Animal Tendencies

Tuesday, July 27, 2014  •  Prompt #86



Write a poem or flash fiction piece inspired by a vintage illustration of an animal. Click here for illustrations or look for prints at a used book shop or library.




  • Use specific, concrete details.
  • Capture a moment in time.
  • As (almost) always, use sensory details.

More Writing Options

  • Try shifting perspective once or twice within the work.
  • Write the piece as a traditional ode.
  • Write as if you are someone who has never seen this animal before.



Here’s a piece I wrote influenced by both a bear safety pamphlet and this bear illustration.



bears eat
twigs bugs fruit insects fish carrion.
Small mammals.

Stay close.

Look for these signs:
turned stones
of decayed logs stumps and berry patches.
Tooth and claw high on trees.

She is not far off.

bears do not go
into true hibernation.
Sleep is not deep
temperature only
a few degrees

in caves, crevices,
fallen trees.

Den with me.


© Ellen Orleans 2012





Button Holed

Sunday, July 27, 2014  •  Prompt #84

black buttons



Today’s Prompt

Write about buttons.






  1. Find two or three buttons.
  2. Hold them in your hand.
  3. Describe their weight, color, texture and material.
  4. What is your response seeing or touching these buttons?
  5. Write for 20 minutes.

Options and Springboards

  • Write about a button found on the sidewalk.
  • Write about an absent button, missing from a coat or sleeve.

Writing Group Options

  1. Each group member brings several buttons to writing group.
  2. Put them all in the middle of the table.
  3. Choose one to write about.
  4. Fashion a poem, story or creative non-fiction piece around it.


Roadside Attraction

Saturday, July 26, 2014  •  Prompt #83




Today’s Prompt: 

  1. Write about a visit to a roadside attraction.
  2. If you’ve never visited one, write fiction.
  3. Write for 20 minutes.


Option and Springboards

  • Describe the land that surrounded you.
  • With whom were you traveling?
  • How old were you?
  • How were you traveling?
  • What did you see?
  • What were your expectations going in?
  • Were you confused, wowed, disappointed, delighted?


A Giant Leap

Sunday, July 20, 2014  •  Prompt #77



Today marks the 45th anniversary of the moon landing.




Today’s Prompt:
If you are old enough to remember, write about where you were when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

  • Describe where you watched or listened to the landing.
  • Who was with you?
  • What emotions did you experience?

Write for 15 minutes.

Additional Writings

  • Choose one of the following words as your springboard. Write for 15 minutes. Man on the Moon. Half-Moon Bay. Blue Moon. Moonpie. Moonlighting. Honeymoon. Moonshine.
  • Write a 200-word fable that features two animals and the moon.

Writing Group Variations

  1. Gather in an area away from city lights with a good view of the moon.  (Consult a moonrise calendar.)
  2. Look at the moon through binoculars and a telescope. Look carefully.
  3. Take notes.
  4. Move to an indoor area and write your observations.
  5. Did anything surprise you? Do you feel an emotional connection to the moon?



For Monday, July 14, 2014  Prompt #71



Write about something fragile, either literal or metaphoric.




  1. Find something fragile in your home or someone else’s home (with their permission of course). Hold it (carefully!). Put it down, describe it, using a variety of sensory details. Is it heavy in your hands? Does it make a sound if you tap it gently? Is it old and worn?
  2. If you know about the origins of the piece, write about it.
  3. Write about what it means to you.
  4. If you are remembering something long gone, write about it to the best of your recollection or fictionalize the account to add interest.

Further Writing

  • Did you ever break anything valuable? Yours or someone else’s?  Were there repercussions? Where did this take place? How old were you? Examine your emotions and state of being.
  • Write about fragility from an emotional perspective. Was there ever a time you or someone you loved felt or seemed broken?

Writing Group Variations

  • Bring something fragile to your writing group.
  • Write about your piece or someone else’s.
  • Share your writing to hear the variety of stories group members devised. What is common? Where do the stories differ?


Sunday Shape-Up: Spiral

July 6, 2014  Prompt #63

Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson

Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson


For this, the final Sunday Shape-Up prompt, I turn to the spiral.  As this long holiday weekend included for me both an unexpected funeral and an unexpected wedding, the spiral, with its nod toward the cyclical nature of life seems appropriate.




  1. On a blank piece of paper, draw a spiral with generous white space between the lines.
  2. For 5 to 10 minutes, write along the spiral line. Turn the paper as needed. Write freely about whatever comes to mind without too much forethought.
  3. Re-read what you’ve written and circle a phrase or sentence that stands out.
  4. Write the phrase or word on the top of a new sheet of (lined) paper.  Write in response to it for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

Write in response to one of these spiraled phrases: Spiral-bound notebook. Spiral Staircase. Spiral galaxy. Spiraling in and out.

Variations for Writing Groups

Read about Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Look at photos on the internet or, even better, check out a library book about this land form art. Write in response to it.   Even, even better, take a field trip to the jetty! Walk and write. Walk and write. Sit and write. Write some more, then walk back. Bring water.



prompt for July 5, 2014  Prompt #64



It’s (still) the 4th of July Weekend here in the U.S. and I’ve been thinking of  patriotic symbols, what they mean to us, and how that differs from person to person.




  1. Choose one of these words or phrases and write it at the top of a fresh page: Bald Eagle. “American” Flag. (Stars and Stripes.) Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty. Uncle Sam. Or choose your own patriotic symbol.
  2. Write in response to your chosen phrase for 15 minutes.
  3. Need addition direction? Considered exploring “gut” or emotional responses to your phrase or writing about how your response to the symbol has changed over the years.

Follow Up Writing

  • If you are from a country other than the U.S., write about some of your country’s national symbols. Consider, perhaps, how they contrast with those of the U.S.
  • Write about local or community symbols that move you in some way.

Writing Group Variation

  1. Bring in symbols or photos depicting symbols to your writing group — a rainbow flag, a fraternity or sorority pin, a postcard of Smokey Bear, etc. Swap images with other group members. Write in response to them for 15 minutes.

Postponed Until Monday: Further Rant Writing and Variations for Writing Groups


Super Star

June 30, 2014  Prompt #59

star night

Today’s prompt follows up on yesterday’s Sunday Shape-Up which starred stars.

Further Writing

  • Use one of these phrases as your prompt: Gold Stars. Hollywood Star. Star struck. Starburst. Star of David. Star of Bethlehem. Star-crossed.
  • Write in response to the painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Imagine you are in the painting. Imagine you are painting the painting.


Variations for Writing Groups

  1. If you meet at night, find a safe but dark area from which to view the sky. Without writing, look at the stars for 5 full minutes. Then, using the minimal amount of light needed, write down impressions and sensations.
  2. Repeat.
  3. Inside, follow-up by circling a favorite phrase from your notes and using it as your first line. Write for 20 minutes.
  4. If it isn’t possible to see the night sky during your writing group, look at a photo of the night sky here. Choose one of the photos and write in response to it for 20 minutes.


Sunday Shape Up: Star

June 29, 2014  Prompt #58


This week’s Sunday Shape-Up lets you shine like the star you are.


  1. For 10 minutes, jot down phrases, dialogue and images that come to mind when you hear the word star.
  2. Re-read what you’ve written and circle a phrase or sentence that stands out.
  3. Next, underline a phrase that feels awkwardly written, difficult, or otherwise problematic.
  4. Write both phrases on the top of a new sheet of paper.  Write in response to them for 15 minutes.

Tomorrow: Further Writing and Variations for Writing Groups


Sunday Shape Up: Oval

June 22, 2014  Prompt #51


For this week’s Sunday Shape-Up, we will carefully press a circle into an oval and give it a spin.


  1. Quick Tip: The word oval originates from the Latin ov or egg. Hence, oval means egg-shaped.
  2. For five minutes, jot down phrases and images that come to mind when you hear the word oval.
  3. Re-read what you’ve written and underline a phrase or sentence that stands out.
  4. Write that phrase on the top of a new sheet of paper.  Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Running tracks are oval. Imagine you (or one of your characters) approach one at 6 a.m. on a spring morning. What happens next?  Include outward descriptions and inward thoughts. Write for 20 minutes.
  • Oval Office.
    • Get inside the head of a U.S. president. Imagine what he thinks about when he is alone in the Oval.
    • Write about your favorite fictional U.S. president.

Variation for Writing Groups


  1. Bring two eggs (raw, boiled or both) to writing group. Pass them around (gently). Feel the weight of them in your hand. If you are at someone’s home, try cracking one open or peeling one.
  2. Next, for 10 minutes, write down all your associations with eggs.
  3. Read your work out loud.
  4. The person to your left chooses one word or phrase they find inspiring from your writing and uses it as their prompt.
  5. Continue around the circle until everyone has a key word for their prompt.
  6. If you have more than 4 people in your group, pair or triple up to share work and choose a prompt word.


  1. Stir up a glass of Ovaltine.
  2. Sip and write. Sip and write.