Happy Halloween! In honor of this ghoulish holiday, the Poetry Foundation has put together a sampler of Halloween poems. Read and listen to them, then write one of your own.
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.
My guiding philosophy of writing, maybe even of life, is that the path to the truth runs through shame. So dig through your memory banks and write about the most shameful episode you can remember. The challenge here is to provide the reader the basic dramatic context, then to slow down and move moment-to-moment during the worst of it. This need not be for general consumption. It's more an exercise in radical disclosure.
Today's fiction prompt comes from fiction writer Steve Almond, whose most recent book God Bless America: Stories was published this week by Lookout Books.
Choose a draft of a poem that you've been working on or a poem that you aren't satisfied with. Print it out double-spaced. Write a new line between each line, then revise the poem as a whole, working to first expand it, then distill it to its most powerful form.
Pick a short story by another writer and use its ending as the beginning for a new story of your own.
Compose a poem of five stanzas with four lines each. Use five of the following words: promenade, mettle, flap, azimuth, arbor, heap, mast, foxgrape. Write the final line of the poem using words whose vowel sounds contain a, e, i, o, u, in that order (for example, "The stay between window and room").
Imagine a character whose job—such as a banker, thrift store cashier, babysitter, college president—typically implies certain traits about this person and a certain lifestyle. Write a story in which this character's life outside of his or her work is drastically different from what is typical. Explore in your writing why this is so, using it to inform the plot and to create tension in the story.
Transform a poem that you've written or write a new poem without using the first person.
Write a scene for a story with two characters involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Use news stories about the movement in order to gather details to create a realistic setting.
Find a poem that is different in style and approach than the kind of poem you usually write. Read it repeatedly until it opens for you, scan it to better understand its musical qualities, and finally memorize it. Write your own poem inspired by the poem you've studied.
A major catastrophy has occurred that has changed the way we live and the environment in which we live. Write a story that conveys this post-apocalyptic environment without describing what has happened, using the setting and characters to suggest it instead.
Transform one of your poems into an artisanal object of some kind using found or recycled materials. Send a photograph of it to email@example.com for possible inclusion in a slideshow. Include Artisanal Object in the subject line.
Read Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” and Wells Towers’s story “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” Both stories integrate the ancient and the contemporary in surprising and disturbing ways. (For another example read Matthew Sharpe’s novel Jamestown [Soft Skull Press, 2007]). Draft a story that does the same thing, blending the past and the present into the fictional elements of plot, setting, dialogue, and character.
Ruminate on the following lines by Greek poet Aeschylus: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget / falls drop by drop upon the heart, / until, in our own despair, / against our will, / comes wisdom / through the awful grace of God."
Use these lines as the epigraph to a poem. Once you've finished the poem, delete the epigraph.
There is someone inside a house at night who is startled by a knock at the door. Outside the door are two people. Complete this scene by considering the following questions: Who is the person inside the house? What is he (or she) doing when he hears the knock? Does he know why the pair are at the door? Who are the pair? What do they want? After completing the opening scene, write the story of what happens next.
Using one of your own stories or one by another author, rewrite the story from the perspective of one of the minor characters.
Choose a page from a book, a magazine, or a newspaper and make a list of the nouns mentioned. Using free association, jot down a new noun for each noun in your first list. Using the second list of nouns, write a poem.
In honor of the birthday (August 30, 1797) this week of Mary Shelley, author of the classic Frankenstein, a novel she based on a dream, write a horror story, using material from your most memorable nightmares, should you need it.
Your assignment is to go wild. Let the sacred and profane language spill from you without censor. Find the wildest part of your personality and give it full vent for five pages. Forget about obedience of language, of character, of form. Forget about what is proper. Write the feral sentences you've been afraid to say in public. Have no shame for a spell. Free yourself from the confines of a well-behaved syntax, of expected word choice. Here's my hell-bent, uninhibited narrator from Busy Monsters, Charlie Homar, after making a rather asinine decision involving a firearm: "My mission shat upon by the Miocene logic and cruel outcomes afflicting all those with pluck but no punctilio, with hearts that run on gasoline: okay, I overreacted, I admit it." Never rely on the available jargon. For five nonstop pages, surprise yourself with the ecstatic language you know is in you.
This week's fiction prompt comes from William Giraldi, author of the novel Busy Monsters, published by W. W. Norton in August.
In Peter Schjeldahl's article, "Roots: Hopper's House," which appeared in the July 11 & 18, 2011, issue of the New Yorker, he describes the history of the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York, mentioning that performance artist Karen Finley conducted writing classes there this summer, during which she assigned her students to "imagine and describe their personal summer interiors." Now that the season is coming to a close, imagine your summer interior and write a poem that describes it.
A man and a woman in a room. This is Salina, Kansas. He wears cufflinks on his white shirt sleeves, a silk tie. She seems preoccupied. She holds a glass in her hand. Write their story in three hundred words. Use the word "salvation" and the word "light." Make one of the pair the central character and construct the story from his or her point of view.
This week's fiction prompt comes from novelist John Dufresne, author, most recently, of the book Is Life Like This? A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months (Norton, 2010).
Transcribe five sentences that you find interesting from a book or a magazine or newspaper article. Send the first half of each to a friend via e-mail and ask him or her to finish the sentence and send it back to you. Use the responses, or portions of them, as the beginnings of poem.
Go to a thrift store, explore an attic, or exchange with a friend three unfamiliar items: a piece of clothing, an object you can do something with—such as a coffee cup, a screw driver, or a letter opener, and a photograph or postcard. Wear the piece of clothing, use the object, and place the image in your work space where you can see it. Then write a scene about a character who is wearing the piece of clothing, while using the object, and has a memory filled with conflict conjured by the photograph or postcard.