I might not write in the bathtub, but I like Dolly’s style. I try to write every day. I don’t always succeed, but I always try. I suspect there are a lot of us in the same boat at the moment. The last eighteen months have been rough for everyone. My brain isn’t coping that well with everything that’s going on outside.
Plus, if you are on social media (like I am), it can feel like everyone is being published or having some sort of writing success. Some days my little wins can be writing a hundred words or editing a page. It can be a real slog. So I started doing a few writing prompts here and there, trying to make myself enjoy the process a bit more.
I thought why not pass some of that on to others. So, I’ll send a monthly email out with writing prompts, things I’ve read or heard that have really helped me get back on track.
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 reading…
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. Goon Squad is a Pulitzer prize-winning collection of short stories, each interconnected by an association with a music executive called Bennie Salazar and his personal assistant, Sasha.
I had the book on my shelf for a few years, having bought it in my brother-in-law’s bookshop. I listened to the opening short story read by Susan Choi on The New Yorker podcast and it intrigued me. So I got stuck into the book, it’s a composite novel so there’s no specific plotline. Rather there are a group of reoccurring characters throughout the book. All the stories can be read as stand-alone pieces.
Goon Squad experiments a little with style as one story is a PowerPoint presentation and another is a Gonzo journalism piece. Jennifer Egan talks about the different styles she used and how she got into the headspace of all the characters on the BBC Radio 4 Bookclub show.
I quite enjoyed it, it reminded me of an audiobook called Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I had a severe book hangover after that one. It was sort of Fleetwood Mac meets Spinal Tap mockumentary in that it was about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll but in interview form. I listened to it on Libby, which is the library’s free ebook and audiobook app. Which is great, because you get to read it/listen to it for free but the author still gets paid.
I read another composite novel a few years back called Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I enjoyed it so much that I read the sequel, Olive Again. Composite novels can be a bit Marmite, but I’m really interested in how they work as I’m working on a short story collection at the moment.
I’ve been listening to…
The Creative Penn Podcast has a great episode on how to Rediscover Your Creative Free Spirit. While a lot of Joanna Penn’s podcast episodes are about self-publishing, digital marketing and entrepreneurship, this one focuses on burnout and how to go back to enjoying your own creativity. Something I definitely need.
The interview with Peleg Top, artist and creative coach, starts around the 21-minute mark (if you aren’t interested in book marketing, digital sales, etc).
Another episode to check out is Roz Morris’s Writing and Publishing Literary Fiction. Particularly I was interested in how Morris creates an emotional soundtrack for her scenes and characters.
If you are short of time, The Daily Pep! is a daily podcast for creatives that is only 3 to 4 minutes long. On Monday, Meg Kissack asked what can you do to make your future self grateful? The podcast is like a condensed verbal aspirational poster.
I’ve been watching…
Dispatches from Elsewhere. This show on Amazon Prime is odd, to say the least. It is another short story anthology, this time in streaming series form. Dispatches is about four strangers who respond to a flyer and end up part of an alternate reality game. The game is somewhere between The Wizard of Oz and the real world. That’s the easiest way to describe it. Each episode focuses on one particular character, why they respond to the flyer and how they view the game. It has a really great cast that makes you want to find out more about them and it doesn’t hurt that the person in charge of the game is the very lovable Richard E. Grant.
I have also been watching his Write Around the World with Richard E. Grant, wishing I could take myself off on a writing holiday. Grant visits Italy, France and Spain, following in the footsteps of writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elena Ferrante and Patricia Highsmith to find out how the land inspired them.
Let’s get writing…
The first prompt I have for you is a photo prompt. I recently bought a lot of black and white photos as well as old photo slides in the hope to trigger some writing responses. I hope to get the slides into the next email because they are really interesting stuff. I don’t know why, but I love looking at family photos of people I don’t know and trying to work out the dynamics.
I mean what is going on in this photo? Seriously, that’s the first prompt – what’s going on? Who are these people? Where are they? And where did that lady get that embroidered dress (and can I have it please)?
Another thing I’ve been doing is using song lyrics as a starting point. Pick a lyric below (or if you have a particular song that inspires you, go for it). You can use it as an opening or closing line or for inspiration for your next piece of writing*.
- Here you come again, lookin’ better than a body has a right to
- Your lover’s lover’s alibi
- Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid
- Clouds in my coffee
- I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
- Hanging out their old love letters, on the line to dry
- The music there, it was hauntingly familiar
- There’s something else inside of me, there’s someone else I’ve got to be
- I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there
- Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory
- So much of me is made from what I learned from you
- Scent of magnolia, clean and fresh, then suddenly the smell of burning flesh
- She comes back to me to tell me she’s gone, as if I didn’t know that
- Don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close to the edge
- Time every journey to bump into you accidentally
- I messed up, I lost another fight
- The present has no ribbon
- It just ain’t the same, old ways have changed, new days are strange
- There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed
- The sidelines lined with casualties, who sip the life casually
- I was born to run, I don’t belong to anyone
If you are very ambitious, you could write a different story for every line of Bohemian Rhapsody. Because let’s face it, what could be more different than ‘I see a little silhouetto of a man’ and ‘Scaramouch Scaramouch, will you do the fandango?’
*If you plan to submit any writing for publication based on these prompts, remember to rewrite the lyrics as it would be a breach of copyright. Check out Jane Friedman’s tips on Fair Use if you want to know more.