"I don't give prompts. The world is your prompt!"
So said the accomplished poet leading a writing workshop I was in several years ago.
And I thought, "Yes, yes! Real writers don't need to be told what to write. I am an artiste! The world is my prompt!"
And then I realized that I've routinely found myself wondering what to write about, worrying that I'm not a real writer after all. Phooey.
Whatever shall I do if the world is not enough?
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I have writer friends who love prompts with pure, unadulterated hearts. They have always nudged me toward them, gently but firmly, trying to convince me that a good prompt is better than the whole wide world, because a good prompt gives you a focus and a way in.
But I thought that I hated prompts.
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You know what I really hate? The blank page. The blank, ever-so-white, mocking-me-with-its-clean-emptiness, no-words page.
When I was a teenager I wrote a poem called "A Bright White Room is Hell." I didn't intend it as a metaphor for the blank page, but I think I'd like to intend that now.
But give me a page with my own messy thoughts and I can breathe a little more easily. I have something to hang on to, something to swing around my head. Most days, words—any words—are better than a blank page.
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That same workshop leader who insisted that the world is our prompt eventually conceded and gave us just one little bit of direction. She told us we could choose a color and write about whatever came to mind when we thought of that color.
I chose brown.
I wrote about the first day of first grade when the tip of my big, fat Crayola snapped off and left with me a pointless tree stump of a crayon. My teacher was a kind lady, but she wouldn't give me a new one. I cried during the walk home with my mother, grieving my broken crayon, trying to make sense of this introduction to loss. Years later, that teacher, still a youngish woman, died of cancer. I began to think (while writing about "brown") how little things and big things can go wrong unexpectedly, and how there's not always a do-over or a replacement waiting in the wings, even if someone is kind.
All of that from brown.
Brown was my way in.
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So here's the thing: The world is enough. But the world is overwhelming. And sometimes we're tired. Sometimes our creative mojonators slow down and we need help to crank things back up.
I think of prompts this way: I know how to cook without a recipe. But sometimes I run out of ideas or get bored, and then I like to read cookbooks and websites for yummy ideas that I can follow verbatim or tweak to my liking.
There is no shame in wanting, needing, using creative prompts. I still resist them, but that's because
I'm stubborn and silly. Even so, I am now a prompt convert. I believe in them. If nothing else, they can get us unstuck, get us writing, get some messy words on that blank page so we can swing them around later. If nothing else, prompts can be practice. And when I say practice, I mean as a musician practices scales and as a Buddhist practices meditation.
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Some days the world is enough. Other days, I need a little help finding the right piece of the world to write about. And I'm cool with that.
I've discovered that I like a certain kind of prompt. I like ones that are open-ended enough to let me jump from the color brown to first grade to death (so to speak). I don't love the ones that are overly prescriptive and tell me to write a sci-fi story about robot toasters that come to life (for example). That's a bit too much of a way in, and I don't really want to go there anyway.
So I created a batch of writing prompts that I'd actually want to do, and packaged them up for you, in case you'd like to do them, too.
The Alchemy Daily ebook contains 30 days of writing prompts, inspiration, and magic, available for immediate download. The prompts are fun and accessible, with room for you to go as deep as you want. And there are no robot toasters, I promise. (Unless that's your thing, and then you can write all about them!)
(Why "alchemy"? Alchemy is the "power or process of transforming something common into something special." Something common = words.
Something special = the way you put those words together. stories
Alchemy Daily is about the magical transformations that happen within us and on the page when we allow ourselves to start stringing words together, delighting in language, and giving form to our stories)
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What about you? How do you feel about writing prompts?