Inspiration Everywhere: Public Art

June 3, 2014.  Prompt #34

photo 3


Last month in Boulder, artist Gary Hirsh of Bot Joy painted an interactive mural at the northeast corner of Arapahoe and  13th Street, near the Farmer’s Market.  The mural poses several introspective questions of its viewers. You can find out more about the mural here and at #botstories.

For today and tomorrow’s prompt, we’ll work with two of the “bot prompts.”  Feel free to draw your own bot to complement your writing!



  1. For five minutes, free write about joy. Include whatever associations, people, places, activities—general or specific, arise.
  2. Next, for fifteen minutes, focus in on a time when you were filled with joy. Include the both large and small details of the setting, who you were with, what was happening around you and inside you. Include sensory details. Did the joy last for days, hours, or just a moment? Had you worked to create it or had it unexpectedly emerged?

Further Writing

  • Write about a time when you experienced unexpected or fleeting joy.
  • Write about daily small joys that you try to cultivate in your life.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. As suggested above, write about a time you experienced unexpected or fleeting joy. Re-reading what you have written, circle twelve to fifteen of your strongest or most surprising words and phrases. Re-write them all on a new piece of paper to create a poem or prose poem.
  2. Using a story, essay, or poem you are currently writing or revising, work in a moment of profound joy. How does this enrich the work?


Inspiration Everywhere: Maya Angelou

June 2, 2014.  Prompt #33

mayaAs a writer, I am often asked, “Where do you find your inspiration?” That question always surprises me, as I find inspiration everywhere. In this week’s posts, I’ll offer a variety of people, places, and instances that may inspire you.  Using your writer’s notebook, track what engages you throughout the day.


Maya Angelou

Last week, writer, performer, professor, and activist Dr. Maya Angelou died.  My Facebook feed was filled with tributes and quotes. This was among my favorites: Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.


  1. For five minutes, free write about the word courage. Include whatever associations—people, places, situations—arise.
  2. Next, for ten minutes, write about a time when you acted courageously, in either word or action, either big or small.

Further Writing

  • Write about a time when you (or your character) were not as courageous as you wished you’d been.  Was there a time when you missed an opportunity to act courageously?
  • My father used a say, “Discretion is the better part of valor”  (originally “The better part of valoris discretion,” from Shakespeare’s Henry IV.)  Write about the difference between valor and courage and the complexity of courageous acts.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On an index card, write a short description of a real or imagined courageous act.
  2. Place the cards in the middle of the table and choose one to write about for 15 minutes.
  3. Discuss the power of big vs. understated courageous acts. What are the challenges of writing about each of them?


Uniform Writing

ice womenMay 31, 2014  Prompt #31

To wrap up Clothing Week, today’s prompt is short and sweet:  Write about work clothes.  Your work clothes might be an actual uniform or simply what you wear when it’s time to earn a living or get the job done. If you need more structure, refer to the prompts from earlier this week. The guidelines and suggestions are largely transferable.

Have fun and get to work!


The Task At Hand

basement artist

Here’s 6-year-old me in a BIG smock provided by longtime family friend Helene Hemmendinger. Eric H. is working the other side of the easel.

May 30, 2014  Prompt #30

Do you have a favorite item of clothing that you wear for a particular task? A gardening shirt, a well-loved apron, a pair of road trip blue jeans?  This item of clothing will be your touchstone for the following prompts. If you don’t have a particular garment that fits this description, choose something that is meaningful to you in another way.

Ann Brashares wrote an entire series of books that revolved around a pair of blue jeans — The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Of course, the books are not really about the pants; they are about friendship, loyalty, and growing up.  What larger themes will emerge from your writing?



  1. For five minutes, write a physical description of your clothing choice. Describe its style, fabric, and color. Does it have tears or stains? Where and when did you acquire it?
  2. Put on the item of clothing. Do you feel connected to the task for which you generally wear it? (Time to bake raisin oatmeal cookies! Time to weed around the stoop or feed the horses!) Write about your connection to the piece of clothing, how it came to be your painting, hiking, or “clean the gutter” garment. Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Write about someone else’s “go-to” clothes. For instance, my father had a pair of frayed blue shorts he gardened in for twenty years, until my mother decided they so worn-thin they were “obscene.”  She tossed them.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Each member brings in a piece of clothing they associate with a particular use.  For a few minutes each, talk about your clothing choice with the group.
  2. Next, for 15 minutes, write about how you feel when you wear it.
  3. Fictional turn: write about someone who panics when they cannot find a specific piece of clothing. Can they not go out on a date because they can’t find their green high-tops? Do they give up on working in their studio because their perfectly worn, perfectly paint-splattered Oxford shirt is missing?

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

Outer Wraps

Marilyn Kestenbaum with well-wrapped family.

May 28, 2014  Prompt #28

Today, we turn to jackets and coats. What can we learn from writing about blazers, parkas, windbreakers, and leather jackets? From topcoats, overcoats, pea coats, and trench coats?

Coats can be metaphors for protection and for burden, helping ground your writing with tangible details.




  1. Choose a coat from your closet.  For five minutes, write a physical description of it. Describe its style, fabric, color, and condition. Does it have a scent? Is it a dress coat? An everyday coat? Where, when and how did you acquire it?
  2. Put the coat on. How does it fit? (If it is too hot to be wearing this coat, try to recall what it feels like to put it on in the winter or fall.) Is it loose or tight? Does it itch? What sounds do you hear when you zip, snap, or button?  Write about this for five more minutes.
  3. Next, mixing in the descriptions above, write about your connection with the coat. How do you feel wearing it? Stylish? Protected? Constricted? Where have you worn it to? Do you associate the coat with a person, place, or stage of your life?  Tell your story.

Further Writing

  • Write about your coat from another point of view. Imagine  you gave this coat away and someone bought it at a thrift store. Tell their story.
  • Find a photo of you, someone you know, or a stranger wearing a coat. Write a poem or micro-fiction about this person.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Take a field trip to a vintage clothing store or a thrift shop.  Try on coats. Take notes about the fit, the fabric, the style.
  2. Take photos. Write about the experience from your own point of view or from the perspective of a fictional character.

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

Paint Chip Poetry

May 9, 2014  Prompt #8


paint chips Preparation  For today’s prompt, we’ll use the paint chips mentioned in the May 4th blog entry. If you haven’t already procured paint chips, try this prompt once you’ve gotten them or cut up three of more squares of different colors from magazines or catalogs.While paint chip hunting, try to find paint chips with interesting names (such as Lost Lake Blue or Summer Time Yellow). Choose 3 or 4 samples and take them home.

Instructions I’ve used this exercise many times in my writing classes. It’s usually a big hit with elementary school kids who often write startling profound stories about their colors. If you have children or other young people in your life, try it with them.

  1. From your paint chips, choose a color that particularly attracts or repels you.
  2. Looking at your color,  answer these questions.
  • If this color was a verb, what would it be?
  • If this color was an emotion, what would it be?
  • If this color was a person or an animal, who or what would it be?

For instance, if your color is Sea Green, you might write “wander,” “bored” and “mermaid” (which technically is neither a person or animal, but you have creative license.).

3. Write a sentence using your three words, such as “Sea Green is a bored mermaid, wandering the ocean in search of something new.”
4. Use that sentence as an opening line for a poem or story.  The style of writing is up to you.  Write for ten minutes.

How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  • Encourages you to link the visual with written language.
  • Helps you make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts (color, verbs, emotions, animals.)

Further Writing

  1. Focus on just one of the questions above. For instance, if  Sea Green conjures wandering, write for ten minutes about wandering.
  2. Choose a second color and repeat the steps above.
  3. Choose the same color, then choose a new verb, emotion, and person or animal.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Ask everyone in the group to bring in two or more paint chips. Put them in the middle of your table. Everyone chooses one for the exercise.
  2. Ask everyone write about the same color. Afterwards, read your writing aloud. Listen for differences and overlaps. What surprised you?

Looking ahead:  Hold on to your paint chips. We’ll use them again in the weeks to come.