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.


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?



For Sunday, July 13, 2014  Prompt #70IMG_2052


Today is another quick prompt:
Write about your experiences fishing or watching others fish.





Writing Tips

  • Include sensory details, including sense of smell, about place, time, weather conditions, or what you were wearing.
  • Include  specifics about the kind of fishing you were doing or watching. Ocean or river? On a bank, from a bridge, or in a boat? Talk about gear, flies, bait and other details.
  • Examine your emotions and state of being. What was your motivation for being there? Were you eager or reluctant to take part.
  • Include action — large or quiet.



Interview With A Plant

curly cup gumweed

May 3, 2014  •  Exercise #2
15 to 20 minutes

Getting Started

I just got off the phone with a long-time writing friend who reminded me about this playful writing exercise: “Interview with a Plant.”

I first wrote from this prompt on a hike sponsored by Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks. The instructions were to sit near a plant and “interview it,” posing questions in order to increase our awareness and appreciation. For instance, “Why do you grow in this particular place?” “Does any animal nibble on you?” etc.

After listening to the instructions, I asked, “And what if the plant answers?” The group laughed, but I decided to give voice to the plant — in this case, a Curly Cup Gumweed.

At the end of this post is my interview, which you can read before or after you write your own  interview. Choose whatever plant appeals to you — from a towering tree to creeping moss to an indoor spider plant.

Writing Tips:

  • Spending two minutes staring intently at the plant. Move around it. Look at it from above and below, if possible.
  • Make use of your senses. Touch its leaves, stem or branches. Listen with your eyes closed. Sniff.
  • Aim for six to ten questions.
  • Find an interview style that suits you. Need ideas? Imagine you are a reporter from the Washington Post or from a small town local news station or an elementary school newspaper. How would your questions differ if you were writing for the Sierra Club, Midwest Living, or Agriculture Week? What would Oprah ask this plant, what would Steven Colbert ask, what would you ask?

Again, if you are currently working on a book, you might pose your questions from the point of view of one of your characters or connect it to a theme you are already exploring.

How This Prompt Can Strengthen Your Writing

  1. It may help you break through writing resistance and start writing.
  2. It offers a point-of-view you might not have considered before.
  3. It’s a brain-stretcher!
  4. It encourages you to be outside and connect with nature, which, in my book, is always a good thing.


Take one of your interview questions and rewrite it at the top of a new page. Expanding upon it, write for 15 more minutes. Be fanciful, seek metaphors, incorporate it into a larger story or go off into a whole other direction.

Have fun and have at it. Ready, set, write!


Interview with a Curly Cup Gumweed
© Ellen Orleans 2009

Q. For the record, what is your official name?
A. Grindelia squarrosa. This is your language, not ours.

Q. Why are you gummy?
A. To trap aphids and weevils. To screen the ultra violet. To stick in your thoughts.

Q. Why are your petals yellow?
A. To entice the bees. To thank the sun.

Q. Why are your leaves serrated?
A. I once was in love with a plant named Holly.

Q. The scent of your resin reminds me of the Ponderosa Pine. Are you related?
A. She grows not far from here.

Q. Why do you have curly tendrils on your globe?
A. To spread the resin. To entrap our enemies. To honor our ancestors, the furled fern.

Q. But why are they so beautiful?
A. To whet your wonder. You marvel, don’t you?

Q. Yes.
A. Yes.

Q. How do you feel when children push your sticky cups together?
A. Their fingers will remember us all day.

Q. What’s inside your globe?
A. Milky stems. Pearl bulbs. My flesh. Fields to be.