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.

2.7.12

Find a blank notebook, and for one week fill it with whatever strikes you—images, photographs, cut-out excerpts from articles or books, notes on matchbooks, maps, drawings, and your own writing. At the end of the week, use this material as inspiration for a story.

2.6.12

Record the advertising slogans and advertising copy that you encounter throughout the day. Pick one slogan/catchphrase or a brief selection of advertising copy and incorporate it into a poem, without mentioning the object or service being marketed.

2.1.12

Read the headlines in today's newspaper. Choose one that you find compelling, and without reading the accompanying article, write a story based on the headline. 

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.

1.31.12

Pick up a dictionary and randomly choose ten words. Write a poem in five stanzas, with five lines in each stanza, using two of the ten words in each. Make the number of stressed syllables in each line consistent among the stanzas. (The first line of each stanza should have the same number of stressed syllables, etc.)

1.26.12

Deconstruct a short story that you find particularly powerful. First, identify the point-of-view and the characters. Then outline the plot. Finally, make a chart with two columns: In the first column, describe what happens in each paragraph of the story; in the second column, analyze why it happens, how it serves the larger story. Apply what you learn as you revise a story-in-the-works or begin a new one.

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).
1.24.12

Compose a poem in the form and style of a postcard note. Keep the length brief, and give the recipient a sense of the place you’re visiting or the space you’re occupying. The location from which you write can be imagined or real. Alternatively, buy a postcard, and try to write a poem based on the image or photograph on the front of the postcard.

1.18.12

Write a scene for a story, using third-person narration, that opens with your main character having just done something despicable. Despite what he or she has done, find a way in writing the rest of the scene to make your character sympathetic without letting him or her off the hook.

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.

1.17.12

Take a poem you feel is finished, and divide the poem in half. Write two new poems by filling in those two halves.

1.12.12

Choose a story that you've finished or a story by another author and use the last line of it to begin a new story, using the same characters and/or introducing new ones. 

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).

1.9.12

Attend a poetry reading, or listen to a poem from the Academy of American Poets' audio archive or from the Poetry Foundation’s audio files. Write a response to the poem you’ve heard without looking at the poem on the page.

1.4.12

In honor of Robert Walser's Microscripts, write a story (in as small as print as possible) on previously used paper, allowing whatever use the paper previously served (letter from a family member, etc) be the inspiration for the new story.

1.3.12

Make your New Year’s resolution the title of a poem. Write a poem exploring the dimensions of the resolution, perhaps considering what would happen if you kept to it strictly for an entire year or if you broke it right away. Read Mark Halliday’s “Refusal to Notice Beautiful Women” for inspiration. 

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).

12.29.11

Ruminate on the past year, remembering both your achievements and your failures. Write a story about one of your failures or regrets from the perspective of someone other than yourself. Consider rewriting the past, to transform this incident into an achievement by changing the facts around it or by changing the way your protagonist perceives it. 

12.26.11

Write a poem that is an elegy for something or someone you've had to let go of this year.  

12.22.11

Choose a place from your childhood—the house your grew up in, your grandparents' home, or another place you visited often—and draw a map of it, with as much detail as possible. Let the map ignite your memory about what happened in this place and who was there. Write a scene for a story based on a fictionalized account of one of your memories, using this place as the setting and your map as source of description. 

12.19.11

Write a poem in the style and voice of a personals or classifieds ad. Read C.D. Wright’s “Personals” for inspiration.

12.15.11

Write a story that opens with your main character doing something that is completely antithetical to his or her personality. Let the story be about how this character came to do what he or she did.

12.12.11

Look back through the poems you've written this year and make a list of images or words you've repeated. This list will guide you toward identifying your poetic obsessions. Choose one of your poetic obsessions and write a poem that fully explores it.

12.7.11

Write a story structured around a series of vignettes based on the descriptions of imagined photographs. For an example, read Heidi Julavits's "Marry the One Who Gets There First: Outtakes From the Sheidegger-Krupnik Wedding Album," included in The Best American Short Stories, 1999 (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

12.5.11

Think of a person from your past, someone you wish you'd gotten to know better and have always remembered. Think about why you wish you'd gotten to know this person better—did he or she do something that intrigued you, did he or she have a particular way about them, did you share an important moment together? Write a poem to this person, exploring what it was about him or her that has remained with you, even though the person hasn't. 

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