Inspired To Write #1

Today’s journal prompt:

write-deeperOur lives are wide. But are they deep? Listen for the words of artists and writers who have gone before you… those who have carved a path you can follow.

What would they say to you? Get busy? Start now? Finish something?

Inscribe what you hear in the pages of your journal.

What’s next for you this year?

The Well of Creativity


I believe the well of creativity is always full — there for your taking, waiting patiently for you to dip in.  Using writing prompts as mini-assignments gives you the dipper to draw your personal connections from the deep recesses of the well.  If you’re looking for writing inspiration, trust the prompts to trigger fresh possibilities.

Suggested Steps

1.  Read the writing prompts.

2.  Quickly, write down anything that comes to mind for each.  First thoughts… uncensored.  (My recommendation:  a writer’s notebook or journal as a tool you use consistently for recording these first thoughts.  The writer’s journal becomes your personal written archive for more material and personalized writing prompts.)

3.  If one of the prompts spurs you to write more, go for it!  Don’t stall.  The Muse is speaking now!  Don’t let her get away.

4.  Over the next few hours or days, allow the prompts to germinate.  Revisit them daily.  New thoughts may come.  Through your reticular activating system (RAS) the prompts will attract new material for you.  Allow the prompts to inspire your daily writing practice in unforeseen ways.

5.  Find a quiet place (or if you prefer raucous, then turn on the stereo, way up loud).  Practice a combination of:  Breathing – Stillness – Listening.

6.  Move.  Go for a walk.  Practice yoga.  Leave your desk.  Sit in a comfy chair.  Go out on the porch.  Take a drive.  It’s often here where you’ll “hear” fresh ideas too.

7.  Write.  Write.  Write.  Return to the prompts and to your initial thoughts.  Set a mini-goal to write 500 words on a selected prompt.  Then another…  Keep writing as long as you are inspired.

8.  Add to, refine and polish those that seem to have promise for “product pieces.”

9.  Trust the process.

10.  Make writing for practice, for process, or for product a priority for every day.

11.  Enjoy the journey!

Freewriting – Process vs. Product


CoffeePaperPenThe concept of freewriting is to allow your words to flow onto the page, uncensored.  Read a prompt, put pen to page, and write.  Don’t stop to think… just write what comes to mind based on the prompt.  Allow whomever you draw your creativity from (the Universe, your Muse, God) to speak to you.  Use the prompt to conjure up sensory details from all 6 senses (see, smell, touch, hear, taste and “feel” emotional connections). Be spontaneous, expansive, and fluid.  Write first thoughts.  Freudian slips are okay, even welcomed, as they often take us where we really need to go.

Writing Prompts (or Assignments)

Writing prompts are intended to trigger your mental archive.  Use them as a springboard from your personal experience into writing.  All of us carry around images, emotions, and feelings that connect to past experiences, current situations, and future dreams.  Allow the prompt to “inform” your writing, but not “define” it.  The prompt may tell you to write something a certain way, but what comes to mind for you is something different.  Great!  Fine!  Write what your creative spirit tells you to write.  Anything you write is wonderful-neither good nor bad, it just is.

Allow yourself to be surprised.  Use the prompt to draw out your creative spirit and allow her writing to show up on the page in whatever form you choose.  Welcome short bursts-small pieces of 100 words, for example, can always grow into big pieces too.  Just get something, anything, written down.

Prompts as Writing Practice

I believe there are two kinds of writing:  writing for process and writing for product.  While the two go hand in hand, I believe what comes first is writing for process.

Consider:  where do you get the seeds for a new piece of writing?  how do you get from a series of thoughts to a fully polished piece that’s ready to send to a publisher?

In my experience, working with prompts and writing practice is a natural stepping stone on the path to publishable material.  Our first step is to write based on inspiration triggered by a prompt, allowing our writing to flow with personalized intention.

I call this “writing for process.”  You may not be able to see where this piece of writing is going, but what you’re doing is tapping into your mental and experiential archive.  You’re getting thoughts and ideas down on paper.  You’re strengthening your writing muscle.  You’re acknowledging your writing voice and personal style.

I believe as writers we need to collect a good sampling of these “writing for process” pieces.  They are the springboards for larger projects and help point us in directions we may not have seen or acknowledged before.

Once you have a collection of “process pieces” you can then begin to shape for publication the ones that interest you.  Here’s where your “process pieces” turn into “product pieces.”  These “product pieces” become the writings that you actively “work on” and polish.  With the “product pieces,” you begin to look for suitable markets, honing and refining to publisher guidelines.

In order to get your writing practice started, or to stimulate your creativity further, I invite you to get a free copy of my ebook “99 Ways to Jumpstart Your Creative Writing.”

Frank McCourt, A Teacher’s Brush with The Teacher Man

Frank McCourt in 2007 at Housing Works bookstore in New York City (photo courtesy David Shankbone)

Frank McCourt in 2007 at Housing Works bookstore in New York City (photo courtesy David Shankbone)

Things are a little grayer all over the world today with the passing of author Frank McCourt, on Sunday, July 19, 2009.  Angela’s Ashes, published in 1996, and the first in a series of memoirs written by McCourt, probably did more than anything in the past two decades to create the heightened desire in writers to preserve and craft their own personal stories. During his years as a classroom teacher in the New York public school system, he “always told his writing students that they were their own best material.” Toward the end of his teaching career and into retirement, he took his own best advice and penned Angela’s Ashes and two subsequent memoirs: ‘Tis: A Memoir, and Teacher Man.

The people who read and enjoyed his books were common folks just like most of us. Some were better off but knew someone–perhaps a neighbor, or their child’s teacher, or their grandparents—who had come from a hard-scrabble upbringing and had a story to tell. Suddenly, everyone wanted to capture their own lives on the page, whether to publish like McCourt had, or to simply create a legacy in words to leave behind for their progeny.

McCourt achieved one of publishing’s highest accolades when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. But he never lost his humble bearings.

I met him, shook his hand and had an opportunity to speak to Mr. McCourt briefly during the 2001 Florida Suncoast Writers Conference. A gentle teacher man, the same age as my father, he had just presented the opening keynote at the conference. He took my hand, turned it over, and said, “I bet you’re a teacher.” I was taken aback, for indeed I was. In fact, I had just started teaching memoir writing courses the semester before at the University of South Florida.

Because of the resurgence in personal storytelling McCourt had spawned, I’d switched from teaching business writing to creative nonfiction writing classes so I could read stories, like McCourt’s, for a living, and help writers write, and perhaps publish, the books of their dreams.

And I shared that with him. He never broke eye contact, and I locked on him, too, reveling in this brief moment with a mentor, a literary icon.

In his characteristic Irish-laden brogue, he thanked me for carrying on something he started “as kind of a bother.”

He winked, then said, “You know, I sometimes still prefer teaching.  Writing is kinda fun, but on the bad days, it can get you down, ya know?”

I agree, both writing and teaching have their flip sides: good days and bad days, great days and blah days.   Whether we’re the student or teaching from the other side of the desk, both are integral parts of the journey to publishing.  The writer’s life is (or ought to be) a lifelong act of learning and figuring things out, as Frank McCourt’s memoirs attest.

What remains a mystery to me is how the iconic Teacher Man figured out I was a teacher by simply taking my hand in his.

Related articles:

In tribute to Frank McCourt, Whose Irish Childhood Illuminated His Prose, Dead at 78

Frank McCourt from photographer David Shankbone’s perspective

Make Time To Write

1. Set an intention to write. Make it a priority, a gift you give yourself in a container of time for each week.

2. Establish a schedule. Find the time that works best for you, a.m. or p.m. or in between. Just showing up is important. Many successful writers keep an appointment with themselves and write at the same time every day.

3. Use “scrap” time–any little scrap of time will do. Perhaps, your lunch hour, or 20 minutes right after work, an hour before going to bed, early in the morning, while waiting to pick up Suzy from dance lessons or Johnny from soccer.

4. Set a goal for a minimum amount of writing you’ll do each week (ie. # of words, # of pages, # of vignettes started).

5. Get away from distractions. Set aside a place especially for your writing.  Create a writer’s nook or space for writing. OR, go to a place that works for you: the library, Starbucks, a bookstore, perhaps a park where you feel inspired.

6. Ask for what you need from others. When you need time and space, ask for it. Set new boundaries with yourself and others to create the time and space you need.

7. Stop doing those things that don’t serve your writing: watching TV, surfing the internet, playing computer games, solitaire or poker (I know, I’m a drag!)

8. Practice. Practice. Practice. You are creating a habit. Like exercise, establish your personal routine, a routine that works for you. Find your rhythm.

9. Find a writing partner who will act as a sounding board, reader, and friend, someone who will support your writing practice.

10. Reward your successes with new writing tools: pens, notebooks, how-to books, and the like when you’ve met your weekly targets.