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.


In Flannery O’Connor’s classic story “The Geranium,” an old, Southern man moves to New York City to live with his daughter and sits at the window looking into the apartment across the street where a potted geranium is set out on the ledge for sunlight every day. Although the story’s conflict involves the man’s racism and culture shock as a rural Southerner living in a big city, the story’s climax comes to a head when the geranium falls off the ledge and crashes six floors down into the alley. Write a story in which a character becomes obsessed with a neighbor’s life. What is transfixing about the neighbor’s daily routine that spurs on self-reflection for your character?


This past weekend, Independence Day was celebrated in the United States with barbecues, concerts, parades, picnics, and fireworks commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Amidst the celebration, the day has also become a reminder of what it means to uphold human rights. Write a poem reflecting on celebrating the country you grew up in and all the complicated feelings and memories that come along. For inspiration, read “Ghazal: America the Beautiful” by Alicia Ostriker, included in the archives of the Academy of American Poets’ website.


In the introduction to the anthology This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music (Hachette, 2022) edited by Kim Gordon and Sinéad Gleeson, which is featured in “The Anthologist” in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, composer and guitarist Heather Leigh writes about how the authors of each essay acknowledge that “music somehow remains intangible” and how “we can try to explain and to rationalize it, but we’re seduced back by the song.” What music seduces and captures you? Using this question as a guide, write an essay that centers around the impact a certain song or musician has had on your life. Use tangible memories and details to add texture to the composition of your essay.


According to Merriam-Webster, the “dog days” are “the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere.” As the month of July begins this week, many may begin to experience extreme heat and the stress that arrives along with it. Write a story set during the dog days of summer. Perhaps your character is faced with a big decision on the hottest day of the year or is on an exciting summer trip. How can the harsh weather add pressure to your character’s behavior?


“Today we’re going to get to work on the details / of your expression. And believe it or not, / the only colors we’re going to use will be / blacker than most blacks,” writes Terrance Hayes in his poem “Bob Ross Paints Your Portrait,” published in Paris Review’s Summer 2022 issue. In the poem, Hayes writes in the voice of American painter and television host Bob Ross, whose show The Joy of Painting aired on PBS in the 1980s and 1990s, as he delivers instructions on how to paint a portrait of the poet. This week, inspired by Hayes, write a poem in the form of a self-portrait. Try using instructional language to describe yourself, allowing any emotions that arise to make their way into the poem.


In a recent post on Instagram by the poet Mark Wunderlich, he shared an image of a greyish white book washed of its letters, peeled back of the paper’s layers, and frayed at the edges. The caption reads, in part, “Mary Ruefle keeps a decomposing book in her yard to remind herself of the fate of all literature, and how we write anyway because we must.” Write an essay inspired by Ruefle’s decomposing book that meditates on the “fate” of your own writing. What lasting impact would you like to make? Is this what drives you to write?


In a Q&A with Neil Gaiman by Michele Filgate from the July/August 2013 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, the prolific author reflects on his novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow, 2013), which is written from the point of view of a seven-year-old boy. In his responses, Gaiman considers children’s unique perspective on life and how “kids really do know things that would terrify adults. I think it’s only a certain amount of amnesia that allows adults to function.” This week write a story with a child protagonist who has seen something life-changing. How do they cope, what are their private thoughts, and what are they willing to disclose to the adults around them?


Today marks this year’s Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the date that officially signifies the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It has been documented that the day was observed as early as the Stone Age, and cultures around the world continue to celebrate the occasion through feasts, festivals, and music. Write a poem inspired by the longest day and shortest night of the year. For further inspiration, peruse this list of poems on the Summer Solstice from the Academy of American Poets’ website.


In “Blood: Twenty-Seven Love Stories,” which appears in The Crane Wife: A Memoir in Essays, forthcoming in July from Doubleday, CJ Hauser writes: “I want to learn from what went wrong in the past but sometimes it seems everything worth knowing has been redacted. As if ignorance is the only thing that allows each successive generation to tumble into love, however briefly, and spawn the next.” Hauser weaves together twenty-seven short sections that each tell the love stories, some sweet and others disquieting, of her parents and grandparents, as well as those of the author’s own life. The gripping narrative touches upon the themes of love, loss, fate, and sisterhood, as Hauser finds patterns in the way life’s love stories coincide with and contradict one another. Write an essay in sections connected by shared themes. Try, as Hauser does, to link distinct stories into a single narrative, tying the pieces together using common threads.


“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?


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.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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?


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?


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?


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.


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?


“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.


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?


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.


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.


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?