Bare List of More Writing Prompts

The ides of November is upon us. For many NaNoers, it’s a day of raucous celebration: the halfway mark! The end is in sight and you’re excited to see the finish line coming into view, maybe you’ve already even passed it. For others, though, this day reeks of the betrayal faced by Caesar on that March day. Your inspiration has dried up, your brain has blanked, the cold fingers of writer’s block are choking out your voice. The situation may seem desperate, but I assure you, there is hope! Writing prompts are here to get your juices flowing. (If you’re unsure about using writing prompts, read this). Below is a list of words, phrases, scenes, and ideas to help you get over the hump. Some are ordinary, some are insane. Some are funny and some are serious. Hopefully, there’s something to appeal to whatever sparks the light in your creative mind.

Whether you’re stuck on your NaNo project, finding inspiration for NaNo2, working on your own, or just looking to flex your writing muscles, I hope these ideas can spur something in your brain to trigger the words to keep coming, because that’s all that needs to happen. Persistence makes success inevitable, so just keep showing up. JUST KEEP WRITING. 

Words

  1. Coupon
  2. Fracks
  3. Abject
  4. Supercilious
  5. Phantoms
  6. Promise
  7. Elongate
  8. Placesetting
  9. Coerced
  10. Hedonistic

Phrases

  1. I could feel the heat coming off of it as I approached…
  2. “Neither will do if it’s only us two. A decision must be made”…
  3. Gaping at the blood flowing from the arm, my heart raced…
  4. The canine stalked the edge of my field of vision, sniffing lightly and pawing at the damp ground…
  5. Thoughts cascaded across the void of my blank mind as I doodled the snippets of coherence into my notebook giving life to the words…
  6. “You can keep saying it, but that won’t make it true. A mockingbird may call like a blue jay, but she will be no less a mocking bird,”…
  7. “What is it?” I asked as she held up the strange object glowing red under the beam of the flashlight,”…
  8. The circacelias are tripeds common of our environment. They inhabited Earth for a quarter century but found the air excessively dry with a slight taste of nitrogen, entirely distasteful to their heightened senses…
  9. In the blackened stillness, a sound rose in the distance, quiet at first but steadily increasing in volume and intensity…
  10. “When there’s nothing else to do, you do nothing. Quicker you learn that, better off you’ll be,”…

Scenes

  1. A decrepit old barn on the outskirts of town
  2. A restaurant in the middle of a busy intersection crowded with people
  3. The small star a little to the left of the outer edge of the universe
  4. A luxury yacht, meant to sail the Atlantic Ocean, parked on its rig in the neighbor’s backyard
  5. In bed on a warm night in the middle of August
  6. The arctic tundra just after the sun has risen for the first time in months
  7. The odorous and dirty basement of an otherwise well-maintained mansion
  8. The smokey remnants of the latest town to fall victim of the robot apocolypse
  9. A tunnel leading from the base of an oak tree into the depths of the earth
  10. A pristine dinner table with ornate bone china and elaborate place settings awaiting the hostess to be seated

Ideas

  1. Your protagonist finds a red shirt
  2. Kill a freshly developed character
  3. Introduce an animal into a scene
  4. Your antagonist misses an opportunity
  5. Your protagonist makes a pun involving ducks
  6. A side character has a crazy dream
  7. The protagonist receives an unexpected package
  8. A realistic shared dream unites characters
  9. A male character steals a piece of cheese from a female character
  10. A female character has a conversation with another female character about the Bechdel test  (see what I did there?)

 

That’s it for now. I’m going to get back to writing and hopefully you are, too. If you want more writing prompts, click here. If you’ve got your own to share, please leave them in the comments. Otherwise, JUST KEEP WRITING.

Bare List on The First Draft

It’s that time of year again. A time that new and established authors alike gather to defy the clock and better judgement to bring their characters to life through writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days. We are thirteen days into NaNoWriMo and that means that your social media feeds are filled with word counts and declarations of early victory, but amid that chorus of cheer and exuberance are silent cries of self-doubt and even defeat. I hear those cries. I see them in the absence of updates from a once elated newbie. I see them in the lamentations of the disenchanted first-timers disappointed in their work. While I see it more this time of year, it is there throughout the course of the year. Every time someone sits down to write a first draft. The words start flowing as a dream comes to fruition but the fear, doubt, writers block, and sometimes just life step in and rob us of our vigor, our determination. You might think that this is an affliction specific to the first time writer, because seasoned writers, we know that this happens EVERY SINGLE TIME so surely we are prepared. Surely we can shake it off and continue pounding out the words, but this is not always the case, because doubt lies. It pretends that this time is different. That we may have survived before, but surely we can’t again. So, for those that are experiencing it for the first time or need a reminder, I’m here with tips for fighting what I have deemed the First Draft Fear Monster.

FDFM is a beast that attacks writers at they fight to complete a first draft. Its weapons include but are not limited to: making you want to scrap every word (maybe the entire concept) because it tells you this brilliant work is stupid, it tells you every word is wrong and illogical, makes you doubt that you can ever accomplish this dream, tries to get you to shelve your work, and generally steals your desire, maybe even ability, to write. It’s soul crushing enemy, but I promise you it is beatable. Here’s how:

  1. Redefine Your Expectation – A lot of writers, especially newbies, think that a great book is written on the first time out. That the purpose of the first draft is to put pen to page and create a work that simply needs a few typos fixed to be ready to go to print. That is categorically incorrect. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but it’s rare and setting yourself up to that standard is asking for failure. Instead, think of yourself as a sculptor except you can’t just go out and buy a slab of marble, you have to create it. That is the first draft. You are building a giant hunk of rock that you can contour and detail, hammer at and cut away. It is not the masterpiece. It is the canvas on which you will create it.
  2. Don’t Get Married to Your Notions– Every author has started one story to end up in another. Every author has cut a character they thought they would love or changed a setting they once thought was important. You are not required to write anything. Having an idea does not set it in stone. If your story starts to go a different direction, let it. If an unforeseen character gnaws at the edges of your mind, give them a spotlight. Evolving your story line does not mean you have failed your novel. It means you have given it room to create itself.
  3. Forget Perfection – That’s not a thing right now. It may never be a thing. Even J.K. Rowling has things she would have done differently if she got a chance to write Harry Potter again for the first time. You are going to edit and edit and edit this thing and just when you think you can’t anymore, you will edit it again. Then, even when it’s published and on display for the world to see and you think “my gosh I’ve done it and it’s perfect” you will reread it and still come up with things, however minor, that aren’t perfect because perfection is impossible. Everything about writing is subjective, not just to the individual but to the individual’s mood, circumstances, hunger level, etc. I cannot iterate this enough. Perfection is the enemy of publication and you will kill yourself and your dream if you hold yourself to its fantasy.
  4. Change Your Definition of Failure – The hard truth of embarking on any manuscript is that it may never succeed in being published. That does not make it a failure. It makes it a stepping stone to your ultimate goal. Harper Lee never would have published To Kill a Mockingbird if she hadn’t first written Go Set a Watchman and the world NEEDS To Kill a Mockingbird (GSaW maybe not as much). Writing is the only forum in which we hold our first attempt as the definition of success. You probably didn’t get the first job you applied for, but you learned how to get better at interviewing. You didn’t win the first marathon you entered, but you got better as you kept going. Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Simone Biles…they have all lost and they are all champions in their fields. Your current work isn’t the next great classic. So what? That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. That doesn’t mean it isn’t purposeful. That doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you are working towards success.
  5. Write – There is this great misconception in the writing community that if you put things away, this spark of inspiration will hit you in the middle of the night or a big meeting and you will suddenly have all you need to steamroll to the end of your work. For most people, this is bull. Ninety-nine percent of the time, if you put something on the shelf, it will stay there. Will you think of it? Sure, but then you’ll berate yourself for putting it there in the first place, then the FDFM will use it as ammunition to torture you with until you’ve lost your will to write again. The exclusive way to shut that lying beast up is to write. Write until your you’ve found the story. Write until it’s turned into a new story. Write until you can proudly proclaim to that monster “you are wrong. I know I can write because I have written” and when you’ve done that, write some more.

You are not alone. People out there pounding out the words, sending queries, and signing deals…they are not different than you. They just learned to fight the self-doubt, the agonizing pain of the writing process, and you will, too. The only way you can possibly fail is by not trying, and you’re here. You’re writing. Despite all the life, worry, time constraints, etc. Despite all of it, you are writing and that is how I know that one day you will be able to say “I have written”.

Share this with anyone succumbing to the First Draft Fear Monster. Have you battled and won? What tools would you add to the belt?

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.