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Writing Promptly

Every month I go to a writer's group at my local library where we talk about books, publishing, and all the things that writers specifically like to grumble about. Recently we've had some fun with prompts. I got a kick out of the one I did last month so I thought I'd share the results. The prompt was: “You've been asked to buy ingredients and prepare a meal for another family. Write about the experience”. “Sue-Ellen resettled the casserole dish in the crook of her elbow, the rich smell of barbecue floating up to remind her of home. Her barbecue was world famous...well, only if you counted the small town of Cut-n-Shoot, Texas as the world and only if famous meant winning the cook-off at the county fair. Still, she was proud of that barbecue and rightly so. It could lay Jim flat for an entire afternoon- knock him out on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, proudly displaying the hole in his sock, his mouth open in an odorous, sonorous snore which drowned out the football game playing on the TV. Lord, she loved that man and how he ate her barbecue.”

Nothing earth-shattering, but I have to admit I fell in love with Jim a little bit. I know, I know. I got kind of derailed and somewhere out there that poor family is still waiting for their dinner.

We've had some discussion in our group about the helpfulness of prompts. Some people felt that prompts were only for those beginners who needed help with their writing. Prompts were below Advanced writers.

I think that's a bunch of hooey. Now, to be fair, I never used to like prompts. I hate being told when and what to write. I also really suck at short fiction (flash fiction isn't even on my radar). Ideas that start off as short stories somehow gain the momentum of a runaway truck and end up 60 or 70,000 words long.

But I've started to see the beauty of prompts. They make me stretch and grow as a writer. Just like rehab, the process can be painful. Sometimes tears are involved. I definitely get that look my therapists recognized as extreme concentration: eyebrows lowered, tongue sticking out, and sweat pooling in places where girls like to pretend they don't sweat. Having to write something so specific and not in my genre is scary, but it's not pointless. The only way to get better at what I do is to practice. I write young adult fantasy. As you can see, the prompt above does not scream fantasy, but I learned something from writing it. And no matter where you are in your writing career, you can always learn something new.

So, stretch yourself a bit. If what you write is totally stupid and you just want to crumple it up in a melodramatic gesture common to writers throughout the ages- but you can't because it's on a computer screen- then you never have to look at it again. But who knows? It might spark a greater work. Or breathe life into something you've been slaving over for a while. Writing's hard. Admit it, suck it up, and put in the time.