The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Practical Prompts


              The above photo shows four of the many boxes I have stored in the closet in my writing office.  There are many boxes in this closet, and in the office there are additional files of materials that I have accumulated over the years--mostly for the purpose of providing inspiration for my writing or as a record of things that I have written.

              There is probably little of any real monetary value stored in this room, but there is a wealth of ideas and thought provoking information to be found here.  News clippings and magazine articles, photos, scribbled thoughts, odd objects, and items of personal memories are all parts of my treasure.  Whatever I have kept because it somehow made me think of something to write, I have filed in a special place or tossed into a box or a drawer to be filed away at a later time. 

            The way I see it is that in my lifetime there is no way I could ever possibly run out of writing prompts.  If I find myself saying that I cannot think of anything to write about, what I really should be admitting is that I'm too lazy or not motivated to write at this moment.  Everything is a potential prompt for writing.  You just have to use your imagination and ask some questions.

            Let me try a little exercise to illustrate how prompts are everywhere.  I'm at my desk and look to my left where I see a burgundy stapler.  Reaching over to pick it up, I realize it is a heavy metal stapler that could potentially kill somebody--there's a murder mystery here.   I look at the bottom and see it was made by the Bates General Binding Corporation.   I wonder what else they make and what is the history of this company?  Who designed the stapler, how is it made, and who made the decision to use the burgundy color.  This company is in Northbrook, Illinois.  What's it like there?  What is the history of this city?  The stapler was manufactured in Taiwan.  What is the factory like?  Who are some of the workers who handled this stapler while it was being manufactured and what are their lives like?

Potentially deadly stapler with a  long and complex history.

         These questions and contemplations could go on and on--I think you get the idea.   You could write an entire book about this stapler or come up with countless articles and stories about it.  And that was just the first thing I saw on my desk.   As cluttered as my desk tends to be, I potentially have a lifetime of writing at arms reach.

          Writing prompt exercises are fine, but where do those come from?  They come from another writer's imagination, that's where.  What are you doing to stretch your own imagination?   Look around you, pick common things up and examine them in detail.   Think about them and ask questions.  There are stories in everything, in everyplace, and in everybody.   It's up to the writer to make those stories come to life in an interesting way.
          
          The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge often elicits comments like, "I don't know if I can think of that many ideas for a whole month".    This is why it's a Challenge!   It's impossible to run out of ideas, though it's not inconceivable to run out of steam.  Last year I began to get a bit weary at the midway point of the challenge.  When I reached the letter "n" I decided that I could think of nothing to write about.  That's when the light bulb came on in my head.  I wrote a bit of flash fiction called "Nothing" that was rather well-received and this recharged my motivation.

          If writer's block is causing you to stumble, stop and take a breather.  Think.  Ponder.   Ask questions about why you are experiencing this barrier to progress.   Take a walk, listen to music, watch a movie, or talk to a child.  And if you need to do some exercises with writing prompts then let me suggest going for the practical prompts that are right there in your life.  What you write about is an extension of who you are.  Why shouldn't the writing exercises you do be a part of who you are as well. 

           How do you overcome writer's block?   Do you sometimes use prompts as writing exercise?   What are some of your favorite prompts?




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34 comments:

  1. Hello Lee thanks for including me in your challenge. The stapler reminds me of the movie "Two weeks notice' there is a whole scene where Sandra bullock has a moment with her stapler. Very funny.
    My prompts come from everywhere, things i see, things I've noticed and of course things I've experienced. God bless you my friend.

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  2. N.R Williams usually has some excellent writing prompts on Wednesdays. She hasn't been doing them for January as she's been focused on her blog tour. But she usually gets a few good sentences out of me just with the subject matter she picks each week. One of my prompt responses turned out to be a very successful take on Black Friday.

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  3. You're right, prompts are everywhere--thank goodness.

    Teresa

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  4. Oh so true my friend, I practiced this why just today in my post. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  5. I find taking a walk helps me get ideas flowing again.

    One of the writing groups I belonged to used writing prompts and I admit I had fun with them…probably because they caused me to write on topics I wouldn't normally write about.

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  6. I wonder what kind of magazines you hide in that box :)

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  7. This was great! I so needed it, right now. I'm stumped on both my YA and MG WIPs. I've never been stumped before. Newbie territory. I think it's because I've stressed myself out. Taking a breather...yeah, done that. But looking around at everyday things...hmmm...haven't tried that. Off now.

    Thanks!

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  8. I love your stapler example. There are prompts all around us we just have to open our imagination.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  9. Anything can fire my imagination. But one thing that never fails is a photograph. Of anything.

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  10. I agree the prompts are everywhere and I love to follow them. Unfortunately I tend to follow wherever they lead which is usually away from whatever I should be working on. No self-discipline. :grin:

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  11. Great example! I have boxes of "inspiraton" that I never get around to using because new ideas come faster than looking through a box. Looking forward to April!

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  12. Geoff -- Glad to have gotten you on the A to Z list--hope the challenge helps you in your writing and blogging. Haven't seen that Sandra Bullock stapler scene, but comic situations are certainly another approach to creative thinking.

    Jeffrey -- I've seen those and other prompts presented on other blogs. If those work well for you there's certainly nothing wrong with using them. These types of prompt exercises can be helpful in cultivating our own imaginative thinking.

    Teresa -- I know. We shouldn't be afraid to use our own imaginations no matter how absurd the thinking may seem.

    Jules -- I will check out your post.

    Jane -- I think using writing prompts in a group setting would be tremendous fun. That's an aspect of the A to Z Challenge that is so much fun--we can compare what others wrote using the same letter prompts.

    Dezmond -- Now you have a prompt. You should write a story about it, but please change the names to protect the innocent.

    Salarsen -- Great! It's good to recharge your thinking now and then.

    Mason -- Our own prompt thinking can generate some true creativity.

    Carol-- True, photographs are excellent prompts. I have two boxes in that same closet that are nothing but photographs.

    Linda -- I have that same problem. It also happens when I do research. Google is especially bad in that respect since it's so fast and information is so accessible. What the heck! It can be fun and sometimes I make great discoveries while taking my detours.

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  13. Jennee --Yes, I also have that same situation. I rarely go through the boxes or files unless there is something I can remember that I want to use. But instead of digging out ideas from my collections, I usually add to them. That's okay--at least I know I have the idea files if I do need them later.

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  14. r-LEE-BOID ~
    I have some similiar cardboard boxes stored in my garage. I have them labeled "Treasure Chests". Although they don't pertain strictly to writing, they do contain some old articles I ran across over the decades which I thought would make excellent prompts for stories of my own I might someday write.

    Those stories will probably never get written since fiction no longer interests me, but I'm still glad to have saved the articles.

    Those boxes also contain samples of things I've previously written, going all the way back to my childhood, as well as objects I saved from my childhood. The resale value of everything in those boxes combined would be exactly $000.00, and yet I literally "treasure" what I have in those "Treasure Chests"!

    >>.....When I reached the letter "n" I decided that I could think of nothing to write about. That's when the light bulb came on in my head. I wrote a bit of flash fiction called "Nothing" that was rather well-received and this recharged my motivation.

    And an absolutely brilliant piece of writing it was, too! Man, you so drew me into that story that I was dying to know what would happen NEXT. And remember, I'm the guy who is no longer interested in fiction. What does that say about your "Nothing"?!

    ...Still wish you'd expand it, but, alas . . .

    Yak Later, McBrother.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  15. That's fantastic organisation, Lee!

    I don't believe in writer's block. I know that's controversial. There are some days when it's very hard. But sitting down, and just editing something usually gets me typing out a few words and before I know it, I'm writing.

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  16. I would agree, Lee--I don't believe entirely in writer's block, so much as that momentum thing. I don't look to regular objects at all (though for a blog post, it isn't a bad idea) but I get new ideas every few months, each of them big enough for at least half a book... I put them in my idea folder...

    typically, I don't turn to it, but one of the ideas will pester me relentlessly until it's time to start the next project... and if it DOESN'T, there are all those ideas to get back to...

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  17. The A to Z Challenge is a prompt all by itself! Just brainstorm for each letter. Or brainstorm a theme and run with it. I selected a theme for April and my letters are all set. It's not that difficult!

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  18. StMc -- We keep finding so many ways in which we are similar. These boxes of ours are treasure chests, but only to us--well at least until after we're gone and our biographers and researchers go through them for information for books about us. Uh, yeah, right!
    Thanks for your encouragement about "Nothing". Hmmmm-- that sounds kind of strange.

    Talli -- I'm totally with you on that. No contoversy as far as I'm concerned.

    Hart -- Those folders can be very useful later. Sometimes something just triggers that urge to go back and start rethinking an old idea from a new perspective.

    Alex --Exactly! You can make it like a game. Look around the room and find something that begins with the letter, or look in the dictionary. A to Z is one of the best writing prompt exercises that I've done.

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  19. How neat and tidy you are Lee.

    I was stumpped for a poem today then by chance I put the radio on and they announced the passing of John Barry, I grew up with his music and just had to write something, hope I did him justice.

    Yvonne.

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  20. I am a huge fan of putting on some good music and having a good long chat with myself.

    Most of the time the chat is purely related to my WIP, but it generally seems to help.
    Sometimes I'll scrub through sites like Wikipedia or DeviantArt and see if anything jumps out at me.

    I like your theory though, that anything can be a story with a little imagination and inquiry. Great post!

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  21. Yvonne -- Not sure neat and tidy is the proper description--my wife probably wouldn't agree. But I do have my own system of organization that works for me.

    Lindz -- Those are some excellent methods of generating ideas and inspiration. Good music often helps me get inspired and I really like some classical music playing while I write. Inspiration is all over the place.

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  22. Sometimes I get writers block but more often than not, it is either laziness or fear of boring people that keep me from writing.
    Coming up with what to write about, generally, isn't the problem! I have a list of possible posts in my mind. But I will say this much, January has left me with a huge lack of motivation!
    I am looking forward to it's end!
    Your ideas were excellent Arlee and I will keep them in mind for when I do feel writers block!
    Love Di ♥

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  23. I generally have a lot of ideas battering against my skull trying to get out - so that part's not the problem. My biggest problem is the time to let them out properly!!! :)

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  24. Diana -- Thank you, but you never seem to have writer's block.

    Jemi -- You and me both!

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  25. I could use a few of those boxes actually!

    And I don't know, just start writing.

    Simply write, "i don't know what to write" and just continue in that way, soon an inspiration will come or something ^^

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  26. Whenever I get writer's block, I go to the gym and work out, or go out dancing. I find that getting my blood pumping is always invigorating and inspiring. The A to Z challenge sounds great, but I already have too many commitments in April, to participate. But thanks for thinking of me and for stopping by. :)

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  27. I'm pretty much like you Lee, as I save and file items of interest, and at this point in time, I have more than I can possibly deal with.

    You have done so much to motivate so many other writers, and that is AWESOME and IMPRESSIVE!

    I do use prompts (older/archived ideas) but they generally have to fit where I am at, or the news cycle on that particular day.

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  28. Arlee-

    Well your "N" caused quite a stir, if memory serves me.

    I do have a couple of file drawers stuffed with my various attempts at novels (science fiction and fantasy) in my early years, as well as volumes of poetry and song lyrics (that were distilled into the collections I sent you (the best ofthe worst?)

    Sadly, it's been a long time since I've written much. I lost my muse, I guess. Along with my hair.

    But I'm waiting for "Nothing" to be turned into a serialized TV show a la "Lost" or "24."

    LC

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  29. Some of my fav prompts are photography and poetry, They always inspire me to write.

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  30. Doo -- Sounds like a free association stream of consciousness method. I like that.

    Marguerite -- Oh, I thought your Cajun A to Z take would be so cool! Well...if you change your mind!

    Paula -- yes, it can all get dated, and so much new stuff comes along, but the files are there just in case you need them someday. And thank you for your kind words.

    Larry -- A show about "Nothing"? Didn't Seinfield do that already?

    Tabitha -- those can be excellent prompts.

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  31. Last year for the challenge, I sat down with my Thesaurus and a highlighter and started marking words that would prompt a blog idea. When the letter of the alphabet came up, I'd go over that section and try to pick one of those words as my challenge. Sounds silly, but it got me through!

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  32. I signed up early for this challenge - and now have added the button to let people know where to find you and the master list of A to Z!

    Not sure if I can do this - but up for the challenge! Looking forward to April ;-)

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  33. Ideas are everywhere, I agree with you!

    I'm now doing a few posts based on photo prompts on my Daily (w)rite blog, and find it an interesting exercise. Have signed up the for A-Z challenge, lets see...

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  34. Hi Lee .. as I've only been 'writing' since I started blogging .. I only have a couple of years bumph - but it's about to get sorted - so many new ideas keep a-coming.

    I thought I'd try the "February post" as an exercise .. via Wiki and some books here .. but that was relatively simple.

    It is of keeping an open mind .. but then I can blog about anything - big plus - I didn't restrict myself to a subject or category area .. as you similarly can do .. it makes life a little easier. Love the stapler scenarios ..

    Cheers Hilary

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