If you guys have read any of my posts from back in January, you’ll know that I’m finally taking a fiction workshop class at the graduate level. While I’m fairly certain that I’ve managed to get all of my obsessive excitement about John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction out of my system for the moment, I’m still really psyched about this class as a whole.
One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about the class is that it’s actually forcing me to write. I think every book on writing technique I’ve ever read has stressed the importance of writing consistently, every day—even if it’s as small a thing as meeting a 100-word minimum. Despite this widespread agreement that writers gotta write, for some reason I’d never actually taken the advice seriously before this class.
For our first writing assignment of the semester, our professor provided us with a line of text to use as a starting point to fill the lined side of a 4 x 6 index card. This was done over the course of an entire week, with the professor emailing us a one-line prompt each day (with the exception of Sunday, which we were told to take off). Our professor gave us these additional guidelines for the prompt:
Write your text quickly or slowly, but put it away by the end of the day—do not go back and look until the end of the week. At the end of the week, type your texts into a single document—make edits or expansions if you like [. . .].
These texts may lead nowhere, or they may spark ideas that lead everywhere. You may creatively alter the given line, but the line must still be recognizable. Rather than exercises, think of these as possible beginnings.
Let me tell you, the exercise worked wonderfully for me. Because it was an exercise, I didn’t feel the pressure I usually do whenever I actually sit down to work on a story. I wasn’t worried about artfully crafting the perfect description or coming up with a flawless line of dialogue. Instead, I was able to just write—and there was nothing saying I couldn’t incorporate what I’d written into my actual work.
So, for those of you who want to follow in my class’ footsteps, I’ll provide you with the first two prompts so that you can begin to fill in your index cards with fervor. (You’ll want to wait and look at the second prompt tomorrow, if you’re planning on following our assignment to the letter.)
Just for fun, I’ll also include my responses for each prompt.
Prompt 1: “Dead leaves of every essence lie steeping in the rain.”
Dead leaves of every essence lie steeping in the rain. Musky odors mix with the smell of ground coffee beans and freshly baked pizzelles. Whitney doesn’t want these smells. It’s only been a week since she last visited the shop, and the scents drifting in the air are beginning to make her feel nostalgic. She sighs, breath escaping her lungs in fitful white puffs. It shouldn’t be this cold.
Not when all she wants to do is wrap her hands around a warm cup of coffee and spend time with friends she can’t have.
Not when all the smells are still so fresh, wrapping around her and carrying her to the one place she calls home, the one place she can’t be.
Prompt 2: “Tonight, I fish from the mile-high pier.”
Tonight, I fish from the mile-high pier. It’s not like I’m actually going to catch anything, of course. There probably isn’t even any water down there anymore—unless you count the large patches of mud where the dirt hasn’t dried and cracked in the heat. I must make an interesting sight, lounging in an old beach chair—who even goes to the beach anymore?—legs kicked back and my great-grandfather’s fishing rod wedged securely between the bottom of the seat and the right armrest. The line is properly prepped with the juiciest worm I could find—a tricky thing, when the worm population’s gone down the drain along with the water.
Feel free to type up your own responses and leave them in the comments section! 🙂