Where are you right now? Describe it in detail. Think of both the small setting, like your house, and the bigger settings: your town, your state, your country, your world.
Think of the interplay between you and your setting. Settings often shape stories. How is your setting influencing your experience? What are the different factors at play? What are the connections between your experiences and your setting?
Imagine your setting is a character in the story of your experience of the current events. How do you interact with each other? How are you affecting your setting? How is your setting changing you? Is your setting your antagonist or your ally?
How would your experience be different if you were somewhere else?
For a fictional alternative, create a story that is heavily influenced by the setting. How does the setting create conflict and lead to crisis? Does the setting influence the resolution? Or does the resolution change the setting?
This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.
Create a Written Collage: Think of ten small, concrete things that are different in your life because of COVID-19. You want to choose some things that you can experience with your senses, and that you can describe in exquisite detail.
It could be empty hand-sanitizer bottles, a work project left unfinished, an unused plane ticket, the pile of books you now have time to read, etc.
Describe each one in as much detail as possible. How has this thing changed in recent weeks? What specifically has brought about these changes? How have you noticed this thing in a new or different way?
Arrange your descriptions to create a written “collage” of current life. Look closely at the small differences around you. Together, they tell a story. What’s yours?
This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here.
I don’t know what quarantine has been like for you, but I have spent the last several weeks huddled under the covers, unable to look away from the news, and sanitizing my child like crazy. There has been a great grief, a great helplessness, and the overwhelming feeling that I should be doing something — anything — other than just staying home. I understand that I’m doing my part by hiding under the covers. But it also seems like I should be doing a lot more.
There have been a lot of tears. I might have gotten in a non-verbal argument with my toddler. And the things I say to my plants these days makes me wonder if they think I am crazy. The anxiety is real. And I know it would make me feel so much better to do something for others, to connect with others.
Are you feeling this way, too? Both paralyzed by anxiety and seized with the need to do something useful, something helpful?
But still, I felt that nagging feeling deep in my chest that begged for me to write. Maybe you have been wanting to write, too. Maybe you have been feeling like writing is a luxury right now and something you shouldn’t be spending time on. But I want to push against that idea.
I personally could really only do the work that was absolutely necessary in the past few weeks, and that was teaching. So I started thinking about how I could be useful to the writers taking my course, which also led me to think about how we could be useful as writers.
As my students returned to our little online portal after an extended spring break, I asked them what would be useful for them as writers right now. Overwhelmingly, they wanted to journal about this time and overwhelmingly, they wanted prompts.
I wanted to make prompts that would really be helpful for my students. Prompts that encouraged them be present, to look at the little things, to imagine a better future. But also prompts that allowed them to voice their fears and stare down their anxieties. I wanted to make prompts that they could connect over, draw insight from, and use to document what they saw and experienced. Basically, I wanted to make prompts that were helpful in making my students helpful.
And I thought, maybe it will also be helpful for others, too. So I wanted to share it with you.
Here is the thing: you can help. You can help by writing. Think of all the ways that the writing is useful.
On the most basic level, it is important to have a historical record of this time, and multiple perspectives will be important to get the history right. We need to know what nurses were doing, what patients were doing, what it was like to go to work, and what it was like to stay home. The more information and perspectives that can be gathered will help those in the future see what worked and what didn’t, and how the world changed in response.
Also, taking care of your own mental health is helping. I can’t stress this enough. Look, no one is going to be served by letting anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue take over. Practicing isolation and social distancing are terrible for all kinds of mental health disorders, from anxiety to eating disorders. If writing is making you feel better, you should do it. If it helps you get through the day a little kinder or with a little more ease, it is important, and you are helping others by doing it. It’s also a great way to ease the sense of isolation (see below!).
Think about all the reading you are doing. We are all trying to make sense of what is going on right now. There are numerous conspiracy theories, constant live news updates, and people sure that this will change life as we know it forever. All of these things exist because people are trying to understand a situation so unlike what most of us have experienced. Writing about it is trying to make sense of it. Sure, you might not figure out the answer to the pandemic, but even coming to one little way of thinking about it that is helpful to you might be also helpful to others.
And if you aren’t writing about the pandemic, but are writing something totally unrelated, like ancient alien dinosaur erotica or whatever, you are helping too! People are looking to artists for distraction, for escape, because we can’t exist on high-alert all the time.
This brings me to a last way you can help: share your writing.
Share your thoughts and the ways in which you are dealing with it. There is a need for connection right now, and one of the ways we can connect and still be socially distant is to share our thoughts in writing. So share your writing. Even if it doesn’t have anything to do with COVID-19, it could help someone find a few moments of calm and connection. Maybe you send your mom a letter with one of your journal entries that you think she would like, maybe you share it on Facebook, maybe you share it completely anonymously on a forum. But let other people learn from your thoughts, and allow them to connect back with you. You will both be helped by it.
So this is my small way of sharing with you. You can use this with #NaPoWriMo or #CampNano or on your own, day by day, or when you feel moved. I hope you find this helpful and I hope you also know that you are helpful.
These are some of the prompts that I created for my students. I’ll post a prompt a day and you’ll find a little sneak peak below. I hope that you can use them to be helpful, to yourself and to others. I hope that you can use them to share your fears, your hopes, and your thoughts. And most of all, I hope you can use them to connect.
Thank you for connecting with me by reading this <3
She came dressed in nothing but the dust from butterfly wings and had dragonflies in her hair. She shimmered with a silvery arctic sheen that barely covered her skin. He wondered even if it was her skin. He’d been in the mental hospital for so long that he wondered if humans had evolved this way, perhaps the climate was changing so much that people on the outside were developing ashen skin, burning in the sun until they came off on your fingers when you touched them. He wanted her on his fingers like that, burned or not.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said. When she spoke, bumble bees came out of her mouth, whispering against his cheeks and wrapping him in honey. They rested on his shoulders and chest, pollinating his skin. He was hooked immediately.
“I’ve been here for years.” He looked around to see if other people noticed her. He didn’t trust his own eyes any more.
“You should have come sooner.”
“Why are you here?”
“Don’t you recognize me?” Her hair was white, long, silky strands, stronger than steel and he was caught in it. Her eyes fluttered. The bees which swarmed him tugged at something in the back of his mind, but she was too strange. Her tongue curled and he was sure she was part insect.
Suddenly, her poetry came rushing back to him.
Yesterday I posted a prompt about using various plot generators. I wanted to share with you a little taste of what I came up with. This came from one of the 5.1 million plots that Big Huge Thesaurus generated. It was so inspiring as a prompt that it’s become a much, much larger (and still unfinished!) project. I’ve shared the beginnings of it with you. Has anyone else used any of these prompts? What did you come up with?
Creative Commons love to Mr. Greenjeans on flickr for the amazing artwork. Thank you!
Need a little spice and adventure in your writing life? Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to write more and now your motivation is waning? Did you join the My 500 Words Challenge, but can’t figure out what to write about? Maybe you and the muse have just gotten into a rut and need a little more passion in your relationship.
Perhaps it’s time to leave things up to chance, play a little writing roulette and see where it takes you. There is a huge array of plot generators out there, which will give you anything from a random sentence to hypothetical scenarios, to symbolism, to stories complete with weather and villains. Here are some fun tools that might help get you through a little bit of writer’s block:
The Big Huge Thesaurus Story Plot Generator: 5.1 million possible story plots. Just click the link for six possibilities. Not inspired by those? Just hit refresh until you find one that gets your fire going. This one actually started me on a novel.
Plot Generator UK: This one takes a little bit more of your own input into consideration. Choose a genre. The options are Romance, Crime, Teen Vampire, Mystery, and Song Lyrics. Or (my personal favorite) you can recreate a lost Bronte Sisters novel, complete with a well-to-do hero and a poor, lower class hero and a weather description. For this one, you can choose the names, jobs, descriptions, weapons, and hometowns of your characters, or the generator will suggest them for you.
Writing Exercises UK: This generator gives you characters, a setting, a situation, and a theme and you can put them together to create your plot. If you don’t like one of the elements you’ve been given, just hit the button again to get a new one. One of the exciting things about this site is that it also has other writing exercises, like a random first line, random title, subject or random words to use. Very, very useful if you just need a little kickstart.
Seventh Sanctum Story Generator: Another one where you can choose the genre, this generator gives more in-depth scenarios in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Modern, or Free-for-All categories. These plots are interesting because of the details that they contain. This website also has a What-If-inator and a Symbolitron, which might be my favorite find in all of the plot creators!
Hopefully this will be enough to get your writing juices flowing. If any of these work out for you, please share the results with us!
Creative Commons love to Adam Lerner for the awesome photo!
I always feel like there’s an excitement in the air this time of year, a freshness that’s just waiting to be plucked. The new year is pregnant with possibility and is just waiting for us to snatch it up. In celebration of that, here are some revisited prompts to get your creativity and inspiration going. Enjoy!