Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Entries in alchemy (8)


My Complicated Relationship with Writing Prompts

"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?

** ** **

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.

** ** **

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.

** ** **

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.

** ** **

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.

** ** **

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)

** ** **

What about you? How do you feel about writing prompts?



Upcoming Writing Courses, Double Alchemy (and possible last call)

This class is amazing, and you are an amazing person and gifted teacher. ~ Ell C., Alchemy participant

Registration is now open for both Alchemy online writing courses. This will be the second time I've run Alchemy Inspiration: Start Writing and the fifth (fifth!) time around for Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing.

I want to let you know: This may be the final time I offer either one as an online course.

I love these courses and believe that they are truly useful in helping people find the sweet spot between writing technique and inspiration. But I feel my energy shifting toward some new projects for next year, and I can't promise that the Alchemy classes will be around again in their current form. This isn't a scare-tactic to get you to register, but rather full disclosure so you know that I might not run them again.

Details about both courses, including a special Double Alchemy discount are below.

Alchemy Inspiration: Start Writing runs September 1-30. This is a 4-week course designed to get you writing -- now! It's perfect for writers (or wish-to-be writers) who haven't written before, or haven't written in a while. In addition to a month filled with inspiration, writing prompts, tips and lessons, and other goodies like videos, guests, and a private online community, you'll also get an ebook of the content to keep. There is no formal feedback in this course because it's all about starting and gaining momentum. (But if you really want some personalized feedback, you can add a mini-mentoring session with me for a reduced rate.) I'm available to all participants during the course to answer questions, provide encouragement, and suggest additional resources. The course, community, and ebook are just $89. Get the full details and registration info.

Thank you for hosting this safe place to come, learn, share, be inspired and not be afraid. Thank you for offering Alchemy and Alchemy Daily. I continue learning ways to weave my words together and hope someday to have a tangible tale upon which to look back. Your teachings here have offered me more eggs to add to my creativity nest. I am excited for what is yet to come. ~ Kristina Wood, Alchemy participant

Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing is a 6-week course, and the next session runs October 15 - November 23. (It wraps up right around U.S. Thanksgiving, so you can be done just in time for the holiday madness goodness.) This course is perfect for writers in the intermediate to intensive stages of their writing life, and for newer writers who have taken Alchemy Inspiration. (Note: You do not have to take Alchemy Inspiration in order to take this course. But if you'd like to take both courses, there's a Double Alchemy discount.) Each week of this course is packed with core and bonus lessons, audio and video extras, a featured guest (with the likes of Brené Brown and Marianne Elliott), nuggets of encouragement, invitations to inspiration, and oodles of writing exercises to use as practice. There's a private online community where you can share your writing and support your fellow Alchemists. You'll also get an ebook of the lessons to keep. Plus, each participant has the option to receive personal feedback on a short piece of writing. This course is the full pot of gold, to use the Alchemy imagery. I created it to share everything I've learned from years of writing and years of grad school. The course, community, feedback, and ebook are $169. Get the full details and register.

Double Alchemy Discount

Double Alchemy! What does it mean? It's like two pots of gold at the end of the "double rainbow!"

What if you're ready to go all-out and register for both courses? Can you get a discount? Yes, you can!

Here's the deal: Some of the content in Alchemy Inspiration is also included in Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing. How much? No more than 40%. This means that at least 60% of the content in the longer course will be brand spankin' new to you if you take both courses. This includes additional topics, new lessons, new writing prompts, different guests, and much more. So... if you'd like to register for both courses, you can save a whopping 40% off of Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing. This brings the price down from $169 to $101. 

So how much for both courses?

Alchemy Inspiration: Start Writing -- $89

Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing -- $169  $101


DOUBLE ALCHEMY -- $258  $190

(You save $68. Or think of it this way: It's like getting Alchemy Inspiration for just $21.)

Register for both Alchemy courses here.

I am still amazed at the sheer amount of amazing (and totally usable/practical/universal) content you provided in Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing. It was so full of goodness. I'm not sure I conveyed how satisfying it was to take part and access your brain for those weeks of writing. ~Meredith Winn, featured Alchemy guest and participant

If you have any questions about either course, please ask. I'd love to see you in one (or both) of these sessions, especially since this may be the last time I offer them.


Alchemy: The backstory

In this video I share a bit of the backstory and details of Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing. Remember, register by this Thursday (September 30) to save $30.

Below are a few of the points I cover in the video.

  • Alchemy is the process of transforming something common into something special. In this case, the something common is words, and the something special is your story.
  • Although the word alchemy is traditionally used to refer to the practice of trying to change base metals into gold, we will not be doing any metallurgy or chemistry in this version of Alchemy. :)
  • I think of writing as a form of alchemy in which we combine the muse with writing techniques to create works of art.
  • During the course, I'll share writing techniques that have helped to improve my writing, but I'll never tell you what you have to do or cannot do. You'll be encouraged to take the techniques and make them your own.
  • Just as a painter can expand her vision and skills by knowing how the tools of her trade work, writers need to know what tools and techniques are available to them.
  • The course runs for six weeks (October 11 - November 21). Participants will have access to the materials and private website through mid-January.
  • Some fabulous guests are going to join us.
  • I hope to see you in the class!

Special Alchemy Sale!

Special deal: Register by September 30 and save $30!

I'm having so much fun building the guest list for Alchemy and packing the course with the juicy bits of inspiration and practical techniques that have had a magical effect on my writing. I can't wait to share all of this with you next month and help you create your own magic.

I've heard from some of you that you're eager to take the course but that your finances are not quite so eager. I understand. So I'm offering a discount on the registration price through the end of the month. Register by September 30 and save $30!

This discount applies to all three registration options, which means you can snag a really sweet deal through the end of the month. Check it out:

  • Option 1 ($119): You get the 6-week course and the private online community, plus access to everything for 8 weeks after the course ends for just $119. (Starting October 1 this option will be $149.)
  • Option 2 ($169): Get the course, the community, the extended access, AND one private editing or coaching session with me for just $169. (This saves you $30 off the course plus 17% off my normal one-on-one fees!) (Starting October 1 this option will be $199.)
  • Option 3 ($199): Get the course, the online community, the extended access, AND TWO private editing or coaching sessions with me for just $199. (This saves you $30 off the course plus 33% off my normal one-on-one fees!) (Starting October 1 this option will be $229.)

I've created Alchemy for creative souls like you who want to learn to tell their stories so people will read -- and feel -- them. I believe that writing is an art form. And like all art forms, it's a combination of practicality and magic. That's why I designed the course to include both practical, usable techniques and nuggets of inspiration and encouragement.

If you want to learn new writing skills, be inspired, and be part of a supportive writing community, please sign-up today and save $30.

(And to say thank you to you early birds who have already registered, I'll be contacting you about giving you the same discount!)

Get more details here or contact me with questions.


The Alchemy Guest List (you're invited, too!)

Putting together the Alchemy writing course feels a bit like planning a party and then holding my breath to see who on the guest list will come. I'm thrilled to announce four of the featured guests who have RSVP'd "yes." Check them out. I can't wait to share their stories and wisdom with you, because, remember, you are totally invited. I'm keeping a spot open just for you. Will you join us in October and November?

Brené Brown, PhD: professor and vulnerability researcher at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work; expert on the topics of shame and guilt; author of the books The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me, the DVD "The Hustle for Worthiness," and the curriculum "Connections." Brené will work with us to overcome the shame that can get in the way during the writing and editing processes. We'll learn about replacing fear with joy!

Liz Lamoreux: author of Inner Excavation: Explore Your Self Through Photography, Poetry and Mixed Media; yoga teacher, editor, artist, workshop teacher, and creator of the Be Present retreats. Liz will help us to get in touch with our senses and to tap into the worlds inside and outside of ourselves, so we can begin to translate all of this richness into words on the page.

Kyran Pittman: author of Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life; contributing editor for Good Housekeeping magazine; a native of Newfoundland now living in the American south. Kyran will share her tips on finding the stories in our everyday lives.

Meredith Winn: a writer who finds herself having a love affair with photography; regular contributor to Shutter Sisters; Meredith's writing has appeared in Literary Mama, Midwifery Today, HipMama, Motherverse, Mamazine, and the forthcoming anthology Mother Birth (vol. 1 & 2). With Meredith we'll explore finding our artistic voices and tapping into the multifaceted, authentic parts of ourselves that help us to create.

Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing is an online course for creative souls. Join us October 11 - November 21 for a magical combination of practical writing techniques and nuggets of inspiration to help you deepen and widen your writing. (Registration closes October 5.)