Writing Prompt Self-Challenge
I said the other day that I hate writing from prompts and that I never produce quality work from it or even snippets of work that I could salvage and use later. The closest I came at Goddard was in Reiko Rizzuto's wonderful workshops on troubleshooting one's writing, in which she urged us to channel our characters, freewrite about their wants and needs, and to manipulate scenes to unblock ourselves.
The best writing I do is spontaneous or, more likely, germinates in my subconscious until I decide to put it on the page, and then it goes through a lot of editing.
So, I came up with an idea to challenge myself. I took an old prompt piece that I didn't hate but thought was meh, and I'm going to revise it into a publishable flash story. Success=published, and not in some vanity magazine either.
Since I'm putting this out there, let's call failure "the inability to become published within eight months." Why eight? First because it might need a couple rounds of revision, even if it is a flash story. Second because lit mags take a long time to respond, so even targeting faster markets, I'm going to have to be aggressive about sending it out.
If I can get it into a form I like, I'll pick another prompt piece; I have a bunch, but this one, a flash fiction from 1920s Rome, seems a likely candidate.
If you want to do the same, I've love to hear about it. This is 'competing against yourself' at its finest, so we all win if we're writing, revising, and submitting. Happy writing!
The Benefits of List Poems
I hate prompts. I always feel as though my writing suffers if I have to contort myself around things like, "You walk into a bar and see a family of mice drinking Scotch. Go!" I never end up with anything I'm fond of or would like to salvage in my own work.
If I get stuck, I like to muse on the page, or do a couple of character/thought-experiment exercises that don't involve writing as much as thinking, or read/write fanfiction and work on the concepts around my block. Only rarely will the most generalist of prompts incite me to actual good writing. Thus, I faced the idea of a 'list poem' with cynicism. "Besides the obvious," I thought, "can this really say much?"
Now, a list poem isn't a prompt as much as it is a poetic form--or a flash fiction, if you like! The premise is simple: you take a list and imbue it with the power to tell the story, the essence of all creative writing. The goal, I think, is to make a narrative arc without being too cheap or giving it away too easily. For instance:
Mat's Shopping List
Mat's Shopping List
No one likes tax time. At best, it's yet another reminder of the grown-up world. At worst, it's the devil coming to take even more of your money than you already gave him during the year. I, however, have a bittersweet relationship with taxes.
My childhood had four seasons: summer, fall, winter, and tax season; my father is a licensed tax preparer. He built this small business while working full-time as a firefighter. It's true that a fire station has a lot of downtime, especially for the person manning the ladder truck, which typically responds to fewer calls than the standard engines or ambulances. Many firefighters do, and thrive on the long shift schedule, which is followed by several days off during which they can grow their other business. Their contacts and reputation as blue-collar heroes help. But that doesn't make it pleasant.
The increased income helped our family relax, pay for big ticket purchases, and make ends meet after the spendy holiday season. However, it also meant high tempers, overwork, stress, and reduced family time. My father worked (and continues to work!) so hard during tax season that he set a standard that seemed nigh unreachable. Many of us have had a ten or twelve-hour video gaming session at least once, or a binge-watch of a show that keeps us at our computer. My dad regularly worked ten or twelve hour days at his desk. We used to joke that the only thing that could get him out of his seat--besides dinner, which my mother insisted we eat as a family--was a fire!
Nowadays tax season is heralded by some wordsmithing of my father's business to client communications, fielding computer upgrade questions, and stealing all the new promotional pens for my personal use. I don't feel a January dread the way I used to, but I still understand that travel in either direction and quality time get eaten up by a business that could kick any standard, big-box tax firm's ass in turnaround time, quality, and price.
However, as I went to tally up my itemized deductions this year, I realized just how much time and money I had spent last year on charitable giving, volunteer work, and donations. I donated to eleven nonprofits, volunteered my time for four others, and assisted other crowdfunding and Patreon efforts that aren't tax-deductible. I also bought products from the nonprofit organizations I support, and used Amazon Smile to give to a nonprofit of my choice.
What I learned: if you keep giving and doing what you can throughout the year, you'll have something to feel good about when tax season comes. Reflecting on my contributions gave me a sense of purpose and direction for the yet-unused time and money in the year to come.
Even if you don't acknowledge tax season as a real season.
Seriously, my dad is awesome and he works with clients in any state. I am also available to hire as a freelance writer and simple web designer.