The Time Is Now

The Time Is Now offers a weekly writing prompt (we’ll post a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays) to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year. We also offer a selection of books on writing—both the newly published and the classics—that we recommend you check out for inspiration, plus advice and insight on the writing process from the authors profiled in Poets & Writers Magazine. And don’t miss Writers Recommend, which includes books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired other authors in their writing. For weekly writing prompts delivered via e-mail every Friday morning, sign up for our free newsletter.

6.15.22

“We talk a lot about bodies: from their right to safety and respect to how they take up space, from their sizes and shapes and shades to what each is able to do, it’s a conversation that’s both constant and ever-evolving,” write editors Nicole Chung and Matt Ortile in the introduction to Body Language: Writers on Identity, Physicality, and Making Space for Ourselves, forthcoming in July from Catapult. In this wide-ranging collection of personal narratives, writers take on the subject of the body through various lenses; for instance, Natalie Lima documents the ways men fetishize her size and Melissa Hung reflects on how swimming eases her chronic headaches. Write a story in which your protagonist is made aware of their body. How does this new awareness affect the way they carry themselves in the world? Does their relationship to their own body change, and if so, does the language you use to describe your character change too?

6.14.22

A still life, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a picture consisting predominantly of inanimate objects,” but in Jay Hopler’s Still Life, published in June by McSweeney’s, the term takes on new meaning. Hopler, who was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2017, charges his poems with sharp observations of the body and lyrical ruminations that wander well beyond the traditional associations of a still life. In “still life w/ hands” he writes: “poor dumb lugs what loves you not the butterfly knife not the corkscrew....” In “still life w/ wet gems” he writes from a more fractured perspective: “lightnings bang their jaggeds on the cloud-glower / the cloud-glower is a broken necklace spilling its wet gems / its wet gems w/ facets cut are uncountable / uncountable the reflections of the world in those gems.” Inspired by Hopler’s Still Life, write a still-life poem of your own. Will your poem consider inanimate objects or living things, actions, emotions? Use this exercise as an opportunity to challenge a familiar perspective and consider a new viewpoint.

6.9.22

For the Paris Review Daily blog, Sloane Crosley, whose new novel, Cult Classic, was published this week by MCD, reflects on a journal entry she wrote about a time she and a friend boarded the wrong overnight train leaving Barcelona to Geneva during a twenty-day trip through Europe. Crosley considers how the diary entry of the experience includes the fight she recalls having with her friend but leaves out them making up and moving on with their trip. Think of a time when you were traveling on a trip and something went wrong—plans fell through, a friend got sick, a fight broke out. Write an essay about this experience including what you remember and might misremember.

6.8.22

Pride Month is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The first Pride March in New York City was held in 1970 and has since become an annual civil rights demonstration as well as a celebration of the queer community. Cities all around the world, including Athens, Berlin, Taipei, Tel Aviv, and Zurich, now host extravagant parades and parties throughout the month. Write a story that occurs during a Pride celebration in which things take an unexpected turn for the protagonist. Will your characters be swept away in a parade or end the night somewhere they’ve never been before?

6.7.22

In this week’s installment of our Craft Capsules series, poet Trevor Ketner writes about setting specific parameters and inventing methods to guide their writing. For their first book, [WHITE] (University of Georgia Press, 2021), Ketner based a series of poems on the major arcana cards of the tarot: “Because the major arcana comprises twenty-two cards, I wrote twenty-two poems of twenty-two lines each,” says Ketner. Inspired by Ketner’s use of invented forms, choose a number significant to you and write a poem limited to that number of lines. Will having a set structure surprise you with the freedom to push your language?

6.2.22

Crown shyness, otherwise known as canopy disengagement, is a phenomenon observed in some tree species in which gaps form between the outermost branches. As for why these trees keep a distance from one another, one theory suggests that severe wind causes abrasion between the ends of trees, while another possibility is that the gaps allow for light to filter down for plants and animals to receive nutrients below. Write an essay inspired by crown shyness in which you trace the many unexpected ways you are connected to others even while physically distanced from them. For more inspiration, read this article on the social distancing of trees from the Natural History Museum in London’s website.

6.1.22

With all the turmoil in the world, it is sometimes easy to forget the kindness shared between strangers and loved ones. Reader’s Digest recently asked their readers to share stories of everyday kindness, which included donating gifts and buying groceries for someone in need. This week, inspired by these firsthand accounts of compassion, write a story of your own in which a moment of human kindness is shared between characters. How does this act of goodwill help, if even for a second, to relieve the pressure from your characters’ lives?

5.31.22

The 2022 National Senior Games, the largest multi-sport event in the world for men and women fifty years old and over, took place this month in Florida where over eleven thousand athletes registered to compete. In an article for the New York Times, Talya Minsberg interviewed runners who offer their advice on how to keep going. Roy Englert, the oldest competitor at ninety-nine years old, says to “keep moving, keep moving, keep moving, and have a little luck.” Ninety-three-year-old Lillian Atchley says, “I guess you just have to have the love to race, the determination to just do it.” This week write a poem using running as a metaphor. What images and words of inspiration come up for you?

5.26.22

Over the past two years, an increasing number of books have been banned from school libraries and universities. In 2021, the American Library Association tracked over seven hundred attempts to remove library, school, and university materials, including over fifteen hundred books. Most of the banned books have themes of race and racism, and include LGBTQIA+ characters. These titles include Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson. Write an essay about a banned book that has made a lasting impression on you. How do you feel about these books being blocked from new readers?

5.25.22

Allegra Hyde’s climate fiction novel, Eleutheria (Vintage, 2022), takes place in the near future, bringing readers into a familiar dystopian world. In a recent interview on Late Night With Seth Myers, Hyde explains why she chose this time period: “By having it in the near future, I could think through what’s going to happen, and more importantly, how we might problem solve, how we might mobilize.” This week, write a story set in a time not too distant from today with familiar details that slowly stray from reality.

5.24.22

Teachers play a vital role in the lives of children, making a lasting impression and providing memories carried into adulthood. It makes sense then that there are many poems written about teaching and lessons learned, such as “Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in School” by Christopher Bursk, “The Floral Apron” by Marilyn Chin, and “M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School, Detroit 1942” by Philip Levine. Write a poem about a beloved teacher of yours. Whether from a favorite class in school, a sports team, or your community, what was unique about this teacher? How has this mentor impacted your life decades later?

5.19.22

“I was certain that writing should be more about breaking or lifting the reader’s heart than, say, mending my own heart. And then I lost somebody,” writes Ian Stansel in “How Deep This Grief: Wrestling With Writing As Therapy” in the September/October 2017 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. In the essay, Stansel shares the V. S. Naipaul quote that helped guide him to write a novel after his sister’s sudden death honoring her love of horses and career as a riding trainer: “No one cares for your tragedy until you can sing about it.” This week, write an essay that makes the connection between a challenging time in your life and a writing credo that guides your work.

5.18.22

In a profile of Emma Straub for the Cut by Kate Dwyer, the author and bookstore owner discusses her new novel, This Time Tomorrow (Riverhead Books, 2022), which follows a woman who, on her fortieth birthday, unexpectedly travels back to 1996 and relives her sixteenth birthday. This week write a short story that uses time travel to explore a character’s youth. Why does your protagonist end up in that specific time period, and how will this experience shed light on their present-day life?

5.17.22

Last week scientists unveiled the first image of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, the culmination of a decades-long astronomical quest. Located 27,000 light-years away, it is relatively small and constantly changing from minute to minute, appearing as a glowing donut-shaped ring in images. Consider this historic scientific achievement and write a poem inspired by the mysteries of black holes. For an idea on how to create a metaphor out of celestial phenomenon, read the poem “After Reading That the Milky Way Is Devouring the Galaxy of Sagittarius” by Erin Belieu.

5.12.22

In an attempt to escape the “constellation of grief” that shrouded him in his early thirties, visual artist and writer Ben Shattuck set out on a series of journeys around New England that became the basis of his book, Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau (Tin House, 2022). The book is featured in “The Written Image” in the May/June 2022 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine along with a sample of Shattuck’s drawings from his excursions, which import a visual and emotional landscape to each individual place. This week, inspired by Shattuck’s process, take three walks outdoors throughout the week and write down as many observations as possible. Then, write an essay using these notes to create distinct sections elaborating on each outing.

5.11.22

In “Can Motherhood Be a Mode of Rebellion?” an essay published in the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino writes about Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change (Harper Wave, 2022) by Angela Garbes, a book analyzing the state of caregiving in America, and reflects on the experience of hiring a nanny for “a job so crucial and difficult that it seems objectively holy.” This week think of a job that is often unappreciated or unacknowledged and write a story from the perspective of a character who works this job. How can you render their perspective through detailed observations of the world around them?

5.10.22

In Ada Limón’s poem “The Raincoat,” published in her collection The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018), the speaker reflects on the experience of comfort and protection parents can offer through simple gestures like taking off a raincoat in a storm to wrap around their child or making time to drive and accompany them to doctor’s appointments. Write a poem about a time a parental figure of yours made a loving sacrifice. Think of a memory that makes you feel the way Limón does at the end of her poem: “My god, / I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her / raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel / that I never got wet.”

5.5.22

How did you celebrate May the Fourth? Did you know it isn’t just for Star Wars fans but also for the birds? In 1894, Charles Almanzo Babcock, a school superintendent from Pennsylvania, launched the first Bird Day “in a bid to create awareness and promote the conservation of all bird species.” This week peruse the National Audubon Society’s Guide to North American Birds, which features the habitats, calls, feeding behaviors, and migration patterns of over eight hundred species of birds. Then, pick five feathered friends that stand out to you and write a section of an essay dedicated to each one. As you write, discover links beyond the germane aspects of your chosen species.

5.4.22

With cool spring weather comes allergy season, the time of year many become suffused with itchy eyes, runny noses, and relentless sneezing. This common ailment is exasperated by the rainy season and blowing winds that spread pollen, and global warming is creating an even longer pollen season, according to many published studies. Write a story in which a protagonist struggles with allergies in springtime. How will this detail carry importance in the plot’s development? For inspiration, read Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Death of a Government Clerk,” which begins with the protagonist sneezing.

5.3.22

In a recent installment of Ten Questions, poet Dana Levin recalls the earliest memory associated with her new book, Now Do You Know Where You Are (Copper Canyon Press, 2022): “Pacing around my sublet in Saint Louis, Fall 2015, saying out loud the words ‘No,’ ‘Yes,’ and ‘Stop’ over and over: to feel how they felt in my mouth, my throat, my chest.” Included in Levin’s collection are three poems—“No,” “Maybe,” and “Into the Next Eden”—that seek to answer the question posed by the book’s title. This week, consider a question to ask yourself and write three poems with different responses. Do your answers surprise you?

4.28.22

“Can authors avoid the downward post-book spiral? Some depression may be inevitable. There’s an inevitable loss that comes with sending a book into the world,” writes Jessica Berger Gross, author of the memoir, Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home (Scribner, 2017), in “I Just Published a Book: Why Am I Depressed?” published on the Poets & Writers website in 2019. In the essay, Gross discusses the feeling of loss she experienced after publishing her memoir and speaks to other writers with “post-publication malaise.” This week, think back to a time when you finished a significant task, whether it was a manuscript, an essay, or moving out of an apartment, then write an essay about the spectrum of feelings you experienced throughout the process. Gross writes that the cure for post book depression is to “start writing something new.” What was your cure?

4.27.22

In an excerpt of Noor Naga’s new novel, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English (Graywolf Press, 2022), published on Literary Hub, one of the main characters, an Egyptian American woman who moves to Cairo to teach English, discusses her relationship with her mother through a question and answer structure of vignettes. Rather than straightforward queries with direct replies, the questions are specific and personal—for example, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, should your mother be punished?” and “Is it arrogant to return to a place you’ve never been?”—setting up a tension that elevates the stakes for the character’s emotional arc. Taking inspiration from Naga’s novel, think of three questions that relate to your protagonist’s conflict, then answer these questions through first-person vignettes. How does this exercise help you understand your character, as well as challenge the traditional structure of a story?

4.26.22

“I am five, / Wading out into deep / Sunny grass,” writes Yusef Komunyakaa in his poem “Venus’s-Flytraps.” The young speaker in this poem delivers a collage-like monologue that lays out the various characters, images, and places from his life along with a sense of wonder and danger carefully balanced in striking lines, creating a tapestry that portrays a very real and complex childhood. “I know things / I don’t supposed to know. / I could start walking / & never stop. / These yellow flowers / Go on forever,” writes Komunyakaa. Write a poem from the perspective of a curious child, which, like Komunyakaa’s poem, illustrates even the most devastating things with a sense of wonder.

4.21.22

Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest collection of essays, Translating Myself and Others, forthcoming in May by Princeton University Press, catalogues the Pulitzer Prize–winning author’s identity as a writer and translator of books in English and Italian. In the first essay, “Why Italian?” Lahiri explores her reason for beginning to write books in Italian. “Some people ask me, Why Italian instead of an Indian language, a closer language, more like you?” she writes. Inspired by the works of Italian authors such as Lalla Romano and Elena Ferrante, Lahiri continues to answer the question with three metaphors: the dual nature of a door, limited eyesight and blindness, and the multiple meanings of the word graft. Think back to a time when you first learned a skill or a new language, then choose a metaphor that captures the stages of that journey. Write an essay using the metaphor to flesh out the feelings and themes that arise from your exploration.

4.20.22

Crocuses, daffodils, irises, tulips, bloodroot: Spring is the time when blooming flowers arrive to symbolize, if only briefly, the rebirth of the natural world and the chance for new beginnings. The English bluebell, for example, blooms in April and May, flashing wild indigo before dying when the temperature rises. Crocuses are known for their sudden blooming, with no prior signal, sometimes peeking up through snow before lasting only about three weeks. Taking inspiration from the relatively brief life of flowers, write a story in which a protagonist finds a new direction for living, sparked by the presence of spring blooms. How will your protagonist grow out of the long winter? What can we learn about your character using the yearly persistence of blossoming flowers as a guiding metaphor?

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