Writing Prompts Aren’t Just for Beginners

Little-ShaverNo matter how long we’ve been writing, free writing, writing practice, and writing prompts remain a powerful source of inspiration. Some prompts come from books, some from websites, some from writing groups or friends, but some of the most important come from our thoughts. I was reminded of this when I found the following email snippet from my writing buddy, JS:

I was thinking last night about shaving and decided I’d write a little bit about it. I thought maybe I’d write about ten sentences. As soon as I started writing, I remembered all sorts of things I hadn’t thought about for years. I remembered how my father used to use his shaving brush to stir up some lather in his mug of shaving soap. He’d lather me and let me pretend to shave with a bladeless razor. I remembered starting shave for real, lots of different kinds of razors, blades and electric, and barbers I’ve gone to, and how they nearly shaved my head in the Army, and all that stuff. I wrote for nearly and hour and really had fun with it. There’ some great story starts in that mess. 

This email snippet also reminded me that listening to those tiny whispers when we start thinking about “the olden days” can yield fascinating stories. It’s also great sport, like having a family reunion with memories and you get to tell al the stories. It can also lead to fame, if not fortune. JS lives in a retirement community that publishes an occasional anthology of poems, pictures and pieces of work written by residents. He submitted an essay based on the ramblings in that memory dump. He’s become a local celebrity there and heard lots of shaving jokes and stories for some time after his essay appeared.

Snippets like his are rewarding for several reasons:

  • Without his essay, his great-grandchildren may never know about shaving mugs and brushes and blades that were sharpened for reuse.
  • Writing about memories like these helps focus on them and renews a sense of connection with the past.
  • Collecting a number of related memories can help you see patterns and connections you never noticed, sometimes solving several minor mysteries of life.
  • Sharing memory stories builds community.
  • It’s fun!

We all have little daily things that bring back memories. My kitchen is haunted with memories. Two of my three cast iron skillets were wedding gifts from my grandmother. I’ve used them nearly every day for over fifty years now and thought of her nearly every time I pull one out. I have pie plates, tea strainers and other gizmos of my mothers. Peeling potatoes or carrots, making meatloaf or enchiladas, even filling the sink with soapy water brings back memories. Some of them go back to childhood, some are more recent.

I’ve written about some. After reading that email from JS, I’m motivated to write more about daily life, probably contrasting then and now.

In fact, I just stopped and filled a long Evernote with prompts that sprang to mind that I can use some morning soon when I sit down to journal and inspiration has run dry. That happens.

Write now: Call up a recent memory of times past and things you used to do. Jot down a few key concepts, then spend ten minutes (more if you get into the swing of things and don’t want to stop) and write about one of them. Start paying attention to those mental riffs and capture some writing prompts. Go back over your free-writing material and find some juicy material to develop into an essay or story.  

Photo adapted from work published by Phyllis Buchanan under a Creative Commons license.


Vicki M. Taylor said...

Loved this post. Great ideas and tips. I have a writing exercise every Friday on my blog http://vmt-yourwritingcoach.blogspot.com Check it out if you're interested.

Sharon said...

Thanks for the link Vicki. I appreciated your most recent one as well as the material on humor.

Sherrey Meyer said...

Sharon, it's amazing that I should read this today as we were talking with friends last night over dinner about sharing stories from our memories with children, grandchildren, etc. We talked a lot about photos evoking stories, but it really seemed there was a consensus that our thoughts sometimes are the best source of what we should write down and share with family and sometimes with friends. Loved this post!

Sharon said...

One of my early mentors convinced me that when an idea's time comes, whether that be technology or tautology, it's often "discovered" concurrently all over the world. Do we dare escalate this snip of insight to that level? Sounds like you had a stimulating evening.