Prompts for the Page and Publishing Progress!

 

While some people may arrive at the page overflowing with creative energy, others may need a gentle nudge to get started.

That’s where the writing prompt can help.

In recent years, prompts have become part of the DNA of the modern writing workshop. I offer a fresh one every week for my students so they have no excuse not to write.

A prompt can be simply a word, short phrase, paragraph, idea or image designed to inspire, spur or focus you in the writing process.

I was resistant to using prompts at first because I usually have plenty on my mind to start. But when they did such a good job inspiring my students, I was prompted to use them myself.  They have the ability to spin a topic in roundabout ways with very satisfying results. They can help you get unstuck from a piece currently under construction or surprise you by providing insight from the back door.

For a taste, here are twelve of my go-to writing prompts:

  • A treasured object. Identify and describe a beloved object in your home and write the story of how you got it.
  • A place you cherish. Write about a place that made you feel happy, safe or changed in some way.
  • A favorite food or meal. Make the reader understand why that food or meal has stayed with you.
  • A memorable scent. Bring a person, animal, meal, indoor or outdoor moment to life by way of its aroma.
  • A song with meaning. Why has a particular song stuck with you?
  • Allow a body part to speak. Write what a body part would say if it were able to speak.
  • Where were you when? Where were you and what were you doing during a major moment in history such as when Apollo landed on the moon, Kennedy was shot or when the towers went down?
  • An inherited trait. What gestures or behaviors — that you like or dislike — connect you to a family member?
  • Breaking a habit. Describe a moment that motivated you to make a change.
  • Send a letter. Write a letter to someone with whom you have unfinished business.
  • A do-over dialogue. Rewrite a conversation that you would like to redo.
  • Two voices. Take a memorable event and write it from your current age and perspective. Then, write it from your age and lens at the time.

Publishing Progress!  

If you have been following the journey of my memoir in its quest for publication, I’m now a step closer. In late June, I found an agent! The contract has been signed and we are now, officially, in sell mode. I promise to keep you posted.

Fall Issue in the Works

The Fall Issue of Thread is scheduled for a late September/early October release. Six compelling essays by six beautiful writers. An end-of-summer reflection on the end of life. An end of summer story set in the 70s. A perspective-altering subway ride. A sanctuary-offering creek. A cleansing Russian banya. And a meditation on the checkmark. Stay tuned for their release by subscribing for free, and following Thread on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Mark your Calendar!

Thread took a hiatus from live lit productions in 2018 but we’re gearing up for our biggest show yet! Save the date: Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. in Skokie Theatre, Evanston, IL. As the Skokie Arts Commission pick for Artistic Excellence Award 2018, I wanted to throw some love back at my home city by celebrating Thread’s anniversary. Eight seasoned Chicago-area storytellers have been invited to celebrate Thread’s fifth publishing year by reading their work aloud. Storyteller and ticket information to come.

The Twenty-Fifth Stitch

“Daughter” by Gila Berryman marked the 25thedition of Stitch, the “flashiest” section of Remnant Publishing featuring essays of 100 words or less.  The reading period for Stitch and Thread is on a short summer hiatus, but submissions will be back up and running on August 1st.

Ellen Blum Barish
Photo by Aaron Burden, courtesy of Unsplash.

On Getting Published

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Publication isn’t the only goal for a writer. The very idea of getting published can actually get in the way of the process. I’ve seen students derailed by the critical editor in their mind’s eye and stopped in their tracks by rejection.

I urge my students to keep focused on the project at the end of their fingertips and their heart in the story they want to tell. Isn’t that what brought them to the page in the first place? Publication is not the measure of success, just one measure. In fact, lately I’ve been encouraging my students to consider submitting their work to storytelling festivals and spoken word events because more people will be exposed to their work. (A recent slew of literary journal rejections in my own working life has opened this up for me and I’ll be blogging about that soon.)

That said, publication happens. And when it does, it does feel very confirming. Sometimes it’s about the right topic sent to a publication just at the right moment. Sometimes it’s about writing something with a specific publication in mind. Sometimes it’s about sheer determination, sending the piece out again and again until an editor bites.

So I want to acknowledge the writers I’ve worked with —  in my workshops or privately – for whom publication has, indeed, happened. It is very exciting to see one’s work land on the page or screen, or on the radio. But most importantly, I think, is the simple and delicious experience of having one’s words seen and heard, and the magic that can come from a good, dynamic workshopping process.

My congratulations to current and former students for these well-earned bylines:

Jan Stone

“What Needlecraft Gives Me,” More Magazine

http://www.more.com/member-voices/your-stories/what-needlecraft-gives-me

 

Alene Frost

“A Father’s Fourth of July,” WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio

http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/fathers-fourth-july

 

Whitney Dibo

“Four Down: To Caress. Six Letters. Starting with an S,” Blood Orange Review

http://www.bloodorangereview.com/v5-2/dibo_four.htm

 

Fay Katlin

“It’s Never Too Late: A Northbrook Woman Volunteers for the Israeli Army: At 74”

North Shore Magazine

(published January 2009 – magazine is no longer available online.)

 

Judy Panko Reis

Watch for “Pele and Me,” by

in a forthcoming issue of Shambhala Sun

http://www.shambhalasun.com

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish 

A Rock to the Head

IMG_0639Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

“I became a writer when I was hit on the head with a rock,” writes Karen Bender in “The Accidental Writer,” an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review. “There was blood everywhere,” she writes. “They actually had to move the birthday cake so it wouldn’t get bloody. That was one of the first lines I remember, that perception, and I remember saying it later with a mixture of wonder and pride.” She needed that observation – that first sentence – to give her a way to spin it. “..to make the sloppiness of the experience somehow my own.”

I love the idea of a rock to the head as writing prompt. A rock is a wonderful metaphor: sculpt one or put several together and you can make art.

What got you writing way back when? When did you stop and linger over just the right words?

You can read Bender’s essay here.