Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘writing prompts’

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A Moveable… Writer's Workshop

Lots of people read on the subway. But how about writing on the subway? The NY Writers Coalition recently offered many the chance to do just that–by transforming a subway car into a free writing workshop! With pens and paper in hand, a group of writers on the #7 train wrote from Times Square to Flushing, reports the New York Times: After leaving Manhattan, the train emerged from its tunnel and rose along elevated tracks into the bright sunlight in western Queens. It was an unconventional writer’s space, with the train rumbling into a new station every few minutes and […]


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Get Writing: Just That I Love It

In the illuminating introduction to her Selected Stories, Alice Munro considers the recurring setting of her fiction: “The reason I write so often about the country to the east of Lake Huron is just that I love it.” She goes on to describe how memories of particular images from that geography will motivate her stories in their earliest, most daydreamy forms. For instance, Munro describes the image of “snow falling straight down” that served as the seed of a story. In its finished form, there’s no reference to that image, no trace for the reader to dwell on, but all […]


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Get Writing: Word Salad

Some of the students loved words like “denial” and “dysfunction.” Characters in fiction “had issues.” It was the early 90s and people talked like this. I’d just gotten a flyer in my mailbox announcing the World’s Best Short Short Story contest sponsored by Florida State University and the late Jerome Stern. I made copies of the 1991 winner, “Baby, Baby, Baby,” by Francois Camoin. We read it out loud. Everyone admired the story’s energy and wild inventiveness. “Baby,” I wrote on the blackboard. I asked everyone to name a food. “Rutabagas,” said the country singer. “Pigs’ knuckles,” said the clown who liked to shock […]


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Get Writing: The Backwards Telescope

When I was in high school, I took a playwriting class, and we’d sit there–all of us sixteen, seventeen, eighteen–reading our work aloud around the table. Our teacher, who was about thirty, would give us pointers: that speech is clunky; this character hasn’t said anything for ten minutes. But sometimes he wouldn’t say a word: he would look at us, hold his palm in front of his face for a moment, then let it drop to the table, as if he were offering us an invisible treat. We didn’t really understand this Zen gesture at the time, but I can […]


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Get Writing: On Desire

Desire is the writer’s best friend. When you know what your main character wants, you have your entire story. When someone wants something–badly–he or she will get up off the couch and try to attain it. The object of desire might be a new winter coat (“The Overcoat” by Gogol), a boy (“City of Boys” by Beth Nugent), money for a family member’s medicine (“King of the Bingo Game” by Ralph Ellison), a business contract (“Like a Bad Dream” by Heinrich Boll)–it doesn’t matter, as long as the desire is concrete and the character can pursue it. The character’s desire […]


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Get Writing: Be Authentic

Write what you know without simply writing what you know … Write What You Know. I’ve never felt wholly comfortable with this phrase. I tell my students to abandon the literal idea of it on the first day of class. How bored and boring we’d all be if that were all any of us ever wrote. There needs to be an imbalance—more fiction than fact. Be Authentic. I ask my students to be authentic on the page instead, to create relatable characters navigating real stories. Our goal as storytellers is to engage our readers and spark a reaction in them […]


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I would not, could not, write a story…

…using only the words from The Cat in the Hat.  Or could I? That’s the challenge posed by one of the prompts at the Tumblr site Writing Prompts. (Don’t worry, they’re helpfully listed for your reference. Did you know The Cat in the Hat contains the word “shame”?) The site has a huge variety of prompts, including lots based on photos (for you visual thinkers). They’re totally different from other prompts I’ve seen–you’re sure to find something to get you started, unstuck, or turned in a new direction. I’m bookmarking this site for the next time I feel like I […]


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Resolved to write more in 2012? It's not too late.

Perhaps one of your resolutions this year was to write more. (You too?) And now January is two-thirds over, and well, you haven’t done quite as much as you’d hoped. All you need is a gentle kick in the pants prompt to get you started. This year, two great writing sites are each offering tidbits of inspiration: First up, Figment, a digital community for young fiction writers, is offering a new “Daily Themes” newsletter. Between January 2 and March 30, subscribers will receive a prompt via email—what a great way to get writing first thing in the morning! Good offers […]


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Bookish Gift Idea #12: The Storymatic

Here’s a great gift for a young writer, a game buff, or a teacher. The Storymatic provides 500 cards suggesting characters, images, and events to lead players into a story: First, draw two gold cards. Combine the information on the two cards to create your main character. For example, if you draw “surgeon” and “amateur boxer,” your character is a surgeon who is also a boxer. Next, draw one or two copper cards. Let the information on the cards lead you into a story. Wild cards are interspersed throughout, and they prompt you to go in directions you might not […]


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Get Writing: or rather, Getting (Back to) Writing

Even the most dedicated writers go through “not-writing” phases, deliberate or accidental ones. And when we return to our writing desks after that week or month or year away, our fingers and voices may feel…rusty. How do we get back that indescribable “it,” the voice that drives our prose and compels us to write it? The following exercise has helped me get my groove back on more than one occasion. It’s adapted from an assignment used by my former teacher Blanche Boyd (Terminal Velocity, The Revolution of Little Girls), who designed it for beginning writers–yet its usefulness extends to writers […]




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