Category Archives: writing prompts

Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation
Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Here’s a little invitation to come to sit at my table and join my weekly writing group for a session – without leaving your computer.  I thought I might share what I do in the two hours I run the group and perhaps you’ll want to join in with us all…. you may be on a train, you may be at home, or a cafe. You’re welcome wherever, whenever!

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We have been looking at form this term. Last week, we explored Tanka with mixed enthusiasm. This week, I wanted to look at how we write in form naturally, with our own language and unique experience and ability to get our message across.

So the first exercise was to write a list of all the forms of writing each person uses without necessarily thinking about on a day to day basis. This could include thank you letters, health and safety reports, evaluations, tweets, advertising copy etc etc.

Then each writer picked up one of the photographs and postcards I collect and had scattered round the table – obviously you can’t do that, so I suggest you google ‘surreal images’ and pick one.  Don’t try to think too hard, the best results come when you think ‘oh my god, I can’t make this work. I really can’t, this is hopeless…’ until, click, something slips into place.

Because…. you are now going to use one of your written forms and link it to the image. We had some wonderful surprising results – an advert to win an afternoon of someone’s happy childhood, a thank you letter expressing what someone really thinks, a health and safety report for a cow with wings etc etc etc.

Set your timer for eight minutes and go….

Then we read out – with these first draft readings we just listen and admire, rather than comment. It’s always one of my favourite parts.

Following this we read and discussed this piece on actively getting 100 rejections by Deb Wain in Tulpa Magazine, and looked at what it meant – not just shifting the emphasis from product to process but also discipline. It’s part of the writing circle. Too often we can get stuck in freewriting, coming up with the ideas but not finishing them off which uses a different part of the writing brain.

Then we had coffee, filled up our drinks, caught up with other writers for five minutes. It’s not all hard work!

Coming back to the table, I handed out a sheet with these five current (as I’m writing this) submission calls. The writers had to pick one and come up with something then and there. Before they started writing, I discussed how some of my best work has come from commissions – because I often had to work hard to find out how I connected with the subject, where my heart was, why this often random subject could become mine.

So here you go…. good luck! If you need another way into these subjects, I offered that they might go back to the original list of writing forms they wrote at the beginning and use one of them to approach their chosen prompts…

Do let me know if you follow any of these, perhaps send a link if you get one published, and I hope you find this mini writing session helpful! 

 

PICK ONE OF THESE FIVE WRITING PROMPTS TO WORK WITH….

  1. Write inspired by this picture… anything, anyhow… (visualverse.org)

visual verse

  1. Write a piece NO MORE than 300 words using as many of these seven words as you can… (http://newflashfiction.com/)

On December 15th, 2017, we learned through reliable news sources such as the Washington Post that the Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the Center for Disease Control from using seven words in their official documents: The words are as follows: “evidence-based”, “science-based” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.” This isn’t dystopian fiction. This is real.

  1. Write a non-fiction piece on something beautiful in your every day. It should be 250 words or less. (http://www.riverteethjournal.com/)

Glimpses, glimmers, meditations, moments, reflections, refractions, interrupted shadows, river shimmers, darkened mirrors, keyholes, kaleidoscopes, earring hoops, slabs of cracked granite, cracks where the light gets in. Beautiful things.

  1. Write a poem based on the theme of women’s suffrage – 100 years anniversary… (paperswans.co.uk)
  2. Use ‘contagion’ as your theme…. (http://abridgedonline.com/)

We are intimate with the end of things. Infection comes from close contact. Out of control, it makes us crazy. Suspicion plants its roots deep and spores. Trust nobody. This is the threat. It is enormous but made of tiny things that are everywhere. We speak for it with our words that aren’t ours. Nothing is ours. The threat is panic. What sneaks in will eat us up whole. It is getting too close, it is sticky on our fingertips. Are you afraid of other people? How they touch you, love you, need you, change you? How they look like you and can rearrange you? We come together in touch. This is contagion. Don’t be touched if you want to survive. And you want to survive. With plague comes suspicion, comes isolation, comes hysteria, comes total destruction.

Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?

Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?
Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?

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I always use freewrites in my writing classes. They help at the beginning of a class to get us in the mood, to move from the everyday to the writing journal, to help settle us as writers in the energy of the group. Often, to be honest, I find that those six minutes of giving yourself over to the page and not trying to pre-empt or control your writing is valuable enough in itself, but I can also understand the interest in doing something, anything, with this writing.

So here are some of the things we have been working with recently in my regular group. I’d love to know what you do with your freewrites too? There are some recent prompts at the bottom of this post too. I normally set the timer for six minutes, pick one and let my pen move!

Five things to do with freewrites:

1. Go through your writing and underline or circle any phrases or words that have energy for you. Now write one at the top of a new page, and start another six minutes of writing with this as your prompt. The advantage is that this will take you far away from what you normally write about.

2. As above, but this time you’ll use one of your underlined phrases as a title for a new piece. Every time we have done this in my group, we have come up with extraordinary, surprising and often moving titles that we would never have found otherwise. Often the piece they inspire will be surprising too.

3. Read back and reflect on what you have written. Be interested, not judgemental. Kathleen Adams calls this the ‘reflective write’, and suggests taking the phrase ‘When I read this, I am interested in…’ or ‘When I read this, I am surprised by…’ as your starting prompt. The reason for doing this is that you start to mentor your own writing self, noticing what works for you and what doesn’t. It often helps you to pull out the centre, or the heart, of the piece too.

4. For this one you need someone else, but put your freewrite to one side, and in pairs, just talk to one another in turn about what came up from the original prompt. Take it in turns to listen, just that, no interrupting or affirming, while the other one talks. Then you have two options. You can write from what they have told you – a kind of writing/speaking Chinese Whispers, or go back to the page and look at what you originally wrote. It’s fascinating to see a) what sticks from our writing, and b) the differences in how we ‘speak something’ and how we write it.

5. If you are in the middle of a large piece of fiction, a novel or a short story, then use the prompt to freewrite as if you were one of your own fictional characters. Get into their heads and use first person and follow the freewrite rules – don’t let your pen stop, don’t censor yourself, don’t read back as you’re writing. It may be that you won’t use anything you’ve written, but you’ll get to know your characters so much better. It’s particularly useful for minor characters who still need to be three-dimensional, and helps in getting their voice correct but also mining those small details that bring your writing to life.
 

Twenty-Five Freewrite Prompts

*          A collection of…
*          In a year’s time…
*          My first home…
*          My favourite smell is…
*          I want…
*          Liar liar, pants on fire
*          When I was twelve…
*          I want to explore…
*          These things I have loved (Rupert Brooke)
*          The first time I…
*          I read because
*          My life in numbers…
*          It’s been along time since…
*          If I had longer, I would write about…
*          Shut your eyes and think of shapes, now pick the one that keeps
coming to you – oblong, square, round, and freewrite from that…
*          The language of home…
*          I hate it when…
*          Ten things I will not think about in my last seconds of life…
*          You don’t know me but we could be friends…
*          If I could change anything in the world, I would…
*          The last time I danced…
*          Things to do today
*          The things I carry (physical or beliefs)
* My brush with fame
* Ten snapshots from yesterday