I hope you all tried out a few of my writing prompts last month. The one problem with sending the prompts out into the ether is that I really just want to message you all and say “how did you get on?” But if you would like to let me know, you can always find me on some sort of social media or send a message on my contact form.
If you aren’t interested in what I’ve been reading or listening to, just skip to the end for the writing prompts.
If there’s anything you feel I should know about, just let me know!
I’ve been watching…
A weird little show called Only Murders In The Building on DisneyPlus. It’s a comedy series starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez as New Yorkers who are creating a true-crime podcast about their neighbour’s murder. Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy. Stay with me.
It’s a comedy show that I stuck on to kill the time, not really expecting much out of it. But at one point, Martin Short tells a podcaster “we don’t want to make a mess of this.”
The podcaster replies:
“Embrace the mess. That’s where the good stuff lives.”
It was one of those lightbulb moments.
I have been finding it harder and harder to write recently. I have trouble getting to the end of a story without going back to fiddle with the details. The more I fiddle with the details, the more the ending gets further away.
I forgot that when I was writing by hand every day that maybe half of the stuff was nonsense. Usually it was me just telling myself the same thing in three different ways. But when I came to type it up, I swooped in with a highlighter first and pulled out the best bits. So all I need to do is embrace the mess.
I’ve been reading…
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa. I’m not usually a fan of essays and (I’ll be honest) I didn’t really know what autofiction was until I read this book, but it has just couldn’t put it down. It tells the story of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, who is a poet from the 1700s, alongside the writer’s own life. It sometimes reads as though stream-of-conscious but every word is very deliberately placed.
It begins with:
This is a female text, composed by folding someone else’s clothes. My mind holds it close, and it grows, tender and slow, while my hands perform innumerable chores.
This is a female text, born of guilt and desire, stitched to a soundtrack of nursery rhymes.
A lot of Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s life rang very true for me. It starts out with the writer moving house with three kids and trying to manage a never-ending list of chores as well as eke out thirty minutes of writing a day. That feels very familiar. Because I do have kids and I do have a never-ending list of chores. But even if I didn’t have those things, there would still be something.
Coincidentally, this week I was reading about Raymond Carver and the epiphany he had at the laundromat. Basically, Carver was washing his clothes in between picking up his kids from a birthday party. He realised he had wasted thirty minutes watching a dryer when he could have been writing.
At that moment I felt – I knew – that the life I was in was vastly different from the lives of the writers I most admired. I understood writers to be people who didn’t spend their Saturdays at the laundromat and every waking hour subject to the needs and caprices of their children.
That’s it really. There’s always going to be washing to do, tasks to perform, places to go and people to see because that makes up so much of life. So we have to carve out a few minutes a day to write.
Or as Lemony Snicket says in The Ersatz Elevator:
If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.
I’ve been listening to…
An interview with Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman hosted by 5×15 at the start of the month. I love Susanna Clarke. She wrote my favourite novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and last year she released her second novel, Piranesi, which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Clarke had a fifteen-year gap between her first book and her second. Not only that, but her first book took ten years to write. So the message here is slow and steady wins the literary awards.
After publishing Jonathan Strange, Susanna Clarke developed ME / Chronic Fatigue and found it difficult to write most days. Clarke sometimes sat up in bed or lay on the sofa to write her work. After a while, she decided to return to writing a novel that she was working on in her twenties. She read through the old manuscript and didn’t keep a lot of it. However, one line still remains as a nod to the 24-year-old version of herself:
The Spray caught the Sun; it was as if someone had suddenly thrown a hundred barrelfuls of diamonds into the Hall.
It was very inspiring to think that Clarke could work and rework her writing until she had changed every word bar one line (which her editor asked to cut, but Clarke insisted it stayed in). Because writing is all rewriting. It’s embracing the mess, but tidying up after yourself later.
Let’s get writing…
I’m using my stash of black and white photos again this month. This time it’s kids at a party.
That’s your first prompt.
What does the photo below make you think of? Does it bring back memories of school parties or weddings? Put yourself in the photo. Perhaps you are like the boy at the front, shoving a cake into your mouth or the wistful-looking girl at the back. Or maybe you are a parent, outside of the frame, hoping your little Jack or Jill doesn’t ruin their new clothes with their sticky fingers.
Use the photo as a springboard for your writing. You could list all the words and ideas you associate with the photo first, before writing.
The second prompt is from my random collection of slides.
This one is for all those people who can’t abide mess.
Who is the woman below? Who is she cleaning for? Is it herself? A family member? Is she being paid to clean?
Is she cleaning in preparation for something? Is someone special coming around and she has to have everything spick and span? Is she excited or dreading it?
Maybe this is just one chore on her weekly to do list? What else does she do?
If either of those prompts didn’t work out for you, try a few of the ones below.
You can use these to write about yourself or if you are working on character development, you could write it for your characters. Try to write without thinking much about it.
- Write about something you regret throwing out
- Write about something you’ve found, that you didn’t know you had kept
- Write about something you’ve found, that you didn’t know someone else kept
- List ten of your favourite objects and describe them using all your senses
- List ten beliefs or certainties you carry with you
- Imagine a stranger has emptied your wallet, purse or pockets, from those objects only, what assumptions would the stranger make about you?
If any of this helps with your writing, let me know and I’ll see you next month!