Sunday, May 24, 2009

Using Prompts

On Using Prompts to Find Stories.

Every day in Boot Camp we post at least one set of prompts. These are help around road-blocks, ways to find new directions, grit in the oyster, small, odd elements to make your thoughts a little different.

It is rare we post less than ten. We sometimes post as many as twenty-four. Writers can use one prompt, two, or twenty-two and they can use prompts exactly, partially or use them as inspiration and not directly use them at all. For example, I might post “Hickory-Dickory Dock” and a writer might think of mice and clocks and write about cuckoos. The point is to break out of the box.

Some writers, especially beginners, might freeze when they read a list of prompts. Well, first, remember, no-one says you must use these, any of these, or yesterday’s, or any prompt we have posted. The prompts say, “write”, that is all, and if the prompts help you, fine, if not, that’s OK too.

But I believe that freezing before a prompts-lists is like how sometimes, when we are told to read a boom (remember school?) we see only words, and even when we try to read “naturally” all we hear is a monotonous voice, and every line is treacle.


Read the list of prompts, go loose, be drunk, from the top to the bottom, from the bottom to the top. Try chanting them or singing them, combine them, alter their order. 49 times out of fifty some of the prompts will stick to you. Often it is not ONE prompt that hits you but two together, as a combination, as an echo. Look for the rhythms in lines. Presume nothing, allow yourself to be seduced.

Many of our prompts are poetry, lines either directly from poems, or similar lines tweaked a little. (Many lines, while being written are prompted themselves by lines from poetry, so are original, but cousins of the poem.

Understand that the line or its cousin contain. They hold my thoughts or the poster’s thoughts, and the poet’s and, deep within, his society and history and the literature he stands upon. A poem has DNA, a family-tree. We have to open up, though, to feel it.

I am a poor reader of poetry yet, every day, as I flick through books of poetry I am struck by lines. Not only are they sometimes beautiful alone, but I feel them resonate, pulse, echo ages, smell of sex. I hear the poet breathing.

Once that never happened. Once it was just words.

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