinking, thinking, thinking.

    Sometimes I forget that there’s life outside my head, that my head is attached to my body, that I’m sitting on a planet that supports me.

    I start my writing workshops by asking everyone to do what I know I need to do: remember the ground.

    The ground underneath our feet, underneath our chairs.  We sink down into it, taking a few deep breaths, letting go of our busy days.

    Sometimes I give in to the impulse to take off my shoes.


  8. Ground

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    I can fight.  I can fly.

    Or maybe there is a middle way.

    I can be willing to stay in my ground.

    This is not exactly the same as standing my ground, which tends toward “fight” even if it isn’t quite.

    It’s more like sitting, waiting, connecting.

    The ground can be a little messy.

    More tomorrow.





  9. Fight or Flight Pantoum

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    Sometimes you know it’s going to happen.
    We should believe people when they try to tell us who they are.
    I was your girl.
    Oppressiveness of the waiting and the uncertainty.

    We should believe people when they try to tell us who they are.
    If I do not fly I want to fight.
    Oppressiveness of the waiting and the uncertainty.
    Nothing is undone.

    If I do not fly I want to fight.
    I was your girl.
    Nothing is undone.
    Sometimes you know it’s going to happen.

  10. Quilt


    Lately I’ve been choosing a monthly theme for my writing classes.

    December was “home.”

    January has been “using fictional techniques to improve your memoir or creative nonfiction.”

    I asked my faithful, week-in, week-out students last week if there was anything in particular that they wanted to work on in February.

    They said,

    • the basics of first person vs second person vs third person
    • writing in multiple voices
    • what is the next step for all these fragments we create?
    • how do you build a scene?
    • what is narrative arc?
    • how do you build a framework for a piece?
    In other slightly metaphorically stretched words, How do you make a word quilt?

    February will be “Quilt.”

    Jeanne confirmed that a quilt is made of a top layer, the batting (which I called the stuffing), and the backing.

    Every week we will create the top layer of written fragments, beautiful scenes to be stitched together into a more beautiful whole.

    We will start with the backing, or the framework, the narrative arc (Week 1)

    The stuffing is next: persons (Week 2) and voices (Week 3).

    Finally we’ll put it all together (Week 4).

    A quilt: another way to tell, my word for 2012.

    Sometimes it all fits together.