|Many of my writing friends like writing prompts. But for me, it’s like ascending the big slide at the deep end of the pool with the writing prompt like a negligible buddy who gives you a little shove before you are quite ready. The problem with me is that I usually don’t want to go in that public chlorine-infested pool, having my sights set on some remote lagoon that I only know how to access and that takes four days to find, and involves the acquisition of blisters and sunburn. And, as for the slide, I am afraid of heights. Very adolescent I know. You can’t tell me what to write screams my unconscious, rather consciously, as I pull a burr from my socks and swat at a fleet of mosquitoes.
So many writing prompts launch the writer into fantastic circumstances where feats of imagination are necessary based on some smarter-than-thou prompter. Plus a little competition is implied when we go to read them aloud. I resist this too. Let’s face it, this is the prompter’s story and they are challenging us to finish their work while they just wander the forest dropping seeds. I’ve got my own seeds, man. So this is a call to arms. We’re writers, let’s write our own prompts, shall we? Let’s plumb our own disturbed psyches. Let’s plant our own seeds.
Therefore here are some of my prompts, festering up out of my brushes with personal disaster and lifelong co-dependency issues (you’ve got your own hang-ups, use them!).
Prompt 1: You come home and there’s blood all over your bathroom. While you’re standing there, you get a call from your son who says he’s at the hospital….
Prompt 2: You’re sleeping, it’s 4 a.m. and you are suddenly awakened by a call from your daughter, obviously drunk, demanding that you come get her immediately.
Prompt 3: You come home from work surprised to find three Sheriff cars parked in your driveway and your son, age 18, being interrogated.
These are sad little prompts, right? Who wants to go down those paths? I sure don’t but I may not have a choice. But I don’t want you to go there. Save yourself the grief. There’s a bit of a hope that by writing the prompt, I’ve alleviated the need to write any more on these topics. This is a strategy I’m working on and encourage you to adopt. How about, for all the stories that we don’t want to tell, we write a prompt, essentially we drop the seed, and then keep walking. Prompts as avoidance. A kind of quick therapy. That will work, right? And let’s be better than the writing teachers, and not assign our own launch into story to others.
At this moment, from somewhere on the trail, I’m thinking about the lagoon, but not actually reaching it or immersing myself in the cool waters as I dive in, a masturbatory exercise that I’ve invited you along as witness. Stuck, I don’t want your prompts and I don’t want mine, preferring instead to stumble along until I run into myself mid story. An immature and stubborn process, ridiculously mine and maybe, a little bit like yours.
Vicki DeArmon has been in the book industry for 25 years, working as the Marketing & Events Director at Copperfield’s Books in San Francisco’s North Bay for the last six years, booking authors and spreading the gospel according to independent book selling. Previous to that, she was on the publishing side of the equation as the publisher of Foghorn Press. She’s also a fiction writer.
|It was a tough summer for my parents. At the tender age of eight, I had picked up some colorful vocabulary at day camp. I routinely wowed them in the kitchen with four-letter epithets, only to have my mouth washed out with soap by my dad. I can still taste the base, bubbly overtones of Ivory soap mixed with chocolate chip cookie dough, the Dial-and-orange juice combination, the Irish Spring with SpaghettiOs.
One day, after camp, I requested a second helping of ice cream. My mother told me no, and I called her an asshole. In her frustration, she began to cry. I saw the immediate impact of the pain I had caused her as she left the room sobbing. It was the last time I swore at her. [Read More...]
|We are delighted to welcome Tarja Settles to Write On Mamas, who is the sister of Keija Parssinen – our speaker on Sunday (see our Events page for more details).
A while back, the Wall Street Journal wrote this great article about the writing process of famous authors. I’m not famous, but I do put words together (and train tracks and meals and the numbers 1, 2, 3 in a very loud voice). Do I have a process? You bet. In fact, I have a lot in common with the authors interviewed.
Like Orhan Pamuk, I realize that inspiration can strike anywhere. I don’t need post-its or journals because the faucet of genius runs through the sieve of my brain, which is locked up tighter than a steel drum made out of mesh. In fact, I see Pamuk’s process and raise him one better: I also free-wheel with plot and story structure. Because it takes daring and bravado to dump out a sack of rice and then put it back together in the shape of Venus de Milo. [Read More...]
|When I went on a writing retreat two weeks ago, my son Sebastian—the amateur military historian—jokingly questioned why I was retreating from my writing. It made me stop and consider the funny ways in which our language often conveys contradictory meanings.
I could have called it a writing advance, since I did accomplish a great deal during the four-day retreat at Faith’s Lodge in northern Wisconsin. But a writing advance makes it sound like something else (something that I would love to get for the book I am currently writing). [Read More...]
|In January and February, a few of us participated in Kate Hopper’s online workshop. As usual, it was very inspiring. Not only was it wonderful to read other members’ writing, but it kickstarted all of us into writing every week, even when we didn’t have time to write! We thought we would share one exercise that Kate set and what Mary Allison Tierney wrote in response.
Exercise: Three Scenes
|Every February, independent booksellers from across the county meet at the Winter Institute, an educational event for independent booksellers coordinated by the American Booksellers Association. Bookstores are allotted three spots and if you get to go, you consider yourself lucky. Copperfield’s Books sent me this year to the 10th annual event in Asheville, North Carolina and my head is still churning with great ideas. [Read More...]|
|Recently, I spent a few days at an informal writing retreat with a great group of fellow writing mamas. Armed with laptops and notebooks, we abandoned our families and descended on Mount Madonna Center-–an idyllic 322-acre property in the hills outside Watsonville in Santa Cruz County–to hang with deer and some folks participating in a tantric yoga workshop. (Bet my husband wishes I’d signed up for that one!) Perched above Monterey Bay and surrounded by a forest of redwoods, it was the perfect place to escape the distractions of everyday life, get some serious writing done, and bond with other writers.Mount Madonna offers a variety of workshops and retreats, including personal retreats you can tailor to your needs. The center is also a nice spot for a low-key, affordable family getaway for outdoorsy types. I know a certain 12-year-old who’d have a blast swimming in the small lake, soaring on the secret swing in the woods, and chasing the wild turkeys that roam the grounds. Guess I’ll have to go back with her one day. [Read More...]|
|The bathroom is alive with the sound of music at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I hear my five-year-old daughter’s voice coming from the bathroom attached to our master bedroom. The house is dark and she is standing in front of a mirror singing “My Favorite Things” as if she were Julie Andrews herself. I assume she has chosen this spot for the acoustics. She seems oblivious to the fact that the rest of us are still sleeping. [Read More...]|
|Dana’s husband Dave and her seventeen-year-old daughter Torey had invited a group of Dana’s friends, mostly other moms, to choose what we wanted from her closet. Lovely, sweet, fashion-loving Dana had died eight weeks earlier after fighting cancer for thirteen years.Her living room had been transformed into a boutique. Two rolling racks of hanging clothes stood by the window that overlooked the creek in their canyon backyard. One couch held piles of the rock-and-roll t-shirts Dana collected – Green Day, The Cure, Nirvana, The Ramones and about fifty more. The other couch had handbags lined up from end to end and another row lined the floor. Behind the couches, there must have been 100 pairs of shoes and boots. [Read More...]|
|Before the fresh start to the New Year started going a bit stale, I got a jump on things during the lull between Christmas and January 1. With no more presents to wrap, holiday feasts to prepare, and most of my clients out of town, I had plenty of time. Most of it I spent hiking in the glorious crisp weather we had following the deluges that brought green to the parched hills and a brief fantasy that our drought might be over. (It isn’t, but what’s the point of New Year’s if not hoping for things that will soon fail to materialize?) [Read More...]|