Daily Archives: November 3, 2005

Writing Prompts

As you enter a café, the wind blows a piece of paper off a patron’s table and carries it out the door. (S)He pushes past you but is unable to grab it before it goes down a storm drain. When he returns, he looks at you and says, “You’ve just killed me.” What was so important about the paper? What happens next?

This is one of the 52 writing prompts the editors of WritersDigest.com are providing to visiting writers or wannabes to prompt the writing muse.

I must say that for me these kinds of exercises have always had a sort of falseness to them. They smack too much of a school assignment. Taking someone else’s idea and running with it also smacks of laziness. Sure, they’re trying to fire up your imagination, but it has the opposite effect on me.

As a writer, I live through my mind. I write what I need to write, and have to keep my brain uncluttered with other people’s bizarre ideas of workable scenes. If I want to work point-of-view, or structure, or plot, or whatever other technique I feel I need to perfect, why not use my own ideas? Hey, maybe they’ll turn into a short story or a novel.

In fact, this is what happened with Metered Space, my first novel in the Jack Meter Case Files. About six years ago, I took an internet writing workshop (and, wouldn’t you believe it, it was totally free!) called WriteLab. What I liked about that workshop was that the moderator would explain a writing technique (let’s say, first person point of view) and would send us off to write a few hundred words using that technique. The subject was entirely up to us. Then we’d post the entry and get critiqued. From some of these critiques, I learned more about writing than any other course I would have taken.

That’s how Jack Meter, now a constant companion for more than five years, was born. I can’t remember which exercise he jumped in but when I was finished with it, the darn man haunted me. He haunted me so much that I picked up the exercise (about 300 words) and turned it into a novel.

As a bonus, I also gained two critique partners and good friends: Robyn Williams, who lives in Idaho, and Jim Luce, who harks from Wisconsin. We’ve never met, but they’ve been a constant in my writing life, and I’m profoundly grateful to them. Ah, the power of the Internet

Free workshops such as WriteLab don’t exist anymore, but there’s nothing to say you can’t start your own group on the same principles. There are hundreds of books on writing. All it takes is to read some of them, do a bit of planning, and write.

BTW, any other WriteLabbers out there?

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