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.
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.
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.
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.