Can I Get a Prompt?

Pssst….

Hey there kid, want to do something different?

Well, if you read this blog I’m willing to bet that part of your time is spent on creative endeavors of some kind. And I thought it might be a good time to remind you about improvisation exercises as a healthy and fun part of your writing routine.

Whether you are a novelist, a poet, a technical writer, historical non-fiction guru or children’s phenom, everyone’s creativity waxes and wanes with the progression of our career and lives. It is, therefore, important that we spend some time practicing in different ways to jog the old idea factory into an efficient, work-producing machine.

This particular exercise is about improvising (on the fly you might say) with one sentence prompts. You may have had to do this at conferences or class and present your material after the allotted time. As an introvert it might have be akin to a claustrophobic getting stuck in the kiddie tube slide at the park (Breath, Sarah…breath…just keep squirming.)

So, in defense of all of those out there not wanting to share their words yet but in need of something that boosts their creativity, I’m going to give you some pointers on prompts and let you go to proverbial town on them.

The important things to remember with these kinds of exercises are:

  1. DO NOT (repeated it after me) DO NOT, censor yourself or edit. Let yourself run with the idea, no matter how stupid or silly.
  2. Stay true to the character you’re given to work with or the situation, this is not about what you’d do, it’s about what they do. And they’re crazy bastards. So let their freak flag fly.
  3. The funnier the better. The sadder the better. The more horrific, the better. Improvisation should be a lot of things but none of those is BORING. Make it snappy, or if it must be reserved, do it to build tension for a whiz bang ending.
  4. Emotion is important. The only time to pause in writing for a prompt is to ask yourself, what’s the most intense thing this person feels in this moment and how does that look on the outside. How do I make my reader jump into the character’s skin and feel that intensity?
  5. Challenge yourself with prompts that may not seem interesting or your ‘type’ of writing. You will surprise yourself at what comes out from behind those locked doors.

 

I’m going to give you three prompts. I could give you a length requirement, but we’re not middle schoolers here (though my humor sometimes digresses to such a level). Get dark, get dirty, get freaky, get sweet. Make it something that shocks you. Share it in the comments if you want to or in a private message to me.

At the end of this article I’ll link some really amazing references for doing more of these kinds of exercises on your own. If you are gripping your computer screen, shouting at me with spittle flying, that you “DON’T HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME!!” calm your tits…this will take five minutes tops. You can do it while you wait at the doctor’s office for your appointment for excessive salivation. You can do it in the car while you wait for your kids to get out of school. You can do it over your first cup of coffee…

Think of it as the second-most-fun form of “quickie” you get in life.

(Come on…I warned you about the seventh-grade humor, don’t look shocked.)

Ok…. Here’s your prompts. Pick one, or two, or make it a trifecta. In a perfect world, quickies are not limited. (And, yes, I mean that in all the ways)

  1. A rancher comes across a mutilated cow in her field, and all of the organs have been replaced by…
  2. A man is dared by his friends to ask the next woman who walks through the bar’s door to marry him. The next woman who walks through the door is…
  3. A child finds an ordinary rock on the playground that begins to make his wishes, big and small, come true. He brings it home and his mom finds it in the wash and puts it in her pocket without thinking…

 

Go play.

Here’s some books you should read or apps (for you tech savvy geniuses) you can download to help bring a little fun and playfulness to your art.

 

“A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves

“Pocket Muse” (1 and 2) by Monica Wood

“The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice” Kelli Russell Agodon

Apps:

Prompts for Writing

The Brainstormer

WordPallette

 

 

Muse

Vim and Vigor. Piss and Vinegar. Spunk, Spark, And the Immortal Divine.

sexy secretary pinup girl 1960s

I’m talking about Muse…not the band…I mean the illusive, seductress…who steals into your thoughts and whispers sweet plot lines into your ear like naughty suggestive teases.

One of my favorite older movies starred a young Julie Andrews and even younger Mary Tyler Moore. It was based on a Broadway musical and was set in the roaring twenties when women were toying with independence and embracing a more modern sense of sexuality. In Thoroughly Modern Millie, the main character, a stenographer, comes on to her boss by lounging across his desk and rasping out the line; “Well, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it.” (In context she’s referring to Tom Sawyer’s innate mojo despite his tender age of 12)

Julie Andrews Rockin' It

So when I think of that evasive and tease, inspiration, I think of that line.

When you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

The problem is that so many of us think we cannot create without ‘it’. That unless the muse is on our desks, lounging across our scattered post-it notes and circling the rim our cold coffee cup with a delicate finger, we won’t be able to create anything substantial.

Can I let you in on a secret I’ve learned? That blank stare against the wall of a writer’s block doesn’t come from a lack of ‘it’. It comes from the expectation that having ‘it’ is the only way creativity will come, and that anything other than madly typing away the best idea we’ve ever been gifted, is simply a waste of our time and divine talent.

Let me tell you something about my muse. He’s a well-upholstered, balding guy in a basement, with a half-smoked cigar hanging out one side of his mouth and a sneer that could stop a very determined freight train on its tracks. He’s an asshole. He doesn’t come out when I sit down at my lovely little desk with all of my office supplies neatly aligned inmy muse OCD perfection. He sneaks up behind me at airports and gooses me like some over-entitled politician. He wakes me up in the sweetest six minutes of sleep before the alarm goes off by hitting me in the face with his meaty hand and a pale idea of how to fix Chapter 8. He’s the one that whispers, in dark undertones, questions about unassuming passerby’s that turn into vibrant characters. I cannot summon him to lie across my desk and pull up his smooth skirts seductively.

He’s got it, all right, but it’s never what I expect.

The one exception is this, and the point of my post this week:

That bastard shows up every time I give up hope on him and just sit down to write anyway.

The first few sentences on my own are stumbling patches of weeds, filled with gopher holes and tripping hazards. But if I ignore the imperfections and keep at it, one paragraph becomes a page, and so forth and so forth.

I don’t stop for clerical errors like misspelled names, or fudged facts. I forget the use or non use of oxford commas and just let the words go where they go. I don’t allow myself deletions, even if I’m painfully aware of the stupid that trails behind my keystrokes.

It’s like emptying the hot water from the camelback tube on a hike. You have to draw out that nasty part before you can get to the refreshing cold stuff.

Before I know it, I can smell cigar smoke and salami and that cagey bastard is behind me…nodding in a nearly impressed manner.

Creativity is part vim and vigor. It is part mojo. It is part magic and a dash of spark. But it is mostly work. Even when the playing is done and the book is written, she’s just a dowdy, ill-fitting dress until you nip and tuck her into shape.

Maybe creativity lives in my basement because a dash of it goes a very long way. It’s the elbow grease we have to buy by the barrel full. Because long after Muse is sacked out on his brown plaid recliner with one hand down his polyester waistband, the work still remains and that’s when we really find out if we are indeed full of vim and vigor.

. . . If we’ve got ‘it’; the magic that turns muse into story, story into book, and book into experience for you and your readers alike.

So don’t pay too much mind to capturing that sultry vixen. Just write. When she whispers at you in crowded stores, or on quiet trails, be at the ready with pen and paper (or…ugh, yes your cellphone if you must) to catch her teasing giggle. But for all of the other 97 out of 100 times, don’t let her be the excuse you aren’t putting your ass in the chair.

After all, a muse is best attracted when she’s being ignored.

Happy writing, Kids.