writing prompts: prose & poetry

  1. PROSE:
    1. NON-FICTION: TRAVEL MEMOIR, TRAVEL ESSAY, TRAVELOGUE:
      1. Write a post describing a place using all five senses.
      2. Pick random lines from poems, songs, or books, and write a post where you interweave those lines or titles into the piece.  Let the words inform some aspect of your journey.
      3. Pick five random verbs and use them in your essay.
      4. Write a post about eating alone.  Describe your environment, the restaurant, the food, the textures, the flavors, the sounds, the smells, the people. If you’re at a sidewalk cafe, describe the shops around you, the action on the street, what strikes you about a place. How do you feel being alone? Do people respond to you differently than when you’re with someone?  What are your thoughts during your solitary meal?
      5. Go to a restaurant in a culture different from your own.  Write about the experience of the food, the difficulties of understanding the food choices on the menu, the colors, textures and tastes of the food, the decor in the restaurant, the service and any companions you have as well as any interesting conversations you have.
      6. List the top 10 experiences of your life.  Then PICK ONE.  Don’t think about it for long.  Just write the first things that come to your mind.  Write it in a narrative form: first this happened, then this happened, etc. Put yourself back in the place and time.  Relax and allow the memories to trickle into your mind.  Finish by writing WHY AND HOW this was a significant moment in your life.
      7. Write about things you can do without words. For example, if you’re in a culture where you can’t speak the language, what do you do to connect with others?  How do you respond to the environment?  How do you occupy yourself?
      8. Write about an unusual encounter with a person of another culture where the language barrier presented some kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication. Or it helped you appreciate or learn something about another person or culture.
      9. Write an unusual TITLE.  Let the TITLE be funny, silly, poetic, or strange.  Write a story about it related to your journey.
      10. Go to a museum, an art gallery, or a historical place in your destination and tell about the experience, using as many of your senses as you can.  Describe how the place feels, how it looks, the sounds and the smells.  You can go anywhere that you think is artistic: a flower shop, a fruit market, a library or bookstore, a nature trail or garden, a concert or live music performance or a night club.
      11. Write a compare/contrast essay – how does one place evoke the spirit or other aspect of another place.
      12. Write about how the immediacy of a journey is juxtaposed with other aspects in your life at that time.
      13. Write about how you think you are changing as you travel.  Do you think you will have the same friends or the same interests when you return home?  Do you think that you will be so changed that you will have to find new people who will understand you?
      14. Visit a familiar place at an unfamiliar time.  For example, you could go to a supermarket after midnight, a city at night, a cemetery at sunset.  Describe it and how you feel while you’re there.
      15. Write an essay in the third person, as if you are a character. Have fun with it. 🙂
      16. Pick up any book you have on your shelf.  Turn to page 79.  Pick the 4th sentence on the page and write that sentence.  Then brainstorm any ideas that come to your mind related to that sentence.  Write a travel essay using that sentence as your topic sentence.
      17. Write about what you’re currently reading. How does it inform your journey?
      18. Tell about a particularly difficult day you had while traveling.  Describe the situation, telling why it was difficult, and how you felt, and how you managed to overcome the difficulty.
      19. Tell about something you DON’T LIKE about your destination.   Describe what it is you don’t like and then compare how the culture is different from what you’re used to in your own country.  Consider how the way something in another culture is done could be better than how it’s done in your own culture.
      20. Write about expectations.  What did you expect about a place?  Did the place meet your expectations, exceed them, or ultimately disappoint?
      21. If, when you died, you could carry only one memory about your journey with you into the afterlife, what would it be?
      22. It can be a very lonely existence when you travel to or live in a foreign country.  Describe how you deal with loneliness.
    2. FICTION:
      1. POEM, DREAM, CONFLICT (Exercise from The Portable MFA in Creative Writing (The New York Writer’s Workshop):
        1. Select a line from a poem, biography, anything that resonates with you. Next consider a recent (perhaps troubling) dream. Then recall a problem you’re having with another person.
        2. Once you have each of these items firmly in mind, begin a fictional account that weaves these three disparate strands together, following the steps below:
          1. POEM: Write one or two paragraphs based on the line of poetry (or prose) you chose. Then skip a line.
          2. DREAM: Write one or two paragraphs using fragments or themes from your dream. (It’s unnecessary to make any explicit reference to the text you used for step one.) Again, skip a line.
          3. CONFLICT: Write one or two paragraphs concerning the conflict you thought of. (Again it’s unnecessary to make any explicit reference to steps one or two.) Skip a line.
          4. PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER. Begin weaving together elements from steps one through three. Follow your impulses. When you write the piece, set it in your destination.
      2. Create a fictional character and take him/her on a road trip.  Check out Jim Harrison’s The English Major for inspiration.
      3. Keep a travel journal in the voice of a fictional character and then write a short story about it when you return.
      4. Pick three disparate ideas and juxtapose them all in one story.
      5. Cut paper into 50 phrase-size strips and on each, write different nouns, verbs, adjectives, people, places, activities, stray phrases and seasons.  Mix up the pile and pick three. Use them in a story or essay (From The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel)

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  1.  POETRY:
    1. WRITE A POEM a day during a journey abroad. “When everything is a possible poem, the world is suddenly more interesting.”
    2. Write a villanelle about a place: See The Society of Classical Poets: “How to Write a Villanelle (With Examples)”.  See also my example: poetic journeys: fountains abbey.
    3. Use anaphora: (Repeat phrases) I know… I know… This is a story about….This is a story about…. Now that I’m free, I will….Because my time here is short… If I were rich (or kind, sincere, happy, loving, open-minded, and inhabitant of a different place…), I dream of….
    4. Write an acrostic about a place. “The basic acrostic is a poem in which the first letters of the lines, read downwards, form a word, phrase, or sentence. Some acrostics have the vertical word at the end of the line, or in the middle.  The double acrostic has two such vertical arrangements (either first and middle letters or first and last letters), while a triple acrostic has all three (first letters, middle, and last)” (from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms).  Some examples of acrostics can be found in Seasonal Sonnets (Acrostic) by Mark A. Doherty.
    5. Write an apostrophe poem: a literary device used to address a third party. This third party may be an individual, either present or absent. It can also be an inanimate object – like a dagger, an apple, a hummingbird – or an abstract concept, such as death or the sun.
    6. Write an ekphrastic poem, focusing on a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art — a postcard, painting, photograph, or sculpture.  Explore how you can interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to your subject.
    7. Write a haiku: A Japanese verse form most often composed, in English versions, of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. A haiku often features an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a specific moment in time.
    8. Write a poem about the things you carry on a pilgrimage, in a backpack or in your suitcase.
    9. Write a two-line poem each day and when you return home, see if any of the lines fit together to reveal a poem. Observe how the lines relate to each other.
    10. Write a poem mixing Spanish and English words (p. 158 Poetry Everywhere).
    11. Write several poems that use personification in a straightforward yet unexpected way: “I walked abroad, / And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge / Like a red-faced farmer.” In an interview with Anselm Berrigan at Literary Hub, John Yau, winner of the 2018 Jackson Poetry Prize, talks about puzzling over the personification in these lines from T. E. Hulme’s 1909 poem “Autumn.” In what way does personification affect imagery in poetry? How does this kind of description enhance not only the perception of the object being personified, but also the idea of personhood and the narrator’s idiosyncratic perspective? (poetry prompt from Poets & Writers: Week 31 – August 3, 2018)
    12. Grab any book off your bookshelf and use the last line in the book as inspiration for the first word in your poem.
    13. Write an abstract poem.  An abstract poem is meant to be an experiment with sound; the meaning of the words is secondary.  There are several ways to write abstract poems, according to the The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms:
      • One is to say a word aloud over and over until it loses its meaning.  Your mind quickly focuses on the sound.  Then you write as quickly as possible whatever words come to you because of their sounds.
      • Take a poem by you or someone else and change most of the words.  Count the number of nouns in the poem, the number of adjectives and the number of verbs.  Make a list of an equal number of new nouns, adjectives, and verbs – all of which you choose because you like their sound rather than their meaning. Then use your lists to replace the corresponding words in the poem.
      • Take a poem and remove enough of its words so that the remaining words make no sense but sound good together.
    14. Write a poem about something that seems or may always be unreachable.
    15. Write a found poem: “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.” (poets.org)
    16. Experiment with run-on free verse.  The rhythmic character in run-on free verse derives from strong run-on lines broken between the adjectives and nouns. The breaks are meant to force a slightly abnormal pause. This extra hesitation rhythmically evokes a tentative, uncertain feeling.  The choice of where to break the lines is arbitrary.
    17. Write a list. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is; what’s important is the associations between the words. Listing adjectives that relate to the concept of ‘yellow,’ ‘dance,’ ‘eggplant,’ or ‘bakery,’ for example, can lead to bizarre or surprising word combinations. Listing phrases or clauses can reveal interesting thematic bonds. They may even become the basis of a poem.
    18. Write down some words or a phrase that inspires you. Freewrite using that word or phrase in relation to your journey and see what comes up.
    19. Write a poem where each line/sentence is about each day a week of your travel.
    20. Write a poem about an experience when nothing went according to plan.
    21. Write a poem about getting from here to there, on foot, by car, bus or airplane, by tuk-tuk or horse or elephant.
    22. Write a poem about uncertainty during your travels.
    23. Grab the closest book.  Go to page 78.  Write down 10 words that catch your eye.  Use 7 of those words in a poem. If you can, have four of them appear at the end of a line.
    24. Write a poem inspired by textures: textiles, tree bark, stones, flowers, leaves.
    25. Turn the radio or TV on to any channel and write a poem inspired by the first thing you hear (lyrics to a song, a commercial, a news story).
    26. Look on the front page of a local newspaper when you are traveling and write a poem about one of the headlines.
    27. Use participles: Getting off the phone… Running down the road … Climbing out of the car… Balancing on the edge of the pool…Yelling at her kids to come in for dinner…Toasting bread in the morning…
    28. Write a poem to your favorite letter of the alphabet, your favorite dessert, your favorite article of clothing, your favorite place, your favorite fruit or vegetable, your favorite color.
    29. Write a poem about being on the outside looking in.
    30. Write a poem about something you don’t want to do, and what you’d rather be doing instead.
    31. Write a poem about streets, highways and bridges you encounter on your travels.
    32. Write a poem that explores your vision of a place before visiting and your actual experience of a place.
    33. Write a poem that is less than 25 words long.
    34. Pick 6 words describing something you encounter in your travels and write a poem weaving these together.
    35. Write about anticipation: feelings you experience or things you notice while waiting for something.
    36. Take a word or phrase from a sign you see while traveling and use it as the first line in a poem.
    37. Write a poem based on a favorite travel memory that brings to mind a rich mixture of emotions and a connection with modern-day issues, perhaps touching on ideas of alienation and belonging.
    38. Take an intangible: hate, joy, loyalty, sorrow, imagination, frustration, beauty, success, failure. Make two simple opposing statements using the word you choose: “Success is sweet. It is as bitter as unripe apples.” Give the word an ability to perceive. Personify the word further. Freewrite about this.
    39. Use prompts: “The last time I heard ______, I was ________.

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There are hundreds of great writing books and resources with ideas galore.  A few I recommend are:

For Prose:

For Poetry:

This list is a work in progress.  I’ll be adding more ideas and books as time goes on.