Write a poem that is a list of people, places, and/or things that you long for.
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.
In the January/February 2013 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, memoirist Debra Gwartney offers guidance on how to write about traumatic experience. "When the action is hot, write cool," Gwartney says. "Stand back. Let your prose breathe. Don't try to convince the reader to feel a certain way—avoid yanking on the easy emotion. Instead, trust the language you've selected, the images you've constructed, the relevant detail, and give the reader plenty of room to reach the feeling independently." Write an essay about a traumatic experience from your life or the life of someone close to you, following Gwartney's advice.
Write a story using second-person narration. For an example of the use of second-person narration, read the opening lines of Jay McInerney's novel Bright Lights, Big City.
Today, write an elegy, a poem that is a lament for the dead. For more information about the poetic form, read the Academy of American Poets' description and examples of the elegy.
Choose a subject that has cultural currency: consumerism, American decline, Internet overload, trends in pop culture, celebrity fascination; take a position on it; and write an essay that explores that position. Read Christy Rampole's New York Times essay "How to Live Without Irony" as an example. For more examples, read Best American Essays Series editor Robert Atwan's "The Top 10 Essays Since 1950" in Publishers Weekly.
Write a work of flash fiction, a story that contains the classic elements—a main character who faces a conflict that is resolved—but one that is only three hundred to one thousand words in length. For guidance, read David Gaffney’s advice in the Guardian or visit the literary magazine Flash Fiction Online.
Make a list of ten words by flipping randomly through any book—a dictionary, a poetry collection, a novel, an encyclopedia–and choosing a word you see on the page. Incorporate these words into a poem made up of three stanzas composed of five lines each.
Write a scene about a very specific experience using only sensory imagery to describe what happened. For instance, if you're writing about being in a car accident, describe the sounds of the glass shattering and the crunching metal, the smell of smoke as the airbag deploys, the feeling of your body being thrown back and forth. Try to avoid referring to the event explicitly or including any narrative buildup ("I was driving a Dodge Neon when the accident happened"). Focus instead on the moment itself, and on what you see, smell, hear, and feel in order to build the scene.
Write a story that is a retelling of a classic myth set in contemporary times. How do the characters change? What is the effect of a contemporary setting? Does the story end the same way? For inspiration, read Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red.
Make a list of the ten to twenty words you rely on most often, those that make up your personal lexicon. Write a poem that incorporates these words but use them differently than you normally would or transform the words by replacing them with related ones or with their opposites. When you've finished the poem, freewrite about why you use these words so frequently. What is it about their meaning, their rhythm, and their sound that appeals to you?
Write about something that has been passed down through your family for generations. It can be anything from an appreciation for music to a healthy appetite, or even a political bias. Explore both the positive and negative implications, exploring how this inheritance has shaped you.
Write down snippets of conversation that you overhear throughout the day. Choose a few compelling lines and write a story based on this dialogue, letting it direct the story line and the characters you imagine.
Take two lines you love from a poem that isn’t working. Write a new poem using one as the first line and the other as the last line. For an added perspective, try writing a second poem switching the two.
Write an essay about your memories of Thanksgivings past, how your family celebrated the holiday and what it means to you now and why.
Write a scene for a story that takes place at the Thanksgiving day table during dinner or in the kitchen during preparations for the meal with two characters who are are angry at each other but not addressing their conflict directly.
To mark the holiday this week, make a list of things you're grateful for. Beneath each item, free-associate a list of objects. Pick ten from your lists of objects and use them to write a poem.
Write an essay about your relationship to food. Consider the following questions: Do you see food as merely sustenance or as emotional comfort? What is your favorite meal and why? Were you a picky eater as a kid? Which foods do you detest and why?
Write a scene for a story in which one character finds an intimate inscription in his or her partner's book. Who is it from? What does it mean? When was it written? And how does the first character find out the answers to these questions?
On November 13, 1797, poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge took a walk together in The Quantock Hills in Somerset, England, and came up with the idea of writing what would become Coleridge's famous poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." In honor of this anniversary, find time for a thirty-minute walk today, ideally in a natural setting. Afterward, freewrite for ten minutes, then use those notes to compose a poem.
Write an essay about the five things that scare you the most. Structure it with numbered section headings that include each thing, such as 1. Fire, 2. Death, 3. Failure, etc.
In his essay “Don’t Look Back” (Poets & Writers Magazine, November/December 2012), fiction writer Benjamin Percy argues against including backstory when writing short stories. “It’s almost always unnecessary," Percy writes. "A reader intuits the history of a character by observing that character act in the present.” Choose a story you’ve written and delete all of the backstory that you’ve included. Then revise it by describing the main character and having that description convey the backstory instead.
Select one of your poems that needs revision and transform it into a physical object, such as an imaginary map, a collage, a drawing, or a shadow box (for inspiration, check out Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes).
One of the most dangerous pitfalls of creative nonfiction can be chronology, and some of the best essays are written in a nonlinear fashion. Think of a story that you know by heart--maybe a memory from your childhood, of finding first love, or of the birth of a child--and try to retell it without using typical chronologically. Start from the end and work your way back, or alternate between scenes of present and past. The result should be an essay that keeps the reader always moving but never quite sure of what comes next.
Using magazine clippings; photographs; found or created notes, letters, and postcards; and other items, construct a story from ephemera. Put the items in box and add to it as the week goes on. When you feel that you've compiled enough, write the story relying on the ephemera as a guide.
Find a text that is completely unrelated to what you normally read—a how-to manual, a 1950s interior design book, an old encyclopedia, a white paper on social media— and use it as the source of an erasure poem. Read through several pages and underline words and phrases that appeal to you and that relate to each other. Using a marker or Wite-Out, begin to delete the words around those you underlined, leaving words and phrases that you might want to use. Keep deleting the extra language, working to construct poetic lines with the words you’ve chosen to keep.