Writing Prompt by Steven Reigns

I love how poetry (and most types of writing) can illuminate actions, items, and feelings that we might not normally explore or question.

For the past five years I’ve solely taught autobiographical poetry workshops.  The work generated from these workshops is the perfect mixture of poetry, my lifelong love, and my inherent fascination with others. I think autobiographical work helps the writer and reader see their lives in another way.

One of my favorite writing prompts with my students is to have them write a poem about their pillow.  Though scary scientific data suggests after a couple of years our pillows are weightier due to dust mite excrement, most of us don’t discard them often.  Think about how many dreams you’ve had on the pillow, when you first got it, how many lovers have rested their head on it, how many times you’ve cried on it, stayed awake with worry, been bedridden with illness, how it held your propped up head as you read of Scout and Jem’s adventures.  What about the times you’ve woken up with drool on your pillow? Or on hot July evenings flipping it over to feel the coolness of the other side? How many pillows are on your bed? Do you hug the pillow at night like one would a lover or does it get pushed aside in your sleep—maybe like a lover as well.  How many decorative pillows are ceremoniously placed on the bed only when guests are expected?

How does this compare with other pillows in your life?  When I was younger my father still used his Marine issued pillow and  I still remember how it smelled of him.  What about those throw pillows on your grandmother’s couch you used to take naps on?

If you’re interested in writing fiction, think of the pillow of your character.  It’s an interesting way to get into a story.

Biography of Steven Reigns: Steven Reigns’ newest collection of poetry, Inheritance, is being released in May of 2010.  A two-time recipient of The Los Angeles County’s Department of Cultural Affairs’ Artist-in-Residency Grant, Reigns organized and taught the first-ever autobiography poetry workshop for GLBT seniors and edited an anthology of their writings, My Life is Poetry. Visit him at www.stevenreigns.com.

Writing Prompt by Rob Roberge

A revision prompt:  Go back through any story you’ve done (or essay or whatever) and highlight every simile or metaphor.  Usually our first attempts at these are pat—using the borrowed language dead with, as Shklovsky points out (in the great book for writers “Theory of Prose”), the weight of familiarity. Say you’ve written a clunker like: “We fought like cats and dogs.”  Take this simile’s beginning, “We fought like…” and then write five more similes. Usually, sometime around the third or fourth, a writer will find a sharp, original simile or metaphor that another writer (with a different history of experience and experience in language) would not have come up with.  It’s a way to distinguish your work from other people’s, and a way to give voice to your unique history with event and language.

Biography of Rob Roberge: Rob Roberge is the author of the upcoming book of stories, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life (Red Hen, Fall, 2110), and the novels, More Than They Could Chew (Perennial, Dark Alley/Harper Collins, February 2005), and Drive (Hollyridge Press, 2006).  He teaches writing in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, in the MFA program in Creative Writing at UC-Riverside’s Palm Desert, and in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where he received the Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 2003.  His stories have been featured in ZYZZYVA, Chelsea, Other Voices, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the “Ten Writers Worth Knowing Issue” of The Literary Review.  His work has also been anthologized in Another City (City Lights, 2001),  It’s All Good (Manic D Press, 2004) and SANTI: Lives of the Modern Saints (Black Arrow Press, 2007).  Newer work is scheduled to appear, or has appeared, in Penthouse, Black Clock, and OC Noir, part of the series that includes San Francisco Noir, LA Noir and Las Vegas Noir. He plays guitar and sings with several LA bands, including, among others, the punk pioneers, The Urinals.  In his spare time, he restores and rebuilds vintage amplifiers and quack medical devices.  For news and more info, visit & or email at www.robroberge.com or on Facebook.

Writing Prompt by Rob Roberge

I’m a great believer in forced limitations—stories/modes of composition that have some pre-enforced limitation that requires us to find creative and unique ways out of a bind (as writing is, among other things, a form of creative problem-solving).  Lipograms, formal poetry, all these things tend to spur creativity.  So, with that in mind, a writing prompt:

Do a three to five page story (it can be longer, but if you’re stuck and looking to get un-stuck, sometimes shorter is better) in which, in the last paragraph, a character ends up alone in a motel room.  A few rules:

• Make it a MOTEL, not hotel, room.  They are different and the potential for unease, squalor, and the gravity of loneliness is greater in a motel.

• The character who ends up alone in your last paragraph MAY be your main character, but it doesn’t have to be the main character.

• Do not, no matter how great your misguided intention, have the character(s) alone throughout the story.  Remember Flaubert’s great observation from his notebooks that things exist in fiction when they are worked upon by other things…that the sunlight doesn’t exist for the reader until they see it coming through a window with dust specs floating in it…that the wheels of the cart don’t exist until you hear them rolling over cobblestones.  The same is true of people—they exist much more vibrantly in fiction when they are worked upon by other things and other people.  Have your characters interact.  Give your main character a desire and have him or her act on that desire with others.

• The story need not limit itself to the motel as a setting.  It only needs to end with the character alone in the motel—anything else is up to you.

Biography of Rob Roberge: Rob Roberge is the author of the upcoming book of stories, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life (Red Hen, Fall, 2110), and the novels, More Than They Could Chew (Perennial, Dark Alley/Harper Collins, February 2005), and Drive (Hollyridge Press, 2006).  He teaches writing in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, in the MFA program in Creative Writing at UC-Riverside’s Palm Desert, and in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where he received the Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 2003.  His stories have been featured in ZYZZYVA, Chelsea, Other Voices, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the “Ten Writers Worth Knowing Issue” of The Literary Review.  His work has also been anthologized in Another City (City Lights, 2001),  It’s All Good (Manic D Press, 2004) and SANTI: Lives of the Modern Saints (Black Arrow Press, 2007).  Newer work is scheduled to appear, or has appeared, in Penthouse, Black Clock, and OC Noir, part of the series that includes San Francisco Noir, LA Noir and Las Vegas Noir.  He plays guitar and sings with several LA bands, including, among others, the punk pioneers, The Urinals.  In his spare time, he restores and rebuilds vintage amplifiers and quack medical devices.  For news and more info, visit & or email at www.robroberge.com or on Facebook.

Writing Prompt by Felicia Luna Lemus

Punk Nerd Revolution Writing Prompt

Pick a central character you’d like to develop further.   What is one thing you know for sure about said character?

Revolt!  Take the one thing you know for sure about your character’s identity and turn it on its head.    For instance, if your character is male, make your character female instead.    If your character is straight, queer his/her life.    If your character believes in the fantastic, make your character a rationalist.    If your “character” is a constant presence of grey skies, make your character sunshine brightness.    If your “character” is an urban metropolis, make your character pastoral.

Write at least 5 pages in this experiment.   (If you’re applying this experiment to a work-in-progress, choose a scene you’re having difficulty with.)

Perhaps you’ll realize that this identity switch is exactly what the character needs to become dynamic and you will decide to replace the “original” character with the “opposite” character.    More likely, there will be ways that the “opposite” character can inform the “original” character or your narrative as a whole.    What unexpected details/perspectives/conflicts can be incorporated into a revision?

Enjoy.   And let the punk nerd revolution begin!

Biography of Felicia Luna Lemus: Felicia Luna Lemus is the author of the novels Like Son (Akashic Books) and Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).   Her writing has appeared in numerous anthologies and in magazines including BOMB, ZYZZYVA, and Latina.   For more information: www.FeliciaLunaLemus.com.

Writing Prompt by Alistair McCartney!

 

Writing Prompt: The Pitiless

In Volume One of his collected letters, Gustave Flaubert wrote that “the highest and most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, nor to arouse lust or rage, but to do what nature does—that is, to set us dreaming.”  He went on to say that writing that achieves this often has a pitiless aspect to it.  Its “somber depths turn us faint, yet over the whole there hovers an extraordinary tenderness.”

This prompt is based on this idea that writing from a point of severe detachment can set the reader dreaming. So choose a moment of heightened drama to write about.  I often suggest a death scene to my students, but it can be any moment that’s full of extreme tension—a scene of violence, of heartbreak.  Write about this moment focusing purely on the concrete details, avoiding any commentary, any statement of how the characters or narrator feel, erasing any hint of melodrama.  The idea is, through describing this moment without emotion, in an almost pitiless manner, great feeling will be evoked in the reader.  I do this exercise in fiction classes, but it can be done in any genre.

Biography of Alistair McCartney:  Alistair McCartney recently published The End of the World Book: a Novel (University of Wisconsin Press, April, 08), which was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Debut Fiction Award.  Currently at work on his second novel, The Death Book, he teaches creative writing in Antioch University’s MFA and BA Programs.  See what he’s up to at http://alistairmccartney.blogspot.com

Writing Prompt by Eloise Klein Healy

Eloise Klein Healy

Eloise Klein Healy with Nikita

The Red List

Very quickly and without thinking, write a list of ten red things you have owned or come in contact with in some way in your lifetime.  When you read down the list, one or two items will “vibrate” a bit more than the others.  Choose one and start a free write about the object. For example, you might have had a red sweater in the fourth grade.  It’s OK if you find yourself taken away to another topic–just keep on going. The exercise works on associative powers of language and experience.  If you can time yourself, write for five to seven minutes.  Now you have some raw material and you can see if you can create something with it.  Any color can be chosen–a blue list, a green list, whatever.
Biography of Eloise Klein Healy: Eloise Klein Healy is the author of six books of poetry: Building Some Changes (Beyond Baroque Foundation); A Packet Beating Like a Heart (Books Of A Feather Press); Ordinary Wisdom (Paradise Press/re-released by Red Hen Press); Artemis In Echo Park (Firebrand Books), nominated for the Lambda Book Award and released as a spoken word recording by New Alliance Records; and her collections from Red Hen Press, Passing, and most recently, The Islands Project: Poems for Sappho. The Inevitable Press published her chapbook Women’s Studies Chronicles in the Laguna Poets Series.

Writing Prompt by Majid Naficy

Majid Naficy

If you were a mother living in Gaza or Ashkelon…

Biography of Majid Naficy: Majid Naficy, the author of more than 20 books in Persian, fled Iran in 1983, a year and a half after the execution of his wife, Ezzat, in Evin prison.  He has published two collections of poetry Muddy Shoes (Beyond Baroque Books 1999) and Father and Son (Red Hen Press 2003) as well as his doctoral dissertation Modernism and Ideology in Persian Literature (University Press of America 1997) in English. You may read his poem “My Neighbor Goes to the Zoo” at http://www.iranian.com/main/2009/sep/my-neighbor-goes-zoo.