Thirty days ago I decided I needed a new exercise to get my writing going in the morning. Normally I can sit down in the a.m. and start hammering away, but I just started the third book in my series and a lot of my writing time seems to degenerate into staring-into-space time while I sort out how to get Character A to Point B while picking up Subplot C along the way. I wasn’t getting any actual writing done, and while I didn’t exactly feel blocked, I did feel as if I was getting out of the habit of writing. And that’s no good.
So I decided that every morning I’d write from a prompt and get myself going that way. Now, I have several books of writing prompts – ones that I’ve purchased or that have been given to me – but my tendency is to spend my time flipping through them to find one that I feel like writing about, and ending up writing none of them. Also no good. (I have the same problem with books of crossword puzzles.) So I said to myself, “Self, there are bound to be some good prompts on the Interwebs; go ye and find some, fer cryin’ out loud.”
Turns out there are a lot of websites with writing prompts. None of them really spoke to me. Some were too general; others too specific; still more gave long scenarios that weren’t interesting. At last I found WritersWrite, which has a lot of prompts geared toward writers with works in progress. Even better, they give just a single prompt per day – no choosing. I told myself that for one month, I would visit the site and read the Daily Prompt. I would set myself a time limit, anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. And then I would write.
I confess that I didn’t do the prompt exercise every single day. I couldn’t get myself into the habit at first. Some days I was too busy with life and other things. Some days I read the prompt and came up dry. Some days I plain forgot. And some days (thank God) I was actually writing on my own and didn’t want to interrupt the flow. A lot of what I did write was crap – forced and pompous. Some wasn’t. And some was actually useful. Here’s yesterday’s prompt, and my response to it:
Your antagonist is making tea for his mother. What is he thinking?
Daazna sifted the dried herbs through his fingers, examining the mixture. The tea was a combination of many mundane plants, but there were a few – a very few – that, consumed by themselves or in simple combinations, could have interesting effects. Valerian, he thought; that might do the trick. Perhaps with a little pennyroyal. A bit of dried mushroom. I could do whatever I wanted.
With the crumbled herbs poised over the pot, he hesitated. Or I could use none at all. I don’t need herbs. I have the spells to do what I want. I have that power. If I wanted to. Do I want to?
He glanced at Ariphele. She was gazing into the fire, her chin propped on one fist. His grandparents sat at the table with their backs to him, to their daughter. The two of them against the two of us, he thought. It’s always been the two of them against the two of us. A slight movement caught his eye; his mother had shifted position and was looking at him now. A little smile tightened her mouth, and he wondered, as he often did, if she could read his thoughts.
“Grandmother,” he said aloud. “Grandfather. Would you like some tea?”
The nice thing about this prompt is that it allowed me to write a little backstory on my series’ antagonist as well as his mother Ariphele, who is an important character in Book 1 and Book 2.
It’s only been in the last two weeks that writing from the prompts has begun to feel more natural, so I think I’ll continue the exercise. It may be tough to do for a while – my theatrical schedule is very full for the next thirty days – but I’m going to give it the old college try. About a week ago I stumbled across (literally; I was using StumbleUpon) another writing prompt website. Oneword is another daily prompt site, but it’s a 60-second, single-word prompt, which makes it a quick challenge – more like a game. Today’s word was neon and here’s what I wrote in the allotted minute:
Blue, yellow, red, green. Blue yellow red green. Blueyellowredgreen. The neon lights flickered in their endless pattern through her hotel window. Bet lay quiet, hoping the man next to her would not wake up.
I don’t know where this came from, nor if it could lead somewhere else one day, but I got a kick out of writing it. I’ll keep visiting this website, too, because no matter how busy my life becomes, I know I can always spare sixty seconds.