Sunday, February 5, 2012

Prompts and Exercises

Prompt: 80's Prom Queen
How do you feel about prompts? Do you enjoy it when someone gives you a prompt, like, "Sunburn!" Can you run with it? Would you paint your little heart out if someone told you, "I want you to think about the movement of a hurricane with this next piece". Or are you prompted by thoughts or sights in your daily life? Let's say you've been thinking about the word "gelatinous" for a week now. Do you decide to sit down and write it? How do you feel about books dedicated to prompts or helpful kicks in the creative juice producing gland?

I've been reading Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway - a book I had to buy for a creative writing class in college, a book I sold after the class to get money for whatever it was I needed at the time, and a book I then bought again a year after the class because it was, really, helpful.

Prompt: A Fortune Teller Machine
That Has A New Hat Every Day
The author not only goes through the fiction writing process (the difficulties, the challenges, the stress, the rewards, the love) but lays out "writing exercises" at the end of each chapter. One such exercise is to keep a daily journal. Another exercise is to figure out when/where/how you write best. Another exercise is to "write a scene in which a character is accused of something he or she didn't do."

I really enjoy doing writing exercises that don't include "prompts" where I am instructed to write about a specific thing. I feel like I try to force something or that it's not going to be right. But I do them anyway. And then, surprise, it's pretty good. Not that I would show you the rough draft, but it's pretty good, trust me. Mostly what I like about prompts is that a prompt leads me to think about something else, which leads me to write something completely different from when I started. Which then leads to a story that I'm proud to call mine.

Prompt: A Person Whose Face You
Never See
There are also places other than books where I find the best prompts. People watching. I love to take a notebook to a coffee shop or a book store or airport or some waiting area and jot about the people, characters, personalities, that are prompted right before me. What these people are doing and who they may actually be in reality are completely different than who and what I write, but they have served a Magical and wonderful purpose: they are a living prompt.

What do you do to kick start your creativity? How do you use prompts? Where do you find prompts: in books or in people? What do you look for in a prompt? Does it have to be a word, a direction, or a scene? How would you feel about a weekly Fantastic Spatula Prompt? 

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