• One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.
    Jack Kerouac
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Randolph Lundine Writing Prompts

Writing prompts, news, information, and resources to help expand your writing community, hone your writing habits, and to waste time in a way that feels like you're working on your writing.

Just Write: Free Writing

Ernst Hemingway writing some notes on a folder at his desk

The only way to finish is to start. But this is the scariest step, isn’t it? Too often we are hampered by the myth of creative genius. The idea that writing comes easily to the gifted, that miracles drip from their pens, and their drafts require little more than a polish before they’re ready for public adoration. But even Hemingway wrote shitty first drafts. 

Today’s exercise is about what comes before that shitty first draft. It’s about leaving behind the drunk genius and setting out on your own. Letting go of this weighty myth leaves room for play and experimentation in your writing. It lets you follow your ideas down the rabbit hole and see where they take you. 

Free writing, allowing yourself to release words without overthinking or inviting your inner critic to the table, is a habit we all should develop. It is a way of catching your ideas and thinking through your writing projects. It is the initial, chaotic information dump (or visioning phase, if you prefer) of your writing process. 

You are not starting a draft. You are just putting ideas and thoughts on paper. They can be irrelevant, bizarre, or silly. All are welcome. No one will ever read it but you. Most of it will never be seen again. But you might find a jewel in the mess, a kernel worth inviting into your first draft.  

Or, as Anne Lamott puts it, “Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those side crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go—but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and half pages.”

Even if you’ve started your first draft, it is not likely to flow, unimpeded and glorious, to the end. We are always constantly starting. Free writing can be a way of thinking through these blocks or around challenges in your writing projects. This writing around your current project might lead to something you keep, or it might not. But it will help you think and start (or restart). 

Find a way to distinguish free writing from your usual writing practice. Something that signals this is the thinking phase of your writing. If it’s not your usual first approach, writing longhand is a great way to free write. As writer Judith Freeman says, “when writing longhand the brain and the hand are connected…ink flows; ideas flow with it.”

There are many ways to approach free writing around your project, so play around until you find what works for you. It can be as simple as selecting a setting, object, or character from your project and visualizing it. Hold the image in your mind and then write down everything that comes up as you think of this person/place/thing.  Do not reread as you write. Do not edit.

If you need a little more guidance, try this exercise:

Put one of your subjects in an unfamiliar place or time. Move them around the globe or into a different decade and imagine how they would respond. What would they notice? Or place them in a scene from a film or book you love and rewrite it from their perspective. Think of this as play—you have no expectation other than words on paper. 

Go back the next day and reread what you wrote. Does it tell you anything interesting about your subject? What surprised you? Does it show you anything about how they interact with the world? Are they funnier or more timid than you’d imagined?


Photo by Robert Capa from the Robert Capa and Cornell Capa Archive, Gift of Cornell and Edith Capa, 2010 

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Just Write: On Tension

Film director Alfred Hitchcock frames a camera shot with his hands.

“Our instinct as humans is to provide answers, to ease tension. As writers, our job is the opposite, to create tension and not dispel it immediately.”—Sol Stein

 Your current project may not be a Hitchcockian thriller, but creating tension can ensure your reader stays with you to the final scene. I recognize that “craft a narrative that readers want to stick with” feels like impossible and vague guidance, so let’s bring in Sol Stein.

Stein offers some concrete ways of achieving tension in your writing: “short sentences step up pace . . . frequent paragraphing accelerates the pace. Short sentences plus frequent paragraphing step us pace even more.” Of course, shorter sentences means leaving some of your darlings on the floor. Or, as Stein puts it, “[f]lab-cutting is one of the best means for improving the pace of both fiction and nonfiction.”

Treat this week’s exercise as an experiment in pacing (you can regather your darlings after it's all over). Select a scene from your current project and first trim the fat.  Start by removing “all adjectives and adverbs and then readmit the necessary few after careful testing.” The list of banned adverbs includes very, quite, really, always, almost…. Take one more pass, seeking out any extra bits that no longer have a home in this leaner, faster version. 

Once your chapter is as svelte as Grace Kelly, it’s time to turn to the structural pacing. Begin again at the sentence level. Look for semicolons, em-dashes, and comma clusters. Break everything into shorter, brisker sentences. Then turn to the paragraph. Now that you have taut sentences it should be easier to break the paragraph apart. Start by splitting each paragraph into two, then see if three works. Read the new version of your scene aloud to better hear how your edits have altered the pacing and language.

You may not keep all of these changes. In fact, you may really hate them. Butthis exercise will force you to examine the pacing of your scene, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph. Playing with your structure, removed from the action or narrative, will help you isolate the mechanics of pacing. At a minimum, it should help you see the flab in your story. And I suspect you will keep some of your shorter sentences and more frequent paragraphing.

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Just Write

 "Hunt down your habit, and train your mind to flinch at it."--Susan Bell

Every writer, like every human, is a creature of habit. In our writing, we all lean on favorite words, turns of phrase, and sentence structures (My name is Heather, and I love an em dash). In every project I edit, I make a list of words on which the client leans too heavily. The easiest way to seek and destroy these overt linguistic habits is to read your work aloud. It is also, in my humble opinion, the best self-editing tool in your arsenal. We all sound brilliant in our minds. I fill in gaps and my fancy word choices seem like perfection when I type them. But when we read our work out loud, those missing words become glaring holes and my overly clever word choice sounds weird and unnatural. Suddenly, you will notice that you use “suddenly” far too often. Alarmingly, you’ll hear that you start sentences with an adverb far too often. Sadly, you will notice you’ve repeated the same sentence structure far too often.

 Take your current project (or section of a longer manuscript) and read it aloud to yourself. I find this is enough for me to catch unclear language or awkward structure. However, you may find you hear the work better if you record yourself and then listen back to it a few days later (without the words in front of you, you’ll be less likely to fill in the gaps or be enamored with your purple prose). For the truly brave, ask a friend to read the work to you.


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Just Write

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”—Anne Lamott

Today’s exercise is to explore this gift—go someplace and observe life with your project in mind. This could be as simple as a trip to the post office or to a friendly neighborhood dive bar. If feasible, go to a setting that appears in your work. Instead of asking yourself how much longer it could possibly take the woman in front of you to buy a book of stamps, ask how your character would approach this chore. What would they observe? Would they have more patience as she looks at every possible option in the stamp portfolio?

Pay attention to the small details—the smells, how the man perched on the corner stool holds his beer, the light filtering through the tress at this time of day, or the ways people wait in line. These details can make your work—be it novel or historical treatise—vivid and real. Observe how each person navigates the space. Notice if they wander “the aisles of [their] supermarkets with glints of madness in their eyes” or if they revel in the task. 

This habit of recording observations can be a mainstay of your writing practice. Stockpile these nuggets of overheard conversation, quotidian scenes and spectacles. Who knows when you might need one?

Quotes and inspiration from Bird by Bird: Some Intructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

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Just Write

The Elevator Exercise:

All too often I've read the first page of a book proposal or query letter, only to realize I have no idea what the subject of the book will be. This makes me stop reading. I know your project is special and beautiful, but you are not the exception to this unhappy truth. Editors, agents, & their assistants simply do not have time to read your beautifully crafted but long-winded description of what your book will not be about, or what inspired you to write it, or the setting...

What you need is the written equivalent of the elevator pitch. You must clearly & concisely articulate the book’s subject before we reach the lobby. Or, as another editor I consulted put it: "Even if [authors] plan to take a more literary approach in the manuscript itself, a proposal should tell me -- in as straightforward and honest a fashion as possible -- what the thing is about, ideally in an introductory couple of sentences.”

Of course, you still want those sentences to be well written, to show your writing style, and to offer a hint of what a reader will find in the full manuscript. It's a tall order, but you can do it. I have faith in you.

So, with all of this in mindhere's your weekly writing exercise:

Without using any existing language from your manuscript (don't even open it for a quick inspirational peek), describe your book's subject in no more than three sentences. If you feel overly ambitious, try to do it in one. If you feel even more ambitious, craft a paragraph around these sentences. No quotes, references to other works, or jargon allowed.

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Just Write

Notebook pages with Woody Guthrie’s handwritten resolutions and doodles.


‘Tis this season to resolve.

Since we know most of you are resolving to write more, our first writing exercise of the year lets you dream up a list of resolutions for a character or subject from your current project. What kind of resolutions would they make? Would they be filled with hope or despair? Would they write them down or say them aloud as they ate a grape? Would they keep them to themselves or tell everyone from their barista to their dog what they were manifesting in the new year? However they might approach the task, first craft a list of their resolutions. Then let this list be a jumping off point--for a scene, a short story, a conversation, or a chapter—capturing their idiosyncratic rite.

If you are working on a nonfiction or scholarly piece, this exercise can help you know your subject better, even if it involves some creative thinking. Did your subject make any resolutions? Could you imagine what their list may have included? Was there a traditional practice for making annual resolutions in the time/country/culture in which your project takes place? 

Alternatively, make a list of resolutions for your project (I will use fewer adverbs. I will research 17th century weaponry. I will write every morning. I will avoid jargon. I will keep a diary of observations).

If you need a bit of inspiration, check out this great list of resolutions including my favorites from Woody Guthrie: "Don't get lonesome. Stay glad. Keep hoping machine running. Dream Good"

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Keep at it!

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Writing prompts can be great (and we’ve certainly shared many of them with you here). They can help when your stuck and you simply need a reason to sting words together or get your butt back in the writing chair. But they don’t typically help you start or finish a writing project. The only way to do this is, as Achebe reminds us, is to keep at it.

Over the past few years, we have thought a lot about how to help writers finish their projects and then how to revise those early drafts on their own. We are working on more significant guidance on this path, but in the meantime we’ll be posting exercises (here and on our instagram page) to help you keep at it. These will not be writing prompts, but rather invitations to play with your current project. Our hope is that they will help you hone, rethink, or even salvage bits of your work in progress (be it an essay, book, or article).

Ideally, some of these exercises will become part of your toolkit, useful things to pull out when you find yourself in need of ways to keep at it. If all goes well, it will be like a stern little editor is sitting on your shoulder urging you to make that section better, or to rethink this paragraph, and I won't actually have to come to your house. 

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Meet Shuchi!

We are thrilled to share that Shuchi Saraswat has joined the Randolph Lundine editorial team!

Shuchi is a writer based in Boston. She founded the Transnational Literature Series at Brookline Booksmith, a reading series focused on themes of migration, and in 2019 she served as a judge for the National Book Award in Translated Literature. She has worked as a creative writing instructor for over a decade and is currently a nonfiction editor at AGNI.

We thought we'd let Shuchi tell you about herself in her own words (and because I always want to know what everyone is reading):

How long have you been an editor? One of my first editor jobs was on the staff of Fringe Magazine, an online literary journal dedicated to experimental literature. That was while I was a graduate student at Emerson College, so fifteen years ago now! I've been teaching creative writing for the last decade or so, and consulting on manuscripts for years. 
Do you have an area of specialty, or genres on which you prefer to work?
I'm interested in creative nonfiction (memoirs, essay collections, book length essays) and novels and linked short story collections. I'm interested in writers who like to experiment and push the boundaries of their chosen genre or form, and I have a particular fondness for books that explore ideas of home, migration, language, and identity.
What are you reading right now?
I'm usually reading a few books at once! Currently, The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector (translated from Portuguese by Idra Novey) and The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (translated from German by Michael Hulse), and I'm revisiting an old favorite, The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick, for a class I'm teaching on essay writing.
Favorite bookstore? 
I worked at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts for many years and I could spend hours browsing the books in the Used Book Cellar. I also met my partner there, so I have to say, that's definitely my favorite!
Favorite bookish podcast/journal/website/social media follow?
I love David Naimon's Between the Covers podcast. He's interviewed so many authors I admire - Jenny Erpenbeck, Teju Cole, Karthika Naïr, just to name a few recent episodes- and he takes his time, does his research and reading, and the conversations are rich and in-depth. A real treat to listen to.
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On Women Talking & Narrative Structure (or, Just Write 71)

We just read Miriam Toews’ new novel, Women Talking and well, we women can’t stop talking about it. I made my book club add it as a second book for our next meeting (where it will be discussed alongside Sally Rooney's Normal People, which might not have been the best pairing). One of us, not naming names here, suggested it was the refutation of patriarchal society we have been waiting for.

In full disclosure, I had read the review in The New York Times and immediately decided I did not want to read this book. It fell victim to my recent refusal, for which I fully blame A Little Life, to read books that promise unrelenting misery. Frankly, I am impressed that I even finished reading the review, given this grim opening paragraph:

Between 2005 and 2009 in an isolated Mennonite colony in Bolivia, women and girls (as young as 3) regularly woke up groggy and bruised, their sheets smeared with blood and semen. Some members of the conservative patriarchal community blamed demons; others attributed these reports to “wild female imagination.” In reality, nine men in the close-knit community had been breaking into houses every few nights, spraying the sleeping inhabitants with a drug designed to anesthetize cattle and raping them while they lay unconscious.

But then Ladette made Women Talking an agenda item in one of our meetings (yes, we have the best meetings). She insisted that I buy the book and read it immediately. As usual, she was right. I loved it.

Among its many intriguing elements—its intelligence and precision, a plot that begins after the horrific action, after the mystery has been solved—I can’t stop thinking about the novel’s structure. It is almost entirely dialogue. Or, more accurately, an account of the deliberations of a group of women who cannot read or write, interrupted by the record keeper’s occasional digressions and personal narrative. As a reviewer far smarter than I pointed out, “Women Talking works like a Socratic dialogue, the Republic  moved to a Mennonite barn.”

But for whom is the record being created? And does the fact that August Epp, the record keeper, is a man undermine the women’s story?

Although I struggled with it at first, as the novel progressed I needed August. Not because he was a man, though I think there’s something sly and clever happening in that decision, but because I needed those breaks in the dialogue and the heaviness it contains. I needed that context to make clear how remarkable and new an undertaking the women’s meticulous defining, debating, and, ultimately, decision making is. Rather than diminishing their power, these breaks made the women’s words and intellect glow.

The narrative structure is not just a clever device here. It allows the women’s debate to be the primary story and recognizes the radical significance of that debate. Even August’s moments of meandering reflection matter, as they flesh out the confines of the culture in which they all live, but also its beauty. While it’s not perfect, each decision, each word Toews selects is smart and deliberate. It’s not clever just to be clever.

Playing with narrative structure is nothing new, but doesn’t it seem to be having a long moment? How many new novels have you read in the past few years that switched voices, alternated between character’s viewpoints, or from a first-person narration to a third-person omniscient one? In my very unscientific survey, I’d say the vast majority.

There are also those works that take this to the far edges, that crumple the traditional narrative structure and try something new, to varying degrees of success. Lincoln in the Bardo, with its patchwork of primary sources and chorus of characters. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing with its unnamed characters and fractured prose. Calamities, Renee Gladman’s strange jewel of an essay collection in which “the formal and syntactical choices [she] makes are direct enactments of their content.” Of course, I recognize that these writers are indebted to their experimental forefathers Faulkner, Joyce, Beckett, et al., but the English major in me finds something reassuring in the continued appetite for experimental writing of all genres.   

So…now that you’ve indulged my need to gush about Women Talking and to geek out about narrative structure, what to take away from this as a writer? As a responsible editor, can I justify this digression by turning it into a writing prompt?

Take a short piece you are currently working on, or an idea you’ve been playing/struggling with, and undo its current structure. There’s room for play here.

Can you reduce the context to its barest bones? When you strip away the guiding hand of narration, is the dialogue enough to propel the piece forward? How would your story change if you told it from a different character’s perspective?

What if you removed the objectivity from your nonfiction piece and told it from your perspective, asking instead what your subject means to you, or what the writing process was like?

If this sort of play is your jam, try this writing prompt...or this one.


Quoted book reviews:



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We are incredibly excited to share that Sherrie Flick has joined the editorial team at Randolph Lundine. Sherrie is the award-winning author of a novel and three short story collections. Her fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including W.W. Norton's New Sudden FictionFlahs Fiction Forward, and New Micro. Her nonfiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Creative Nonfiction, The Wall Street Journal, Pittsburgh Quarterly, and Pittsburgh Magazine. She served as series editor for The Best Small Fictions 2019, assistant editor for Western Pennyslvania History magazine, and managing editor for many art and history exhibition catalogs and books. She teaches in the MFA and Food Studies departments at Chatham University.

Learn more about Sherrie on her website: http://sherrieflick.com/

Or follow her on Twitter: @SherrieFlick

Or Instagram: @sherrieflick


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Just Write (70)

Before the parade of poets, receptions, readings, and the crush of books that is AWP fades into memory, let’s immortalize it. Take your favorite memory—be it the most memorable character, favorite bit of overheard MFA earnestness, or reconnection with old friends—and spin it into something more. Perhaps you’ll write that rebuttal to MFA vs. NYC you’ve been hanging onto, or about your new BFF Colson Whitehead…

If you were wise enough to stay home this past weekend, I feel satire is in order. Surely, if anything is worthy of a Christopher Guest treatment, it’s AWP.

If you have no idea about this AWP of which we speak, get thee to a computer. There seemed to be a constant snapping of iPhones and actual cameras and oh, the twittering (#AWP). 

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Just Write (69)

Let’s talk.

Dialogue can be tricky. Whether you’re writing a piece of fiction or serious nonfiction, it can enliven a story, expand the point of view, and capture a moment or concept in a vital way. But regardless of genre it’s hard to incorporate different voices and quotes well. How much should you use? How should you introduce it? Do you listen to Elmore Leonard and “never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue?”

Today’s writing exercise is all about playing with dialogue. Since this is something that comes up VERY frequently when I work with scholarly writers, we’re breaking this into two exercises (one for scholarly writers and one for everyone else).

Fiction and nonfiction writers: construct a scene almost entirely using dialogue. Only allow yourself a few words for set up, pauses, or important shifts in scene (or really, enough breaks that you have to figure out how to begin the dialogue again). Can you capture the different characters without the luxury of description? Can you make the conversation real and alive when it’s the whole narrative?

My academic darlings, your writing prompt is the reverse of this. The point of your exercise is to create a piece that relies on quotes without being overrun by them. You are forbidden from using block quotes. Select a primary document, preferably one in the first person (a personal account, memoir, interview, diary, etc.). Tell the story of this document. Focus on your version of the account using a few carefully selected quotes to enrich your narrative. These quotes should not repeat what you say or abruptly shift the tone of the piece. Rather, they should clarify, expand, prove, or make alive a point you are trying to make as succinctly as possible. Remember to vary how you incorporate the quotes, how much of a given quote you use, and to make the quoted material secondary to your own words. 

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Just Write (69)

I've spent the last week on the road, touring the Gulf South. These were lazy days filled with food, drink, oceans, and rain. With a dog that is frankly too large for sane people to travel with, we meandered back roads and enjoyed every second of it. 

But then there's the reentry. It's a bit like riding one of those amusement park gondolas--your personal escape pod slowly ferrying you high above all of the crazy below--only to have the bottom drop out... One morning you're in New Orleans drinking the best coffee you've ever had, and the next you're praying there's any coffee in the house so you can face all of those things you know are lurking beyond your bed. The post-vacation piles of laundry, the empty refrigerator, and all of that damn email.

No matter how well prepared I think I am, those first few days back in reality are always madness. So here's a little chaos-inspired writing prompt for you:

Chaos Follows. Write a set of short scenes in which confusion or chaos follows a character, as if in his wake. The character does not cause this, knowingly or unknowingly, but disorder nearly always happens after he has left a room, an intersection, or an elevator. This should not be magic. Imagine an exotic wake, but try to make these effects and aftereffects grow naturally out of the character you're describing. 400 words

--Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany (2005, Writers Digest)

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Just Write (68)

A funny thing about yogis...we don't often get sick. I know, this sounds like hippie hogwash. But whether it's mind over matter, the power of regular exercise, or all of that deep breathing, we aren't hit as hard by the seasonal bugs. Or at least we like to think so. 

But not this week. This week I'm in bed. I have watched more television than anyone should. Ever. My mind is fuzzy and my head is not securely attached to my body. 

So I'm letting the fine folks at Electric Literature do all of the work for me. Your, belated, weekly writing prompts: http://electricliterature.com/february-fiction-prompts-culled-from-the-news/

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Just Write (67)

Fangirl Ode

This week’s writing prompt is inspired by a double dollop of fangirling. I love Kim Gordon. I love her far more than I love Sonic Youth (which is vaguely blasphemous as an indie fan of a certain age). But even though I could never be won over by the noise, there was no denying Kim was the coolest, smartest, most badass girl in the world. She was not manufactured, she was not decoration. She shredded. And she wasn’t afraid to wear a miniskirt while doing it.

So imagine how my fangirl heart skipped a beat when I saw this essay about Kim Gordon by Elissa Schappell, who may very well be the coolest, smartest, most badass lit lady in the world. (If you don’t know who she is, for shame! And read this).

I love how Elissa tackles the tricky issue of writing about someone or something you love too much to be impartial. How do you approach the subject that turns you all gooey and inarticulate? The one that makes you want to mumble, while looking earnestly at you toes, “I love you so much. I’m such a big fan.”

Your assignment this week is to dive into that gooey abyss. Write a profile of your longest standing infatuation. Who or what did you love when you were younger that you still love now? You all immediately thought of something terribly embarrassing. Don’t pretend you didn’t. That’s your subject. Try to tackle this honestly. Don’t feign impartiality; don’t try to be cool. What did Doctor Who mean to you? How did Madonna transform your preteen, suburban world?

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Just Write (66)

It’s a ripped from the headlines sort of morning…

There are two teenagers in my house with what appears to be strep throat…and last night I started sneezing and haven’t stopped. Pure joy. So, forgive me if this week’s writing prompt is a bit of a cheat.

We’ve urged you to look to the news for inspiration before, but reading yesterday’s paper I was reminded how fantastically inspiring the real world is. Here are five stories from the New York Times that are far better than any writing prompt I could offer today:

  1. A love affair ignited by low-carbon energy leads to political scandal: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/us/politics/oregon-governor-john-kitzhaber-and-fiancee-cylvia-hayes-walked-tangled-path-to-exit.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
  2. A remote South Korean province’s $375 million experiment with Formula One racing failed, but it left behind the seeds of a car-racing culture. Oh, and a giant racetrack: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/world/asia/a-korean-auto-racing-debacle-but-hope-around-the-bend.html?ref=world
  3. The oldest person in Europe attributes her longevity to “Raw Eggs and No Husband Since ’38.”: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/world/raw-eggs-and-no-husband-since-38-keep-her-young-at-115.html
  4. Spider Martin took the famous photos of Bloody Sunday in Selma, 1965. And was also George Wallace’s campaign photographer. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/arts/design/spider-martins-photographs-of-the-selma-march-get-a-broader-view.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=photo-spot-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
  5. The inventor of Nutella, which made him justifiably the richest man in Italy, has died. On Valentine’s Day. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/business/michele-ferrero-pioneer-who-gave-the-world-nutella-dies-at-89.html?hpw&rref=obituaries&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well
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Just Write (65)

I've started to keep a list of rules. These are things I tell almost every author after I've edited their work. I'd like to wrap them in a bow and send them to anyone working on a book, whether they be novelists or botanists.

This week's writing prompt (which is really a revision prompt) is a bit like that list. Rather than telling you what to write, or focusing on words and paragraphs, it asks you to consider the whole narrative. The forest, rather than the trees.

Often I am asked for more prompts for academic or serious nonfiction writers. Each time I say, "but you should do them all because you too are a writer." All writers should think of their craft, language, and storytelling. And this revision prompt is no exception--all prose writers, regardless of genre, should consider questions like these.

Five More Questions to Ask During Revision:

1. Does this draft have a beginning, middle, and end?

2. Do scenes flow logically from on to another?

3. Is there a missing scene?

4. Is the ending too rushed, or to the contrary, too slow?

5. Does the ending leave you with too many questions to be able to say what the piece is about?

--from The Pocket Muse 2: Endless Inspiration for Writers by Monica Wood

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It’s all in the details....part 2

You probably saw this coming…take a look at the list of details and moments you created for last week’s writing prompt. Pick one thing (or for that matter, several things) to use as your jumping off point. Build a story around that overheard bit of conversation, giving it flesh and bones. Give the woman at the bus stop a life, a home, an adventure. Remember those subtle details are what we are after here--the bits that tranform a collection of facts into a story.

And since you’ve got this shiny new notebook, use it. Keep noticing and recording. Anytime an idea, character, or chunk of story comes to you, write it down. When that line you’ve been fussing over finally comes clear while you’re in traffic, write it down (or record it on your phone so you don’t crash). Don’t worry if it’s silly, trite, or irrelevant to your current project. Don't judge it, just collect it. Something in there will be worthwhile, trust me. 

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Just Write (63)

It’s all in the details…

This week’s writing prompt is about paying attention to your world, rather than getting words on paper (though I hope it helps you do that as well). It’s also one that will require you to hang with me for more than a single sitting.

Like anything, writing is a habit. It’s more about making time, setting a schedule, and sitting your butt in the chair than it is about divine inspiration. But sometimes we need a little inspiration, divine or not. So all this week I want you to gather it.

Keep a notebook, a sturdy sheet of paper, or (sigh) an iPhone on you. Anytime something strikes you, write it down. An overheard snippet of conversation, a powerful smell, the way emotion washes over your child’s face, a song lyric, the woman standing at the bus stop. Big or small, write down whatever catches your eye or your imagination. You won’t remember when you get home. Grab it before it’s gone.

This is about the subtle detail, the nuance, the little pieces that transform your writing from a collection of facts to a story. At the end of the day, it’s not telling me how tall you subject is that makes them come alive. It’s showing them to me, and often it’s these little bits of life we capture that make this distinction. So spend the week gathering glimmers of life. Notice, observe, record.

*Inspired by sage advice in The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith

*Image of Word Nest by Siobhan Martin


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Just Write (62)

As a hippie yogi instructor, I’ve been reading about mindfulness lately. As an editor, a lot of this is just too terrible to read. But I love Thich Nhat Hanh.

As a terrible meditator, I love him even more.

Rather than telling you to secret yourself away in a quiet temple and chant for hours (which you should totally do if you’ve got the time and disposition for it), he encourages you to be mindful in everything you do. If you’re eating a tangerine, eat a tangerine. If you’re talking to someone, talk to them. And my favorite, wash the dishes to wash the dishes:

 …which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

So for today’s writing prompt, in the ailing monk’s honor, let’s focus. Pick one simple task. Making the bed, walking the dog, painting a fence. Let it be the only action that takes place in the entire 500 words you’re giving over to it.

If you’re working on a larger piece (be it novel, monograph, biography, etc.), pick some quotidian activity your character or subject would do. How would they do it? What would the experience be like in the place and time in which they live? What details would they notice as they strove to focus on this one thing? Would they be able to do so?

Bonus prompt: try this in different voices or perspectives. Write it from a third person omniscient perspective, for example, and then try it from a first person point of view.

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