Bare List of Writing Prompts

NaNoWriMo is upon us. With only two days left until you’re set to begin the greatest novel of our time, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of putting your words, your characters, into action. Here are some prompts to get you started.

Unfamiliar with prompts or afraid of starting with someone else’s words? Check out some great reasons for using them here

  1. Her brown eyes glared back at me with unrelenting fury and I knew I’d said the wrong thing again…
  2. A butterfly danced across the windshield as I put the car in drive…
  3. I’d heard the story a half a hundred times but still I listened as if it was all anew…
  4. Back on Earth, I’d never be able to talk about this stuff. Human beings shut down so quickly at the slightest glimmer of something truly interesting…
  5. A glistening pair of new Jordan’s were all I saw of him from my spot beneath the bleachers…
  6. A dirge played in the distance as I enjoyed a steaming hot coffee at the Downward Cafe…
  7. She could see the cars whizzing by on the main highway, feet away but oblivious to her pain…
  8. Of course we’re here. I knew we would be. It was the only possible place for us to end up…
  9. Lady Gaga again. We Pandora isn’t the even trying anymore. Turn it off and let’s go down to the Sixer…
  10. The absurdity of it all is that if I had to do it over again I probably would because I never learn and the ride was worth the story…

Bare List on Using Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be a source of contention in the writing community. Some people browse for hours looking for inspiration while other’s look down their nose at the idea of starting their masterpiece with another author’s thoughts. If you’re in the second category, or utterly new to the idea of using prompts, I’m here to defend their worthiness. Nay, I’m here to cheer them on. Writing prompts are excellent tools for professionals and hobbyists, experienced authors and writing rookies. Here’s why:

They release what’s already in you. A great novel is in you, coursing through your veins and gnawing at your brain. You can’t stop thinking about it. Your mind has already written it. You just have to get it down on paper, but when you sit down at the computer, your fingers freeze. The story churns inside you but it’s stuck behind those first words. Then you find it. The perfect prompt. Five, ten little words. You type them out, hesitant but hopeful, and the next thing you know you’re thousands of words into the story you’ve been dying to tell. A prompt is just that: a prompt to open your own floodgates.

They’re fun. My second NaNoWriMo I decided to embark in an adventure. Instead spending a month focusing on kicking off my next project, I would create a work exclusive to that month. It’s own entity based solely on prompts. November 1st, I found a prompt that spoke to me and I wrote. I wrote until the spark of that first great ember was nothing but smoke, over 12,000 words. When the emerging story hit an impasse and my inspiration ran dry, I found a new prompt. A radically different prompt that would change the course of the tale and take my story to exciting new places. Over 30,000 words later the end of the month and close of my experiment were in sight and I found one more prompt to see me the rest of the way through. I finished November with 70,000 words and a novel that I truly enjoy. Will it be my next published masterpiece? Maybe not. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I took my writing to new places and had a great time doing it.

They’re an excellent exercise. If you were/are a writing major or have been involved with any creative writing class, you’re familiar with prompts as a writing tool. If not, it goes like this: the teacher gives you a prompt (or maybe a small collection of prompts) and you formulate a story around it. The goal is to stretch your mind and adapt your ability to embrace inspiration. For a lot of us though, after school’s out we forget the value of prompts. Maybe you’re sick of forcing a story into a collection of assigned ideas. Maybe you’re so focused on writing your own words, you don’t have room for other people’s. Maybe you’ve just fallen into a writing routine and forgotten the value of exercising. But, like keeping a healthy body, exercise is a necessity to keeping a healthy mind. Use those prompts. Even if you don’t think you have time, browse for anything that piques your interest. Force yourself to write a page, even a paragraph. Throw yourself a few curves to get to the end of the story. You’ll be a better writer for it.

You can always ditch them. Alright, so you’ve written a work of art but you’re hung up on the fact you’ve got someone else’s words stuck in there. Or the end of the story no longer fits the beginning. That’s the glory of the delete button. You can let the floodgates open, see the story to the end, then go back and delete whatever doesn’t fit. You’ll be doing it anyway. No work is ever complete on the first (or fifth) go. Just delete whatever you’re not comfortable with or not proud of during the editing process.

They were created to be used. It’s not plagiarism, it’s a prompt. The creators put it into the world to be utilized. Their sole purpose is to inspire others to travel down this absurd but awesome road of writing. Let them fulfill their destiny. Let those bare lists of words be suggestive to your imaginative and excited mind.

Do you have experience with prompts? Share your story. Have prompts you’re looking to share? Put them in the comments to help others start their journey.

Bare List on Writing When the World is on Fire

There’s been a lot of media coverage regarding the struggle of creatives to write in our time. The linked article call’s it “Trump’s Present”, but I’ve seen it referred to as many things and it’s effecting both sides of the political line. I’ll be the first to admit, we’re in trying times. Social and political divisiveness avalanche our social streams, North Korea is testing bombs every other week, mass shootings, hurricanes. Fear is high, satisfaction is low, and we still don’t know who sits the Iron Throne. Those horrors, and more threats than I even have time to mention, have been cited as stifling the voices of once exuberant writers, and I have to tell you, THAT more than anything else we may be facing saddens my soul.

I understand, I know, that times of chaos and dissension can make it difficult for the seeds of creativity to flower into inspiration and action. I know it’s hard to envision a future when you can barely see tomorrow, but we as writers, as people, as society cannot allow for the dark shadow of despair to block out our light. It is during these times, when the world is divided, when the future is undefined, that literature is needed the most. It is during these times that everyone’s story must be represented. Readers, ourselves included, are looking for hope, purpose, inspiration. More than that, we’re looking for connection, to open a book and find a character who understands us. Who gets us. Who will provide a reprieve from the pain we may be feeling.

“But I’m not trying to write a political manifesto. I’m not famous enough for my voice to count. I don’t have an inspirational tale to show people how to cope.” Your brain may lie to you with these excuses and barbs to keep you from putting pen to paper (or more aptly fingers to keyboard) but none of these things matter. It’s fine that you’re not going to write the next politically charged viral sensation. In fact, it’s awesome. We’ve got enough of them. Scroll through your Facebook feed or Twitter wall right now and I’ll place money that you’ve got a good dozen political rants. We’re covered there. You’re not famous? That’s great. We need new voices. We need more people willing to put themselves out there to give people something to believe in, and really all they need to believe in to feel even an inkling better is a good story. A good character.

You don’t have to write the hero’s tale to be the hero. With such great epic glories of literature flooding our history, it’s easy to forget that sometimes all that is needed to bring people together is a simple story. It doesn’t have to be Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. You don’t have to write a New York Times Best Seller for people to cherish your work. For a small book club to bond over it and coffee. For a lonely high schooler to find solace in the friendship of your characters. For a beat down population to find representation.

People don’t have to come away with a life-changing revelation for your work to be meaningful. They just have to come away changed, however mildly. Maybe you gave them a friend, maybe you gave them a glimpse into another person’s experience they would never encounter in the real world, maybe you just gave them a place to escape to when this one got to be too much. All of it is meaningful. All of it is necessary.

There is a reason that great pain spawns great art. Many may point to the need for change, to the voices inspired to create a new and better tomorrow, but it’s more than that. These times, the times we’ve seen before and we’ll surely see again, create great art because in our soul we know the world needs it. We know that we might not reach the masses, but we can reach one person and that makes all the difference.

So, keep writing. Even if you’re uninspired, keep writing. Even if you can’t see how your one story can make a difference, write it anyway. No matter what it is, no matter what genre or tone you ascribe to, just write it, because right now, people deserve your bare list of words.

Bare List on Blankness

As the icy rain poured down over the back porch I took a deep swig of my dark roast coffee, it’s steam warming my face against the chill of the early morning and thought “This is a day God made for writing.” I opened my latest project full of quiet excitement for what this scenic day would bring. Those words that raced from my fingers days ago, that sparked awe and admiration as I pondered them in the dreary morning hour, now lay lifeless on the page. Where do they want to go? How can they have paved a path so clearly and now I can’t sense their direction?

Call it what you will: writer’s block, creative impasse, brain strike. It’s all blankness. An inability to coerce the story you know needs to be told to come to life on the pages in front of you. Everyone who’s picked up a pen or sat down at a desk knows the pain, the panic of reaching inside yourself and coming up blank. It’s a harrowing experience to have all of the right materials and none of the words, but what can I do?

I can write. I can force my fingers across the keyboard pounding out ideas I have no intention on keeping until I stumble across something that clicks. I can trust that the movement of my fingers will eventually rattle awake my sleeping brain and my creative mind will swoop in and takeover where my fingers have failed me, and so I do.

I write in the hopes that today will be more than it seems right now. I write trusting that I can do this, no matter how dire the situation may seem. Does it work? Not always. There are days I struggle for hours only to destroy everything because I never found my way, but there are days that I persist long enough that something beautiful happens. There are days I see myself over the struggle and on those days I am more proud of myself, my stamina than on any day when the words flow easily and effortlessly. It is for those days I write. Because I have to. Because whatever well-meaning outsiders may tell you, you will not tear down that blockade by forgetting about it. You will not break through that wall by trying to pretend it does not exist. No, the only way to keep writing is to start writing.

For those reasons, today I write. Though my mind is blank and my inspiration is lacking, today I write, and so should you.

Bare List on Why Bare List

“Bare lists of words are suggestive to the imaginative and excited mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve received some questions regarding the inspiration of the title of this blog. The simple answer is that I love this quote and I thought it’d make a kick-ass title/theme. While this may be the shorthanded assertion you receive if we’re making small talk on the train, it doesn’t do justice to the reality of it’s selection. I do love this quote, not because of its eloquence and simplicity, but because it encapsulates everything about why I write. Why we all do. Why we write, why we read, why we have a never ending thirst to continue to give meaning to arbitrary words on a page.

As writers, we toil through endless iterations and reincarnations of what, in its simplest form, is nothing more than bare lists of words on a page. We read each one hoping our love/hate/passion/distress is conveyed to our readers in a way that reaches past the page and into their minds and hearts. It’s an absurd task that we give ourselves over to in the hope that even just one person will connect with these bare words. And the even more absurd thing it works.

The magic of these bare lists of words is that to those imaginative and excited minds, to our imaginative and excited minds, they evoke powerful emotions and connections. Their essence becomes personalized to each individual who sets about the task of imbibing them. What is nothing to one reader is everything to another. We can give these bare lists of words to hundreds of readers and each one will come away with a different interpretation. We can set them to music and people will fill amphitheaters to hear them. We can read them again and again and take away a different meaning each time. We can see ourselves reflected in the characters of a stranger. It’s amazing what these simple bare lists of words can accomplish. They can be our hope when we are filled with despair, they can be our friend when we are alone, they tell our story when we’ve lost the strength to tell it ourselves.

So, on my dark writing days when the words on the page won’t work for me. When no matter how hard I try those words will take on no life or meaning, I remember that to those excited minds, that bare list of words can mean anything and I’m able to keep writing.

That’s why Bare List of Words. What’s your inspiration? What inspired your blog and what inspires you to keep writing?