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.

4.4.12

Think about big and small regrets you have in your life—things you wish you had done, people you wish you had treated better, directions you wish you'd gone. Draw a chart that represents a hierarchy of your regrets. It can be simple or decorative, straightforward or complex. Then write an essay that explores what you see when you look at it.

4.3.12

Take a walk that you know well—through your neighborhood, around the block where you work, or your route to the train or bus. Study this familiar landscape carefully, and try to find a detail that you hadn’t noticed before—a piece of graffiti, a certain row of trees, the pattern in which the sidewalk is cracked. Write about this new observation, small as it may be, starting with physical description and then allowing your thoughts to wander.

3.28.12

Like fiction, good nonfiction narratives are often driven by description of place. Think of a place that you know well—your kitchen, your office, or a spot you often visit—and, from memory, write a passage that describes that place. Focus on the physical characteristics of the space, leaving out any emotion that may be connected to it, and be as descriptive and detailed as possible. The next time you’re there, read your description and see how accurately your memory served you. Take note of the details you may have missed. 

3.21.12

In Sarah Manguso’s memoir The Two Kinds of Decay (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), the author writes, “suffering, however much and whatever type, shrinks or swells to fit the shape and size of a life.” Write about a time in which you experienced suffering—emotionally, physically, or otherwise—and try to focus on how that suffering fit into the shape of your life then, and how it has helped shape the life you know now.

3.13.12

Travel writer, memoirist, and novelist Mary Morris, who teaches a workshop called The Writer and the Wanderer at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, likes to send her students on field trips to light the creative torch. “I like to get my students out of the house, and a little out of their heads,” says Morris, whose most recent book is the memoir River Queen (Holt, 2007). “Go away. Listen. Eavesdrop. Find something new. Bring back a souvenir. What do you take with you? What do you leave behind? Sit outside in one place until a story comes to you.” Follow Morris's guidance: Go on a field trip of your own, and discover the wanderer within you.

3.7.12

In her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Viking, 2005), Rebecca Solnit discusses the importance of allowing yourself to get lost—both in life and in writing—in order to become more fully conscious. The art of getting lost, she says, "is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss." Write about a time when you got lost—physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise—and how getting lost, and perhaps embracing that loss, resulted in something new being found.

2.28.12

Write a list titled "The Ten Things I Will Not Think About in My Last Seconds of Life." Give yourself ten minutes to freewrite the list, then turn the list into an essay. It can be funny, serious, or strange; the points may be connected or not. The important part is to allow yourself to linger on each item in your list and let it grow into its full potential, perhaps keeping it mind for an essay of its own. For this assignment, make sure to incorporate all ten things from the list into your essay.

2.22.12

Read the newspaper today and note the articles that you're most interested in reading. From those, choose a theme or concept that characterizes one or some of them, such as corruption, crime, war, love, or politics. Freewrite about the theme you've chosen, focusing on the articles you've read, your personal experience, and other anecdotes. Then craft an essay titled "Five Things I Know About [Your Chosen Theme]," in which you further explore what you've discovered by reading, thinking, and freewriting.

2.16.12

Research one of the decades during which you were a child. Make a list of the popular music at the time, the best-selling books, the favorite movies and celebrities. Then write notes about politics—who was president? what were the major political issues in the United States and globally? Then freewrite about the neighborhood where you lived—who were your neighbors? what was the living situation like? what was a typical day for you and the people around you. Finally, choose an event from your life or from history that happened during the time you've researched and write about it, using your research to inform and contextualize what you write.  

2.8.12

Using Lorrie Moore's "How To Be An Other Woman" from Self-Help (Knopf, 1985) as inspiration, turn a personal experience into a twelve- (or more) step, how-to manual. The piece can be a simple enumerated list, or it can be more detailed, conveying a broader story; but use the second-person, and keep it instructional.

1.31.12

Write for twenty minutes, without stopping, a piece of pure description about something you see (a person, a scene, or an object in the room). No dialogue, no metaphor, no emotion; just pure description, as detailed as possible. Then write, nonstop, for another twenty minutes about the same subject, but this time use only speculation—imagine the subject's thoughts, perceptions, emotions, inner, or outward dialogue, etc.—and/or your own thoughts and observations about the subject. Combine the two pieces, and see what kind of story comes to life.

1.25.12

Write for twenty minutes about one of the following subjects. Combine two or three subjects to create something larger.

  • An experience with an insect.
  • An experience with a child.
  • An experience with an animal.
  • An experience with a stranger.
  • An experience in an automobile.
  • An experience in a school.
  • An experience in a place of worship.
  • An experience in a stranger’s house.

This week’s creative nonfiction prompt comes from Jo Ann Beard, who is on the nonfiction faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. Her most recent book is the novel, In Zanesville (Little, Brown, 2011).

1.18.12

Choose an incident from your past—it could be an ordinary occurrence, such as a family dinner—or a significant event, such as an achievement or a mishap. Write about it from your perspective, then write about it from the perspective of someone else who experienced it with you—a friend, sibling, or parent.

1.11.12

Take an episode from a piece you've already written—the more personal the better—and rewrite it as a third-person news story, faithfully following the inverted-pyramid and who-what-when-where-why structure of normative journalism.
This week's creative nonfiction prompt comes from Vijay Seshadri, director of the nonfiction program at Sarah Lawrence College and author, most recently, of The Disappearances (Harper Collins, 2007).

1.3.12

Using John Ashbery's poem "And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name" from Houseboat Days as a model, tell a story by telling us how to tell a story. Scaffold the narrative by meditating on the nature of storytelling.
This week's creative nonfiction prompt comes from Vijay Seshadri, director of the nonfiction program at Sarah Lawrence College and author, most recently, of The Disappearances (Harper Collins, 2007).

8.30.09

As the old story goes, Ernest Hemingway was once asked to write a six-word story about himself. This is how he responded: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Write a six-word memoir about yourself. For inspiration, check out Smith Magazine's Six-Word Memoir Project.

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