Thursday Thoughts: Out Loud

For Thursday, July 17  Prompt 74

IMG_0607Do you read your work out loud as you write and edit?

If so, how does it change what you write?

If not, try it. See if it affects your word choice, sentence length or dialogue.



Summer Solstice Ritual

June 21, 2014.  Prompt #51

Summer-Solstice-Stonehenge-1024x380After dinner with friends tonight , I marked this longest day of the year with a walk to Wonderland Lake. There, redwings chattered, the foothills reflected themselves in the water, and two mallard chicks paddled behind with their mother. On the path home, I nearly bumped into a mule deer. I like to celebrate the cycles of the year: solstice and equinoxes; full, new and blue moons; lunar and solar eclipses. I revel in a colorful sunrise and sunset.


  1. Write about an annual, monthly or even daily ritual that you (or a character) observe.
  2. Your ritual can revolve around a holiday, a seasonal occurrence or something societal, such as the last day of school, the opening of hunting season, or the homecoming football game.
  3. Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Write about a very personal ritual, not connected to society as a whole.
  • Invent a ritual for yourself or a character.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On separate pieces of paper, each member writes a one-sentence description of a ritual they partake in and a second ritual that is entirely made up.
  2. Place the papers in the middle of the table and read the descriptions out loud.
  3. Guess which rituals are real (that it, one that someone in the group or someone they know actually observes) and which are entirely imaginary.
  4. Choose one description — real or fictional — and expand on it. Add back-story, details, and conflict as needed. Write for 20 minutes.

Looking ahead

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.


Developing Character

facesJune 20, 2014.  Prompt #50

To write effectively about characters, it’s crucial to thoroughly develop their fictional lives. Once you have a clear sense of who they are, you’ll be able to better write dialogue for them and describe their gestures, expressions, and habits. How does your character entertain herself, how does he dress, what does she like to eat? Even though you won’t directly incorporate every fact you develop for your character, establishing a strong background deepens all facets of your story.


  1. Choose a character from a story you are writing. This exercise can also work for a non-fiction essay.
  2. In a few words or single sentence, answer the 20 questions below about your character. Feel free to change pronouns or details accordingly. Write for 20 minutes.
  3. Here are the questions:
  • Your character’s most prized personal possession is
  • Your character’s favorite color
  • Your character’s favorite holiday
  • Person he loves the most
  • Friends she most respects
  • What people like about her
  • His greatest fear
  • Cruelest thing she has ever done
  • What he most regrets
  • Is she a planner or spontaneous?
  • Her fantasy is to…
  • The most damaging this that ever happened to him was
  • How much money does she have in her savings account
  • He brags about…
  • She is afraid that people will find out…
  • He lives in an apartment, condo, tract house, farm house, restored bungalow, on the streets, or ….?
  • What he most dislikes about his appearance
  • Her most treasured memory
  • He drinks what kind of beer, wine, or juice?
  • The only thing she ever stole was…

Further Writing

  • Expand one of your answers above. Write a 10-minute short prose piece.
  • In your short prose piece, circle 20 words that stand out for you.  Shape these words into a poem, adding additional words as needed.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Each writing group member writes down two questions about a character at the top of a blank sheet of paper. For instance, What is the one thing your character does secretly? Describe their pet. or She will lie when…
  2. Mix up the papers and then choose one at random.
  3. Write a one paragraph response to each question. Write for 20 minutes.

Looking ahead

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.


Picture {Postcard} Perfect

June 19, 2014.  Prompt #49

denver2Today’s prompt may take you to places unknown.

Have a marvelous journey.




  1. Do you have a collection of old travel postcards?  If so, choose one for this prompt.
  2. If not, in Google image, Flickr, or another image search, type “travel postcards.” Choose a postcard image from it.
  3. Write down thoughts and sensations inspired by the postcard. Write for 10 minutes.
  4. Rewrite your last line on the top of a new page. Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Postcards are known for limited space.  Write a haiku elicited by the postcard.
  • Imagine you sent this postcard. What would you have written on the back? Who would you have sent it to? What would you have told them to console them, to lure them, or to make them jealous?

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Postcards often offer a candy-coated version of what they depict. Write a short prose piece (200 words or less) either building on this lie or debunking it. Start the piece with three adjectives in a row.
  2. Bring a postcard to your group and have everyone write a poem or short prose piece based on it. Write for 10 minutes.
  3. Share your work. Do common themes emerge?
  4. Repeat the prompt with another postcard.

Next Week

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.


Body Parts, Inc.

May 5, 2014  Prompt #4

Today’s Prompt: Embodied


Here’s a simple but surprisingly powerful writing prompt. I first used it when I was leading writing workshops for GLBT high school students.


  1. 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.
  2. Write both words on the top of a fresh page of paper.
  3. 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.
  4. 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   fleshy   freakish   frizzy   generous   girly   good gross gums hair hairy hands hips hot knee knobby light   limp   loaded   mannish   patchy  powerful  pretty   puffy round  sexy shiny   short skinny  small  straight   strong  sturdy   tall   thick   thin   ugly   waifish   weak  wide wrinkled

How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  1. It can give you insight into your own perceptions of your body, which is generally a useful thing.
  2. It can give you insight into a character’s perception of his, her, or hiz body—also a useful thing for character development.
  3. You might write on a topic you have not considered before—even though you live in your body all day.
  4. 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.

Looking Ahead

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!


Getting Started with Writing Prompts

Ready. Set. Write.
I’ve been leading writing workshops and taking part in writing groups for over 25 years. In that time, I’ve amassed a large, messy pile of writing prompts. My writing pals have urged me to turn the prompts into a book, but, this being the 21st century, I’ve decided to create a blog for them instead. (The book can come later.)

What is a Writing Prompt and Who Can Benefit From One?
A strong writing prompt offers a hand-up when you are feeling unfocused, unmotivated, or unsure. These prompts can be used individually or in a group. Try them as a warm-up unrelated to writing you’re working on or integrate them into a story, essay, or novel that’s underway.  These prompts focus mostly on prose, but poets and experimental writers should feel free to jump in. Above all, remember to

travel big

Most prompts will fall under one of these categories:

  1. Structure, Lists, and Fill In the Blanks
  2. Time, Place, and Memory: Prompts that Engage with the Passage of Time
  3. Sensory Prompts: Prompts that Work with Photos, Objects, Sound, Taste, and Even Smell
  4. On Their Shoulders: Work by Great Writers Serves As A Jumping Off Point
  5. Our Own Words: Tearing Up, Turning Over and Reworking Our Writing
  6. Reference Desk: Using Dictionaries, Manuals, Encyclopedias As Inspiration
  7. Wild, Random, and Utterly Free: Using Chance and Play to Loosen Up and Go Deeper

That’s the scoop.  Tune in tomorrow for your first prompt.

Write back at you…