Some of the most popular Writing Your Life workshops are those where we write in response to memory joggers I bring in each month. People often ask me, “How did you come up with that prompt?” It’s easy! Inspiration for writing is all around us every day. We just need to look for it.
Some of the most interesting stories grow out of unusual prompts. A few years back, I had one woman in my class who was there under duress. Her children and grandchildren forced her to attend because they so desperately wanted her to write her life story. To most every prompt I gave, she said, “Well, that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard of in my life,” and then she’d write some amazing story of her childhood and growing up in the country. Thankfully, I didn’t take her comments personally. (In the end, she finished her book, and her family was thrilled.)
Even if they are dumb, we can use many ordinary moments in our daily lives as fodder for writing. Most of the prompts I give grow out of things I see and hear that remind me of people, events and times from my past. Inspiration waits every minute of every day for us to latch onto it.
One day as I placed a plastic drinking straw into my glass of caffeine-free, diet Dr. Pepper—my all-time favorite beverage—I thought of my uncle Jerry who died on my eleventh birthday. He was a hemophiliac in a time when little could be done to help other than give transfusions of whole blood when his own blood would not clot. He was often sick, and my grandmother had bendable straws, which made it easier for him to drink. Those straws were special, reserved only for him, so it was a real treat when Grandma gave me one of Uncle Jerry’s straws to drop into my grape Kool-Aid.
I gave the “write about drinking straws” prompt during a First Saturday Writing Workshop, and I heard the groans rumble throughout the room. Once they let go and allowed the words to come, class members wrote great stories about glass and paper drinking straws, milkshakes on Saturday nights they placed straws into, using straws to shoot spitballs (gross) and so much more. See what I mean? Something as simple as a drinking straw can return us to places we have not thought about in years.
Regularly, I get prompts from music I hear on the radio, newspaper articles, shows on television, bits of overheard conversations, the weather, lines in the book I’m reading, holidays and just about anything else that crosses my path. You just need to develop an eye and ear for links to the past.
Now, you might not have the time to write out the memory when you come in contact with it, so jot down a few words in the little notebook you carry with you everywhere. You do have a notebook close at hand at all times, correct? Great! Now, the topics are there waiting for you when you need something to write about.
Try this…just for today, be conscious of the little things in your life and ask yourself a question: Does this remind me of anything in my past?
As I sit here, looking out over Lake Fairview, I see a palm tree which reminds me of the trees I loved to climb as a child and how I still look at every tree and access its climb-ability factor even thought I’d probably break something if I tried to climb it now.
A boat is pulling a skier across the lake’s flat surface, and that reminds me of the time my father taught me how to ski in a bayou in South Louisiana. I think I swallowed ten gallons of muddy water that day.
I see the sun and feel its heat and remember senior skip day in 1974 when I thought putting baby oil and iodine on my white skin and laying on the beach at Cypremort Point for six hours was a great idea. Not! I vividly recall the water blisters that covered 95% of my body.
Get the idea? So keep your eyes and ears open today for writing topics and tell me how the day went for you. List some of the story ideas you came up with below in the comments section, and let’s help each other visit long-forgotten places.
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