Self Reflection

June 14, 2014.  Prompt #45


All photos by Lori

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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

  1. 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?
  2. Write an mini-autobiography of yourself with a few changes regarding your history, appearance, temperament, beliefs, or life experiences. Write for 10 minutes.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. A few questions to consider:
    • What makes you unique?
    • What connects you to others?
    • How does your body define you?
    • How do you define your body?
    • Who are you without your body?
    • What is self?
    • What is Self?

    Write for 15 minutes.



Run Away

June 14, 2014.  Prompt #45

WritIMG_0676e about running away.


  1. Write about an actual act or a symbolic one.
  2. Write a true story, a fantasy, or a fictional account.
  3. Consider how running away might vary for a child, teenager, or adult.




Further Writing

  • Write a list of 6 things that you (or your character) plan to take with you when you run away. Build this list into your story or essay.
  • Turn your list into a prose poem.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On one set of cards, briefly describe a catalyst for running away. It can be serious (spouse abuse or other dangers at home) or lighter (broken vase, forgetting a birthday, boredom at the office).
  2. On a second set of cards, describe a setting (i.e, the bank of creek, a bus station, the sidewalk outside Liquor Mart.)
  3. On a third set of cards, write an exclamatory phrase, such as Not again!  Hot damn!  All Aboard!  or Keep Out!)
  4. Place the cards in separate piles on the table, either face up or face down. Each writer chooses one card from each pile, intentionally or randomly.
  5. Use the exclamatory phrase as your opening line. Incorporate the setting and situation and write from there. Write for 20 minutes.



June 13, 2014.  Prompt #44



In honor of Friday the 13th, here’s a lucky writing prompt.


  1. Write about a superstition that you believe in, don’t believe in, or are on the fence about.
  2. Write for 13 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Make up a superstition. Give it history or cultural background.
  • Write convincingly why we should believe in a superstition that, in reality, you don’t take seriously. Or the opposite.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On index cards, write a short description of an existing superstition or one you’ve constructed. For instance, It is unlucky to walk under a ladder. It is lucky to see two magpies together. If it rains on your eighth birthday, you will be prosperous in life.
  2. Place the cards face down. Choose one randomly and write about a character who challenges the superstition. Write for 13 minutes.
  3. Research superstitions from cultures not your own. Write about one for 13 minutes.

13ballFinally, if you drop your pen while you are writing, spin it 3 times on the floor while repeating the word “demiurgic” the entire time it is spinning. This will welcome back the creative spirits.



June 12, 2014.  Prompt #43








Walking with friends along Pearl Street tonight, we came across the demolition of the Daily Camera building, a structure that housed our local newspaper for decades. (It moved east of downtown several years ago.)

For today’s prompt (somewhat the philosophical opposite of yesterday’s prompt) we’ll work with words associated with destruction, rubble, and, perhaps, transformation


  1. Choose nine words from this list: wreck, boom, brick, clear, concrete, dust, empty, engine, expose, fence, hard hat, haul, lot, reduce, rubble, shatter, torn, truck, watch, wreck, zone.
  2. Using the nine words and others of your own, write a nine line poem.
  3. Write for 9 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Write about something physical that is gone from your life. Tie it in, perhaps, with an emotional state.
  • Write about an old man or young girl watching a building being torn down. Describe their thoughts, conversations, or reactions. Include descriptions on sounds and the physical atmosphere.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Choose one or two of the words from the list which are both noun and verb. Play with those combinations in a short piece. This is a chance to use repetition in a deliberate way. Write for 15 minutes.
  2. Visit a wrecking site. Take notes.  Using your imagination, write about the construction of the building currently being torn down.



June 11, 2014.  Prompt #42

garden bed

For the last six weeks I’ve been working on my flower bed, vegetable garden, and planters. Spring gardening is annual ritual that is sometimes hectic as I work to get soil turned and amended, seeds and seedlings planted, and everything watered in between bouts of rain and sometimes snow. Mostly, though, it is just plain joyous to get my hands in the soil and start the starts off on their new lives.

For today’s prompt, we’ll work with words associated with plants and planting. May your writing bud and blossom!


  1. Choose nine words from this list: bed, beet, bloom, bury, dig, dry, fruit, iris, leaf, peas, pepper, pollen, rain, rock, root, seed, soil, sow, sprout, squash, stem, sun, trim, turn, water, weed, wilt.
  2. Using the nine words and others of your own, write a nine line poem.
  3. Write for 9 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Use the same nine words and write a piece that has nothing to do with gardening. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Choose one of the verbs from the list and use it in a poem or piece of short prose nine times. Vary it at least three times, using different forms of the verb.  For instance, if you choose dig, try using also using digs, digging, dug, or digger. Write for 15 minutes.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Choose one or two of the words from the list which are both noun and verb. Play with those combinations in a short piece. This is a chance to use repetition in a deliberate way. Write for 15 minutes.
  2. Choose words from the lists that have more than one definition, such as bed, pepper, or iris. Write a piece that makes use of their multiple meanings.
  3. Read your writing out loud. What do you notice about its rhythm and pacing?


Champs Elysees

June 10, 2014.  Prompt #41


When I left work  tonight, I came across a group of folk dancers in the plaza next to my office. They were learning the “Champs Elysees” line dance. The old-school music, the French lyrics, and the dusky setting combined for an unexpected summer moments: a mix of happiness and wistfulness, connection and separation. Unfortunately, I can’t load the video onto this post, only this screen capture.  (To get some sense of the music, click this link.)



  1. Think of (or make up)  a time that you encountered something unexpected. Write about how it changed the moment, the day, or something more for you.
  2. Describe your emotional and physical state before, then during, then after the event.
  3. Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Write about participating, either enthusiastically or reluctantly, in a group event such as a folk dance, pick-up basketball game, or religious service. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Write about a summer night when you felt connected to others around or one when you felt far apart. Write for 20 minutes.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Write down song lyrics that feel  like a “sound track” of summer and share it with the group. If possible, bring a recording of the song to your writing group.
  2. Share the lyrics or play the song for the group as members write their impressions and associations as they listen to the music.
  3. Repeat the prompt with other songs/lyrics from other group members.
  4. Write for 20 minutes.


Breaking News

telegramJune 9, 2014.  Prompt #40

I just finished binge watching marathon viewing four seasons of Downtown Abbey. The very first episode opens with a close-up of a telegraph in motion, complete with taps and beeps as the operator sends a message. The telegraph not only grounds the story in history (in this case, 1912) but also conveys the urgency of the news being sent.


  1. Write a piece that begins with the delivery of news.
  2. Start with an object of communication, for instance, a television, computer, or newspaper. You could choose a newer form of communication, such as an email, text, or Skype call, or one from the past—a telegram, letter on the Pony Express, or a phone call on a party line.
  3. Next, choose a message to be delivered. What does the message say? Who sends it? Who receives it? Who announces it? Who hears it?
  4. What happens next?

Further Writing

  • If you wrote about bad news, write a second version with good news or ambiguous news. If you wrote about good news, try making it disturbing or unclear. What is the effect on the tension, tone, or pacing of your piece?
  • Slow down the action. Record in detail the moment that the news is received. Describe in detail in the surroundings, the sounds, the smells and the textures.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On an index card, write two messages in the style of a telegram: clear and concise.
  2. Place the cards in the middle of the table. Either deliberately or at random, choose one and write in response to it. Write for 20 minutes.


Inspiration Everywhere: Poetry and Prose Readings

Thomas Sayers Ellis  (photo by Lynda Koolish)

Thomas Sayers Ellis (photo by Lynda Koolish)

June 6, 2014.  Prompt #38

On Thursday night, I attended an outstanding reading at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. It featured Lee Ann Brown, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Rebecca Brown, Norma Cole, and Eleni Sikelianos.  Over the next month, I’ll talk more about all these writers and how their work might inspire you.

If you’ve never been to a reading, check with local book stores, libraries, coffeehouses, or colleges to see if they sponsor or know about readings in your area. If there aren’t any near by, start your own.



For today’s prompt, we’ll look at Thomas Sayers Ellis poem “Or”  


Or Oreo, or
worse. Or ordinary.
Or your choice
of category


or any color
other than Colored
or Colored Only.
Or “Of Color”


or theory or discourse
or oral territory.
Oregon or Georgia
or Florida Zora


or born poor
or Corporate. Or Moor.
Or a Noir Orpheus
or Senghor


or a horrendous
and tore-up journey.
Or performance. Or allegory’s armor
of ignorant comfort.


or reform or a sore chorus.
Or Electoral Corruption
or important ports
of Yoruba or worry


or fear of…
of terror or border.
Or all organized

From Skin, Inc. Identity Repair Poems  Grey Wolf Press

This poem astonished me because, like the conjunction “or” from which it takes its title, it knits together sound, language, history, academia, and all kinds of assumptions. Yet even as the role of conjunctions is to join words, the conjunction “or” also separates. It requires you to choose one over another.  Ellis uses the word or as the core of the poem, then builds on it by incorporating dozens of words containing the letters or and other words with the or sound. The words, sounds, their meanings, and their associations all build upon and play off of one another. “Or” is filled with strong and specific nouns and proper noun yet still open to the reader’s own experiences.


  1. Choose a short word, perhaps a conjunction or preposition since they, by their nature, suggest connection and relationship. Some options (or choose your own): and, as, at, but, by, down, for, in, nor, of, off, on, or, out, so, to, up, with.
  2. Write down your word followed by words or phrases containing the letters of your word. Also write down words that share the sound of your word. Try using rhymes and near-rhymes too.  For instance, if you chose “so,” you might write sew, sow (as in the female pig or planting seeds) soap, south, social, sole, soul, son, some, sort, song, soft, stow, insulate, insolate, insolent, desolate, insomnia, resolute, also, miso, torso, verso, gesso, espresso, snow, manifesto, Winslow.
  3. Once you’ve produced a list of 30 or more words, read through them and circle one or two words or phrases that resonate for you.  Then choose twelve more words that have a connection, either in meaning, sound or “energy” to your core word.
  4. Next, pull it all together and write a poem, a story, a soliloquy, a declaration, or an intricate question.  Include your initial set of words, add more, toss some, and keep coming back to your core word. Don’t worry about making sense or being logical.  Your work may be serious, playful, dreamy, angry or a mix of these. Its larger meaning or story may emerge quickly or it make take a few drafts bring out connections.


  • For this prompt, think about sound and meaning. For instance, if you choose “so,”  you might feel connected to the word South because it contains so and because an abbreviation of south is So.  On the other hand, because so and south don’t sound alike, if you intend to read your work out loud (and you should), the pairing of so and south may not strengthen your piece.
  • Sometimes prompts such as this develop into a solid poem or story. In other cases, you may generate a single phrase or sentence that stands on its own and is the springboard for a new piece. Whatever you create, this prompt will help you think about sound, connections, and the nature of language.

Inspiration Online [Part II]

Agnes Long Fox [Sioux, 1914-1984]

Agnes Long Fox [Sioux, 1914-1984]



June 6, 2014.  Prompt #37

Today we build on yesterday’s visit to the Smithsonian’s image gallery If you haven’t read my June 5th post, do that now. Today’s prompts build on yesterday’s images.



Further Writing

  • Project yourself into the image you are viewing. Write for 10 minutes. Does this change your point of view or what you write about?
  • For ten minutes, write a visual account of the image, noting details and relationships between the parts of the painting, print, or photo. Did you notice anything new?

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Print out your image or be sure you’ll be able to bring it up on a laptop or tablet.
  2. Looking at your image, use your imagination to answer these questions. What sounds do you hear or associate with the image? What smells?  Propel yourself into the image, then “touch” part of it.  What textures and temperatures do you feel? Is there anything in it you could taste? If so, describe it. If the image is abstract, this is an especially good opportunity to flex your creative muscle.
  3. Go together to a museum or gallery. Plant yourself in front of an artwork and write for 20 minutes. Note: Get permission from guards or gallery owners first. They might ask you to write in pencil or have other requirements.

Inspiration Online: Paintings, Prints, and Photos

Summer Sky

“Summer Sky” by Dan Namingha, [Hopi-Tewa, born 1950]. From the National Museum of the American Indian.


June 5, 2014.  Prompt #36

Today we turn to the Smithsonian’s image gallery to be inspired by one of the thousands of images there. Warning: This is a mesmerizing site. Don’t get so lost in exploring that you forget to write.






  1. Go to
  2. In the “Search All Catalogs” box on the right, type in a keyword. (If you can’t decide on a keyword, type in “summer.”)
  3. When you receive your search results, scan the images until you find one that inspires you. If you can’t decide which to use, choose the 3rd one.
  4. Enlarge it and free write for five minutes, noting any questions, emotions or observations that arise while you look at the image.
  5. Next, circle three words or phrases that stand out for you.  Write one of them at the top of new piece of paper.  Write for more fifteen minutes.

Tomorrow:  Further Writing Tips and Variations for Writing Groups