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 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.
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.
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).
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.
Write a poem that is an elegy for something or someone you've had to let go of this year.
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.
Write a poem in the style and voice of a personals or classifieds ad. Read C.D. Wright’s “Personals” for inspiration.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Browse the greeting card section of a local store, looking for an occasion card or one with an image that attracts you. Based on the image or the occasion of the card, write a letter from one imagined character to another. Send the card to its intended recipient, c/o your address. When you receive it in the mail, use it as the entry point to a story.
Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight.
Write a scene from a story set at the Thanksgiving day table. During dinner have one of your character's reveal a secret or news that doesn't go over well among his or her family or dinner hosts. Consider why he or she decides to reveal the news on this day among this company. What happens next?
Use Google translator (translate.google.com) to experiment with the text of an existing poem (yours or someone else's). Translate the text from English into another language, such as Finnish, Urdu, or Korean, and then translate the foreign-language text back to English again. Observe the metamorphosis of syntax and diction as the poem travels through the filter of another language. Then look for a particularly striking phrase, an odd construction or image, and use it to begin a new poem.
Conjure someone from your past with whom you've lost touch, perhaps someone who you never even knew that well or who you don't remember that well. Write a story in which you imagine that they make a sudden appearance in your life. What are the circumstances of their arrival? What do they need to tell you? And how does it relate to your shared past?
Pick a poetry book off of your shelf and open it to any page. Read the poem you've opened to, then write one of your own, using the same number of lines and stanzas. Choose a fragment from the poem you've read to title your own.
Choose a specific place and a time in the past: the North Shore of Staten Island before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was built; the Back Bay area of Boston in the 1850s; Phoenix before air conditioning was invented; Seattle in the 1970s. Research this location, gathering as much information as you can about how it once was and how it has changed. Review public records, read newspaper articles, and peruse archival images. Local chamber of commerce sites and the Library of Congress's website are good places to start. Write a story set in the past in your chosen location, using the details you've uncovered to make it as authentic to that time as possible.
Record the text from as many advertisements as you see or hear throughout the day—on your way to work, while listening to the radio, grocery shopping, or doing anything else during your daily routine. Use one of these ads or parts of several of them as an entry point to a poem.
Write a story based on the following line: "I have bad news for you. You've been kidnapped." Be sure to incorporate the line into the dialogue of the story.
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.
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.