prompt: verb. assist or encourage (a hesitating speaker) to say something
American author Jonah Lehrer once said, “Creativity is a spark. It can be excruciating when we’re rubbing two rocks together and getting nothing. And it can be intensely satisfying when the flame catches and a new idea sweeps around the world.” Even the most accomplished writers, authors, and creative minds need an occasional nudge when attempting to generate new work. Prompts work especially well as they give the writer license to play, to experiment, and provide a mechanism for transcending writer’s block.
To overcome my own current state of ‘stuck,’ I enlisted the help of writing professors and cohorts at Hamline. Deborah Keenan, Jenniey Tallman, and Katrina Vandenberg offered their tried-and-true writing prompts which they themselves have used and continue to use when creative gridlock leaves the page blank. So, grab a pencil and piece of paper and let’s get started!
The first prompt is from Deborah Keenan: http://deborahkeenan.com/
“Know that your piece of writing can only have three seasons. Know that it must have only one creature. Know that an important elder in your life is going to say one sentence, only, in this piece. Know that you must write from a landscape you know very well. Know that you can only use one color despite the fact you may be deep in reverie about three seasons. Know that the first draft is in the lyric ‘I’ voice, but that the piece must immediately be rewritten in third person. Know that you may not need a plot, but a narrative will be helpful, and a kind of atmosphere must be created for the reader to live inside of as they read.”
Now for a different sort of prompt, requiring your scissors and glue, here is Word Scramble from Jenniey Tallman:
- Begin with a quote. Flip through a magazine and find one; cut it out.
- Cut the quote into lines.
- Cut each line into words.
- Scramble the words. Play with the words.
- Create poems: do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by sense-making. Go with the flow. Let your language get blown apart.
- Arrange your words on the page and glue them down. See if you can use every single word and make no more than three poems.
And finally, from our own Katrina Vandenberg, Executive Editor: http://katrinavandenberg.com
- Take two subjects you’ve been meaning to write poems about.
- Write them on top of the same piece of paper, with a line drawn down the middle between the two.
- Take notes on each subject, on its own half of the page.
- After you’ve done this, giving each subject 5-10 minutes of your time, look at the two lists and ask yourself: is there a metaphor I can force between these two subjects?
“In one fashion or another, the prompt always works, because our minds have evolved to be meaning-making machines. I enjoy doing this because it allows me to be surprised by my own thoughts, and when there’s a surprise for the writer, there’s often a surprise for the reader (as Frost would say). I think the exercise works especially well when at least one of the two subjects is memory-based, because our memories tend to be familiar to us, and forcing a metaphor between some aspect of that memory and the second subject allows me to see familiar thoughts in new ways.”
Katrina reiterates the points which make prompts so effective: they are meant for play, surprise, and maybe even magic, but only if your brain stays out of the equation. I hope one of these prompts—or those found in Deborah’s book From Tiger to Prayer and on Deborah’s or Jenny’s websites (deborahkeenan.com/teacher or jennieytallman.com)—will help you if you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, and perhaps provide inspiration for all areas of your life.
-Special thanks to Deborah Keenan for allowing us to use her collage as our feature image.
Meet the blogger:
DJ HILL is a poet, freelance writer, and photographer. Her work has appeared in The Atrium, Century Times, Fulcrum, Red Flag Poetry, andThe View from Here: Poetry to Help You Soar, as well as Maple Grove, Southwest Metro, St. Croix Valley, and White Bear Lake Magazines.