Writing Prompts

June 30, 2008
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Writing Prompts

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

July 2008

". . . just throw out an idea to yourself, the beginning of a scene, or just a theme, and leap into it."
—Shapiro

There are times when you have something so pressing to write about that you’re bursting to pen to paper. Even if you’re sleeping, the idea grabs you and you bolt out of bed and rush to your computer. If you’re in a café, you’ll write it down on a napkin; on the train, you’re scribbling it down so ardently that you miss your stop.

But there are times when nothing comes to you. Niet, nada, rien. And here’s what you do at those dark-night-of-the-blank-page times. You give yourself a writing prompt. Like someone who adlibs, you just throw out an idea to yourself, the beginning of a scene, or just a theme, and leap into it. It stimulates something in the mind, jogs up memory and/or imagination, events and situations that are so real that they feel like memory even if they never actually happened. The mind works best when it has a goal. Fishing in an empty pond won’t bring you a catch.

"Here are some writing prompts that you might want to use. "
—Shapiro

Here are some writing prompts that you might want to use. The “You” can be replaced by a fictional character, or by someone you know. You’re sitting at a table in Starbucks and notice a couple at a table near you. You overhear the woman say something about her profile on Match.com. Suddenly, you see her bolt up from her chair and… You’re lying on the beach, your eyelids closed, daydreaming, when suddenly you hear the lifeguard blow his whistle. You open your eyes and see everyone running towards the ocean. You’re in a bank, making a deposit, when you suddenly hear, “Drop to the floor and don’t make a sound.” You’re in the elevator of a medical building and the woman standing next to you suddenly bursts into tears. You’re watching TV and suddenly, your old flame is on, telling about the worst relationship he/she ever had and he’s describing you!

"Prompts can also be theme-based instead of situational. . ."
—Shapiro

Prompts can also be theme-based instead of situational: Your greatest betrayal The biggest you ever told. Your first funeral The worst neighbor you ever had The first time you fell in love

Prompts can be a line from a poem, a newspaper, or a work of fiction. You can call a friend and say, “Hey, have any ideas for what I could write about today?” (Just don’t stay on the phone too long!)

"If you aren’t driven to write, let a prompt drive you there."
—Shapiro

If you aren’t driven to write, let a prompt drive you there.

About

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award and is currently selling in Holland, Belgium, and the U.K. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, and in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007,) For Keeps, (Seal Press, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at http://www.miriamthemedium.com/ or at her blog: http://rochellejewelshapiro.blogspot.com/

 

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