I know not everyone likes writing prompts, and I know some people have a hard time getting started without them. I fall into the latter camp. It’s not that I can’t write without a prompt, but I find that working within the specific frame of a prompt forces me to more carefully use my voice and diction in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise when just writing freely. Some of my most interesting images and lines have come from working within a prompt, because I’m thinking about my topic in a critical way that I maybe wouldn’t normally.
This is the first prompt in a series of many. Every other week I’ll be posting the prompt I’m working from, and encouraging you all to do it with me by the deadline posted. While I won’t be posting my prompt responses here (I can’t get something published if I make all of my work accessible for free online!), I encourage you to email me your own response and can we swap and give each other feedback, regardless of genre.
For myself, I’ll be adapting this prompt to poetry—adjusting the “600 words or less” to “no more than thirty lines.” If you’d like to informally workshop together, shoot me an email with the subject “Prompt 1 Response” to email@example.com and comment here that you’ve submitted it so I can make sure it doesn’t wind up in my spam.
This prompt in particular comes from author and book coach Leigh Stein’s weekly newsletter. I’ve been following Leigh Stein’s work for a while—my first introduction to her was in high school, when I read her book of poetry called Dispatch From the Future, which changed the way I thought of poetry and what an “acceptable” topic for a poem is. She has two other books, The Fallback Plan, a novel; and Land of Enchantment, a memoir—both of which I’ve read and loved as much as I did Dispatch. Her newsletter is largely geared toward memoirists and Prose Hoes (my term, not hers), but it’s in effort to “help writers overcome the obstacles standing between them and their best work” and give “advice on the writing process and real talk about the publishing industry.” So, despite the fact that I’m primarily practicing poetry, it’s one of the few newsletters in my inbox that I actually read, and it always delivers interesting thoughts and ideas that I can apply to my own work. I highly recommend subscribing, and picking up a book of hers, too.
The newsletter doesn’t always include prompts, but this week’s edition on tarot readings—a concept I love. I did a literary tarot reading myself last time I went to AWP—and how they can “help you uncover your story” came with this particularly interesting prompt that can be adapted to any genre:
Here’s one way to learn more of the Death tarot card. Write a short piece (600 words, or less [or, if you’re doing poetry, 30 lines or less]) on a relationship, a job, or a project that ended. It can be your story, or the story of a character you’re developing. Write how this ending transformed, or affected, you/your character. Allow yourself to be surprised by what you write, as it will show you the “nugget” or the “takeaway” of the loss. That’s how the Death tarot vibration reveals itself in a writing and how you can use this archetypal image as inspiration.
With the prompt she also included this quote from Ingrid Aybar, who is featured in the newsletter:
“Our capacity to transcend negativity comes from our ability to see our own darkness and our own shadow selves. We are advised to let go of the world of disappointing emotions in order to gain a deeper understanding of who we really are. There is the potential to heal and renew ourselves through every loss. When the Death tarot card appears in a reading, a fundamental lesson is being taught: past views, past relationships and past patterns must be released to allow the growth of something new to lift our soul and our spirit. Once this wise teaching is acknowledged, and what has lived out its usefulness is surrendered, a sense of liberation and resurrection will inevitably follow.”
— The Arc En Ciel Tarot guidebook by Ingrid Aybar.
I’m setting my personal deadline to have a completed draft of this prompt by Thursday, February 28–three days from now. While I won’t be posting my resulting draft, I will be posting on how it went, in effort to keep myself accountable. Feel free to use the same deadline for yourself, and send me your drafts once you’re ready to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And subscribe to Leigh’s newsletter!