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Posts Tagged ‘Monica Wood’

Recently I shared some exercises I use with my students at Fordham for revising fiction and narrative nonfiction.  But a lot of us need inspiration at the other end of the process, too — right at the beginning.  So below are some of the best writing prompts I’ve used over the years.  Some I made up, some I gathered from other writers, and some I found in books.

You can approach these any way you wish: write about yourself, another person, or a character you’ve created.  Don’t think too much — just start.  Here’s an idea from Monica Wood, in The Pocket Muse:  “Set a timer for forty-five minutes, and don’t get out of the chair until the timer dings.  Even if you sit staring at the page the entire time, you’re ingraining the habit.”  And another piece of advice from Monica: “Tempted to quit early?  Make yourself this promise: One more sentence.  Say this every time you want to quit early:  One more sentence.”

So — to write!  Here you go:

  • Write about your hidden talent.
  • Write about the first time you felt dispensable.
  • Write about a disagreeable person who, for whatever reason, you have an attachment to.
  • Write about a photograph that means something to you, and why.
  • Give me your morning.  Breakfast, waking up, walking to the bus stop.  Be as specific as possible.  Use the five senses.  Take it slow.
  • Write about “leaving.” Approach it any way you want. Write about your divorce, leaving the house this morning, a friend dying, packing for a trip.
  • Everyone has a secret — some dark only because hidden.  Give a character a secret and a reason for hiding it.
  • Write about a family story.  The one you don’t like.  The one your mother always tells on a third glass of wine.
  • Write a story about two overlapping triangles in opposition, the most obvious being two lovers and their four parents.
  • Finally, a great one from The Pocket Muse: Almost any situation includes insiders and outsiders.  Most human beings, no matter what their stations, consider themselves outsiders.  Write about being an insider.

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Last summer, when I went to London for a month to teach creative writing, I brought only a few books with me. One of them was The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspiration for Writing, by Monica Wood, a slim volume filled with exercises and advice that I thought my students would like.  And indeed, that little book provided the catalyst for some wonderful writing. (I’ve since discovered the equally creative Volume 2.)  I was so taken with Monica’s style that I wrote her and asked if she’d contribute to my blog.  This piece — about a setback every writer faces at one point or another — is the result.

And … Monica’s essay prompted me to begin a series called “Setbacks & Roadblocks.”  I’m asking authors to write specifically about difficult moments in their writing lives and how they got through them.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll feature half a dozen essays on this subject.

To start us off — the inspiring Monica Wood:

As I write this guest post for Christina, I’m in a pretty wretched place. My agent, whom I adore, just sent back a manuscript that I thought was completely finished. Even though this always happens (always!), every time I believe this time will be different, that I’ve learned enough from old mistakes not to make new ones. But it never works that way. Who was it who said that the only thing you learn from writing a book is how to write that book?

Instead of making like Virginia Woolf, stuffing my pockets with rocks and heading for the river, I must heave into a revision that, two months ago, I couldn’t afford to believe would be necessary. And instead of feeling sorry for myself, I will take a moment to read my own advice from The Pocket Muse (Volume 1). I will look for something in the following list to help me, as I hope something in it will help you. Happy writing, everyone, no matter where you are on the journey.

10 Commandments for a Happy Writing Life

  1. Don’t wait for inspiration.
  2. Take time off.
  3. Read voraciously.
  4. Shut out the inner critic.
  5. Claim a space.
  6. Claim some time.
  7. Accept rejection.
  8. Expect success.
  9. Live fully.
  10. Wish others well.

And today, for me and maybe for you, I add #11: When the work gets so hard you want to give up, think of your small collection of words as a single glinting grain of dust in this immense universe. For some reason, this image makes me feel as if failure is a perfectly acceptable outcome, with its own weird beauty.

Monica Wood is the author of four works of fiction: Secret Language, My Only Story, Ernie’s Ark, and the bestselling Any Bitter Thing. She also has three books for writers: Description and The Pocket Muse, vols. 1 and 2.

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