Recently, my good friend Lori visited Chicago’s famous “Cloud Gate” sculpture, affectionately known as “The Bean” by locals. Designed by Anish Kapoor, this bulging, looming, delightful public artwork reflects on levels. Its mirror finish reflects the buildings, plaza, and sky around it. It reflects the crowds of people looking at it. In turn, its viewers reflect upon it and upon themselves.
Prompt #1: Finding Yourself in A Crowd.
With Cloud Gate’s curves, its reflections distort the crowd gazing upon it. This makes it a (fun) challenge to find yourself and your friends in the giant mirror. Lori wrote, ” I found myself not where I expected to be.”
Write about a character’s sense (or your own sense) of a) being lost in a crowd, b) being buoyed up by a crowd or c) being changed by a crowd. Be as literal or symbolic as you wish. Write for 10 minutes.
Prompt #2: Mirror Image
A mirror, of course, shows us the reverse of ourselves. Add in the bends and bulges of Cloud Gate and its not surprising that you might find yourself reflecting, as Lori did, on identity. Who is this altered, amended, distorted, or perhaps, freed you?
Write an mini-autobiography of yourself with a few changes regarding your history, appearance, temperament, beliefs, or life experiences. Write for 10 minutes.
Circle a phrase or sentence that stands out for you. Write it on the top of a fresh peice of paper and write for 15 more minutes.
Prompt #3: Reflect Upon Self
With writing group friends or alone, find a place (such as reflective street-level windows or dressing room mirrors) where you can stand among others, either strangers or friends.
Here’s a simple but surprisingly powerful writing prompt. I first used it when I was leading writing workshops for GLBT high school students.
Choose a body part from the word list below and match it with an adjective from the list below that. Feel free to add your own body part or adjective too.
Write both words on the top of a fresh page of paper.
After looking at your phrase (such as “big ears,” “sturdy ankles,” thin hair,” or “powerful arms”), close your eyes and repeat the phrase out loud three times.
Open your eyes and write for 10 minutes.
Body Parts abs ankle arms breast butt chest cheeks crotch calves ears elbow eyebrow eyes face foot fingers gums hair hands head hips junk knee lashes leg lip mind muscle nose nails neck package palm shoulder six-pack skin sole stomach teeth thigh tongue toes waist
Body Adjectives bad big blotchy bony built butch cow crooked curved curly cute cut dark dark dull fairy fat fierce femme flabby flat fleshyfreakishfrizzy generous girly goodgross gums hair hairy hands hips hot knee knobbylightlimploaded mannish patchy powerful prettypuffyroundsexyshinyshortskinny smallstraight strong sturdy tall thick thinuglywaifishweakwide wrinkled
How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing
It can give you insight into your own perceptions of your body, which is generally a useful thing.
It can give you insight into a character’s perception of his, her, or hiz body—also a useful thing for character development.
You might write on a topic you have not considered before—even though you live in your body all day.
It offer the opportunity to go from the specific (such as an elbow or ear) to a large theme, such as fear and desire, overcoming shame, family lineage, and human connection.
Next Steps for More Writing
Read your piece out loud. Circle a sentence that was difficult to write and rewrite on the top of a new sheet of paper. Write in response to it for 10 or 20 minutes more.
Keep the same body part but choose a new adjective. Write in response to the new phrase.
Keep the same adjective part but choose a new body part. Write in response to the new phrase.
Tips and Variations for Writing Groups
At the end of the 10 minutes, everyone rotates their body part word clockwise to create a new phrase. Write for ten more minutes.
If you feel comfortable, share your pieces. Listen for a phrase in the work of others that particularly troubles or puzzles you. Write it on the top of a new sheet of paper. Write for 10 more minutes.
For tomorrow’s prompt, you’ll need to find a domestic object to write about it. It could be range of things, for instance, a chair, a rug, a chess piece, a hat, book, hammer, button, ring, spool of thread, or box of fishing tackle. Choose what inspires you, but try to find something at least 20 years old. Even older is better!