City Sidewalks

For Wednesday, July 16, 2014  Prompt #73



Write about an encounter on a city street.

Writing Tips:

  • This can be an encounter between two people, a person and a sign,  an older person and a toddler, three dogs, or some other combination.
  • Balance observation, description, and dialogue.
  • Write for 15 minutes.

Book Suggestion: Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014  Prompt #72


Yesterday afternoon, I wandered through Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, the inspiration for today’s writing prompt.


Write about zoos.




Writing Tips:

  • You can focus on a particular zoo, animal, visit, or a opinion about zoos.
  • Or you can write in a more abstract, mixed-up, or interwoven kind of way.
  • This prompt lends itself especially well to sensory descriptions: be sure to include the sounds, sights, textures, and smells all around you.
  • Explore your emotions and state of being. What was your motivation for being at the zoo? Were you eager or reluctant to be there?

Further Writing

  • Shift your perspective with that of one of the animals. Write for 20 minutes.
  • Write about being in a zoo at dawn or dusk.

Writing Group Variations

  • Visit a zoo and spend time writing there.
  • Or swap zoo stories and write from there.

Precipitation [Part Two]

May 24, 2014  Prompt #24




Twenty-four hours later and, again, it’s raining.

Good reason to expand on yesterday’s prompt.

If you haven’t read it already, do that first, then try these variations.



Further Writing

  • Apply personification (the assignment of human attributes to objects, abstract notions, or, in this case, weather) to a rain storm. Describe a storm, drizzle, or intermittent rain in terms of anger, generosity, fickleness or another human condition.  This option lends itself well to poetry and flash fiction. Write for 10 minutes.
  •  Write about someone waiting  rain. Describe the person’s actions without dialogue or conversation.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On separate index cards, each member writes down two emotions or feelings, such as frustration, joy, relief, trepidation, boredom, etc.,
  2. On a second set of cards, write down words associated with rain, such as thunder claps, puddles, windshield wipers, boots, rain jacket, flood, soaked, partly cloudy, etc.
  3. Keep the words in separate piles, face down so you can’t see the words written on them.
  4. Each member chooses one word from each pile and, from there, writes for 15 minutes. Unlikely pairings often make for the best writing, so resist the temptation to choose different words if yours seem unwieldy.

What did you think of this writing prompt? Share your thoughts.



May 23, 2014  Prompt #23

PhotoLast night, I saw Venus in Fur at Denver’s Curious Theater. As an accompaniment to the show’s vigorous, changeable dialogue, the production included a thunderstorm. As I write this, back in Boulder, we’re having real live downpour, complete with rumbling thunder and flashbulb-style lightning.  All this to say: Rain is on my mind. Its tension and variability (from mist to an out-and-out thunderstorm) can enrich your writing. Yes, if mishandled, it can become a cliche, but with practice, rain (and other weather events) can skillfully drive action or accentuate tone.


  1. Describe a light drizzle, steady downpour,  late afternoon thunderstorm, or another kind of rain. Be sure to include sensory details, such as sound and smell, as well as the setting.  (Rain in a city or desert is different than rain on a beach or against a farm house.) Write for 10 minutes.
  2. Next, write a conversation that includes either a) someone making a difficult request of someone else  or b) two or three people arguing about something minor as a way to avoid a larger issue or conflict.  Write for 10 minutes.
  3. Next (you guessed it), combine the two. Feel free to adjust the dialogue or the rain to better fit each other. Write for 15 minutes.

A Few Thoughts

  1. How does the pace, intensity, and style of rain magnify or delineate the conversation?
  2. Does the rain stop and start? How does that effect the action?
  3. How do your characters react to the rain? Do they hide under trees, shut windows, place pots and pans to collect drips?

Tomorrow: Further Writing and Variations for Writing Groups

What did you think of this writing prompt? Share your thoughts.


I Don’t Remember

May 20, 2014  Prompt #20

IMG_0620 Today’s prompt turns yesterday’s “I Remember” exercise on its head.  “I Don’t Remember” motivates you to write about loss,  failure of memory, and what we repress. Use it to remember, connect, and observe.  When I’ve taught this exercise in my workshops, there’s often a lightheartedness about what our mind chooses to remember and what it forgets. Go deep, go playful, go write.



  1. On a sheet of paper, write the phrase I don’t remember on the left side of the first line.  Skip three lines and write it again.  Repeat this until you’ve written I don’t remember twelve times. (Start a new sheet or write on the back if you need more room.)
  2. Next, fill in the blank spaces after I don’t remember with a sentence, phrase, or even a single word. For example, I don’t remember when I stopped climbing trees.  I don’t remember the last time I spoke to my brother.  I don’t remember what bus driver looked like.
  3. Work your way down the list, writing for 15 to 20 minutes.

Notes (same as yesterday’s notes.)

  • Pay attention to the sound of your words, their collective rhythm and pacing. Try varying short and long responses.
  • This exercise can create a stand-alone list poem or several spring boards for short stories, flash fiction, and narrative poems.
  • Try reading the finished piece aloud. What do you notice?

Further Writing

  • Try interspersing this sequence once or twice, I don’t remember _________, but I do remember  ______________.
  • Include specific details. Here’s one from Brainard’s book: ” I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.”

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Choose one of your completed I don’t remember lines and expand upon it.
  2. Work in a simile. “I don’t remember why I gave away the rag wool sweater, red as the geraniums that lined our front bed, thick as the weeds that tried to choke them.

Thoughts on this writing prompt?


Sensory Weekend: Rolling Up Your Sleeves

May 18, 2014  Prompt #17



Today features a short prompt: less background, no further writing or writing group variations. Enjoy getting your hands dirty.




Describe an action below. Include at least four different senses.  Write for 15 minutes.

  • Digging a hole.
  • Shucking six ears of corn.
  • Plastering cracks in a wall.
  • Building a ceramic vase out of clay.
  • Handwashing a wool sweater in a tub of water.


What did you think of this writing prompt? Share your thoughts.


Sensory Weekend: Smokin’

May 17, 2014  Prompt #16

cigar smoke




Today and tomorrow feature short prompts: less background, no writing group variations. Have a good weekend!


Surgeon General’s Warning

If you are not a smoker, don’t light up to complete this exercise. Work from memory or sit near smokers and take notes.


    1. Write for 10 minutes about tobacco (cigarette, cigar or pipe) smoke, either first- or second-hand. Consider how it smells, tastes, and looks.
    2. Write down six adjectives and six verbs that describe smoke or your experience of it. Integrate some of these words into your piece. Write for 10 more minutes.

Further Writing

    1. Write about entering a room that smells of cigar smoke.
    2. Write about someone blowing smoke rings.

What did you think of this writing prompt? Share your thoughts.


Sensory Week: Taste

May 16, 2014  Prompt #15

orangesTo wrap up Sensory Week, it’s our long-awaited taste prompt. To enrich this exercise, I’ve included other senses as well.  Tuck a napkin under your chin and let’s get started.



  1. Choose a fruit that you enjoy (or dislike) for this exercise. Other foods can work too; you may need to adjust the instructions. Follow the steps below, noting experiences, associations, and responses.
  2. Hold the fruit in your hand. Briefly describe its weight and texture.
  3. Smell the fruit. Does your mouth start watering? Puckering?
  4. Peel the fruit, stopping frequently to describe the experience, noting memories and questions that arise. If the fruit isn’t peel-able, skip this step or slice the fruit instead.
  5. Touch the fruit to your tongue. First impressions?
  6. Section or slice the fruit if needed, then take a small bite.  How do your tongue, lips, and mouth react? Describe the experience.
  7. Continue eating. Continue writing.

How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  • Encourages you to write slowly and thoughtfully, since several steps are involved.
  • Helps you bring sensory details into your work.
  • Encourages association and memory recall.

Further Writing

  • Imagine a person eating this fruit for the first time. What would surprise them?
  • Describe how different people might approach eating a pineapple, pear, or banana. How does how they eat reflect who they are?

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. If the season is right (usually late summer or fall in the U.S.), try tasting and describing three different apple varieties.
  2. If available, compare, and describe eating an orange, tangerine, and blood orange. Or a standard lemon and a Meyer lemon. Or a grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime. What do these different fruits conjure up for you?
  3. If available, try a fruit that is new to you. Some fruits I hadn’t eaten as a child include a star fruit (or carambola), horned melon (or kiwano), and even a fresh fig.

What did you think of this writing prompt? Share your thoughts.


Sensory Week: Smell

May 15, 2014  Prompt #14


This is among my favorite prompts, since smell brings up specific associations and memories. Plus, it’s fun to smell stuff.




  1. Find something in your house with a specific scent or odor. Looking for ideas? Consider one of these: a lemon, garlic bulb, crayons, chalk, perfume or cologne, nail polish remover, a leather baseball glove, a block of cedar, sawdust, cloves or a cinnamon stick, vinegar. (Don’t use anything toxic, of course.)
  2. Close your eyes, bring the item to your nose, and inhale. Relax your brain and let memories and associations surface. Repeat twice more.
  3. For 15 minutes, write in response to this smell.  If, during your writing, it helps to take in the scent of the item again, sniff away!  If you need to ground your piece, write about the place with which you most associate this scent.

How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  • Since smells are not easily categorized,  you need to think specifically about the individual scent.
  • Since smells are deeply evocative, this prompt encourages association and memory recall.

Further Writing

  • Write about the person with whom you most associate this smell.
  • Write about a different scent.  If you first wrote about a pleasing scent, try writing about a harsh one.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Each member brings, in a sealed and separate plastic containers, two or more object with a strong scent. Cotton balls dabbed in perfume, alcohol, pine cleaner, or vinegar work well, as well as any of the items listed above.
  2. Group members close their eyes, sniff the scents, and guess what they are.
  3. Discuss your experience of the scents with each other.
  4. Write down an action or emotion associated with the scent. (Vinegar is fear, running from the housekeeper who teases me with the open bottle.  Baking chicken is Friday night, our kitchen transformed by oranges, dripping fat, and a full table.)  From here, write for 15 more minutes.

What did you think of this writing prompt? Share your thoughts.