The Twelve (Plus) Prompts of Christmas 2014

Dear friends,

It’s almost Christmas, so it’s time for my gift to you, a whole promptapalooza of writing starts. Use them right now to start stories, poems, articles, songs or whatever or squirrel them away for when the muse is hiding in the closet saying, “No, I don’t want to come out.” Feel free to share the results or your own favorite prompts in the comments.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. May your words flow easily and your inbox be full of good news.

1. What do I hate most about Christmas?

2. My best/worst Christmas present ever

3. I want to go _____________________

4. I wish I were_____________________

5. He opened the door and ________________

6. As wind shook the house_________________

7. Plop, plop, plop!

8. What?????

9. Oh no!

10. When the phone rang______________

11. The stench_______________________

12. One more stitch

13. Yesterday_____________________

14. Dead battery

15. Next time________________________

16. Flashing lights

17. Ew!

18. Wet dog

19. Wrapped present on the side of the road

20. Bad Christmas cookie

21. With his wife gone__________________

22. As they waited for the ambulance___________________

23. We’re late!

24. As the car pulled into the driveway____________________

Think Labor Day is a boring holiday? Not for writers

Monday is Labor Day. What does that mean, besides a long weekend, parades, lots of advertising circulars featuring barbecue grills, and thoughts about going back to school? What is this holiday for? What are we celebrating? says: “In 1894, Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday after a failed attempt to break up a railroad strike. Observed on the first Monday in September, Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers.” Visit at for the whole story.

That’s the official view. Personally, the only thing I’m celebrating this weekend is the departure of the tourists from our coastal town. I’ll be working.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, as with every holiday, it’s a source of ideas. If you read the information at the website, working conditions in the pre-union era were awful for many people. Long hours, no safety precautions, children being put to work instead of going to school. What if you set a fictional story in a factory in 1880? For example, entire families worked in the cloth mills in Fall River, Massachusetts. What if you wrote about a mother and her child sent to work there? What might happen to them? What if the mother saw her son being mistreated and couldn’t do anything about it for fear of losing her job?

What kind of work situations have you experienced in your life? Have you designed microchips at a plant in Silicon Valley, sold shoes in Houston, or milked cows in Minnesota? Have you worked for terrible bosses who treated you badly or good ones you loved like family? What have you experienced on the job that could be turned into a story, either fictional or true? How have working conditions changed?

Spend some time observing somebody doing a job you’ve never done and write a poem or story about them. Or put on your reporter hat, do some research and write an article about some kind of work that interests you. You could even get a job completely out of your comfort zone, then write about it. Barbara Ehrenreich did that in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America She told the behind-the-scenes story of working at Wal-Mart and other low-pay, low-status jobs.

You see? I think  “Labor Day” and suddenly I’m typing away. You can do it too. Start brainstorming. Holidays. Work. Jobs. Lunch breaks. On-the-job romances.

Your turn. Let me know what you come up with.

Now go write.

Writers, let’s be someone else for a while

Writers spend a lot of time alone, and some of us write about ourselves way too much. Today, I invite you to put yourself in the head of a stranger. He or she could be walking or driving by. She could be the waitress serving your lunch, the kid putting gas in your car, or the plumber coming to fix your sink. He could be the guy sitting alone in the next booth, the sunburned teenager sitting on  a blanket with her friends at the beach, or the homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk near the grocery store.

Use your imagination and your acting skills to become these people and write from their point of view for a poem or story. Ask yourself: What are they thinking? What are they worried about? What are they looking forward to? What are they dreading? How did they get to this place and this situation?

If you’re strictly a non-fiction writer, can you think of an essay or article idea? Homelessness, loneliness, gas vs. electric cars, summer jobs, sunburn remedies, people multi-tasking while walking, etc.

If you’re home alone, think of someone you saw recently. For example, yesterday I nearly ran over a guy lying half off the sidewalk at 6th and 101 here in Newport. Sandy beard, freckles, wild blue eyes, heavy coat on a hot day. What’s his story? And why is no one, including me, doing anything to help him?

Get out of your own head and put yourself in someone else’s for a while. I suspect you’ll be pleased at the results.

Now go write.

Smoking Hot Prompts for Fourth of July

Fourth of July is over now, but if you pay attention, the holiday offers lots of writing possibilities. For some reason, some of the most dramatic days of my life happened on the Fourth. All could be turned into fiction, nonfiction or poetry. I’ll bet you have some Fourth of July memories, too, or just some lessons learned from the fireworks that got out of hand, the potato salad that went bad, or the barbecue that was the most fun you ever had. Maybe just watching the people at the public events stirred up some story ideas. Now, when the holiday is fresh in your head, is the time to put your Fourth of July thoughts into words and get them ready to send out well ahead of the deadlines to be published next summer.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

• My worst/best Fourth of July
• Ten ways to make your Fourth of July better
• Ten things I will never do again on the Fourth of July
• Ten tips for having fun with your children on the Fourth of July
• Fourth of July celebrations gone wrong.
• How fireworks have changed over the years.
• As the fireworks flashed and crackled, she swore she would not ______________
• He stared into the campfire and _________________________
• He watched the child run across the sand into the water and _____________________
• The dog raced across the sand, nose down, tracking a smell. In a minute, he smelled it, too.
• The thing that scared him the most _______________________________
• Oh no, she thought. Not again.
• In the middle of the fireworks, I suddenly _______________________________
• The old woman paraded down the street between the trained dogs and the marching band wearing a red, white and blue tank top and a pink tutu . . .

Now go write!

Stuck for an idea? Read the obituaries

I’m not kidding. Although most people skip the obits unless somebody they know died recently, they can be a great source for writers. The terse listings of birth and death dates, names of survivors and funeral information don’t offer much, but the longer stories are full of possibilities. In my newspaper days, I wrote hundreds of obits. They often intrigued the storyteller in me. An obituary is the story of a whole life told in a few words. So often, comments in the obituary can tweak the imagination. If you put on your creative writing hat and ask yourself why, how and what was that like, the stories will come. You don’t have to write about that particular person. You can, if nonfiction is your genre, but you can also use the obits as prompts to get you thinking about stories from your own life or make up characters who lived some of the same elements.

Take this guy Chuck in yesterday’s local paper. His family wrote that he “went ‘forever fishing’ when his heart stopped on Saturday April 26 at the age of 69.” He grew up in Minnesota but headed for the Northwest right after high school graduation. Why? Did he come alone? How did he travel? What did he bring? Did he know anyone here in Oregon?

Chuck worked as a plumber in Washington and Oregon and also worked on the Alaska Pipe Line. How did that come about? What was it like? He was also an avid fisherman who traveled all over on his boat. He was an active volunteer and a dog lover. But he was never married. His survivors are siblings, nieces, nephews and friends. He was a good-looking guy, well-employed. Why no wife? Why no kids? Instead, the writer said he was everyone’s “Uncle Chuck.”

Chuck’s ashes are being scattered at sea next month. Folks are invited to meet at the Eagles’ Lodge afterward. “Shorts recommended.” What will that party be like? What if you started a story with that scene?

The obituary offers basic information, but it leaves a lot of room for memory or imagination to fill in the blanks. Does Chuck remind you of someone in your life? Write about it and see where it goes. Or use Chuck’s obituary as the start of a poem or a story. Give him a new name and start writing.

If you don’t usually read obituaries, you might want to start. They’re full of stories waiting for you to tell. If you come up with something about Chuck, I’d love to read it.

Now go write.




P is for . . . Prompts

A2Z-BADGE [2014] - Support - smallAs you may know, I’m participating in the A to Z blogging challenge this month. Each day except Sunday we blog on a different letter of the alphabet. Because I have several blogs, my posts travel from blog to blog and we have landed here today, just in time for the letter P, which inspires me to give you a page of prompts. I hope at least one of these will spark your writing. Use them for poetry, plays, essays, articles, editorials, short stories, rants, whatever you want to write. Revise them, turn them around, have fun with them.

* When the woman started crying, he ………….

* Opening the envelope with trembling hands, she unfolded the letter and screamed.

* You’re never too old to ………..

* Three days after the power went out . . . . . . . . . .

* I want . . . . . . . . .

* Pick a coin out of your pocket or purse. What year is printed on it? Write about what happened that year.

* I never thought . . . . . . .

* What have you learned that you’d like to share?

* It was the morning from hell. Everything went wrong . . . . . . . .

* If only . . . . . . . . . . . .

* When . . . . . . . . . . .

* “You’re fired,” he said.

Happy Easter. Remember, everything in life could be a prompt, from your morning oatmeal to insomnia at midnight. Visit Unleashed in Oregon tomorrow to find out what R stands for and come back here next Friday, when we’ll be on the letter V. Now go write.







The Twelve Prompts of Christmas

Whether or not you believe in Christmas, you must believe in writing or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So here’s my gift to you after oh, 15 minutes of deep thought. Fill in the blanks to write tweets, poems, stories, articles, opinion pieces, whatever feels right. You’re welcome share the results in the comments. Unless it’s really good. Then keep it to yourself and publish it.

1. When he reached into his Christmas stocking, he never expected to find____________

2. He said, “I promise you I won’t______________________”

3. It was the first time she __________________________

4. Under the snow, she found _________________________

5. My mother’s (or father’s) idea of a good Christmas was ________________________

6. I stared at my present in disbelief. It was _______________________________

7. If I were in charge of Christmas, I would ____________________________

8. Santa’s on a special diet this year, so I’m leaving him ________________________

9. Gun in hand, he stared at the blow-up snowman and said, “_____________________”

10. Mary said to Joseph the night the Baby was born, “__________________________”

11. Wearing his old suit that was too big for him now, Bud Johnson slipped into the back pew at church on Christmas Eve. It was ________________________

12. “What have you got now?” she screamed at the dog. She reached into the canine’s mouth and pulled out __________________________

Merry Christmas to one and all, and to all, NOW GO WRITE.

Every person has a story for you to write

When life takes you away from your desk and your routine, look around. Raw material for your writing lurks everywhere.

I’m in San Francisco this week. My father had heart surgery here on Tuesday. I’m happy to report that he did spectacularly well and is recovering quickly. At 91, he’s the strongest man I know. So there’s a character for you: the nonagenarian widower determined to keep living on his own. Yes, we’ve all seen the clichéd movies of the week where a woman shows up and softens the heart of the grumpy old man, but don’t go there. Find the real human being and the real story behind him.

Here’s another character: the tall stylish black woman in the elevator shouting into her smart phone, “Don’t let them cut off her leg! It’s not like what happened to Joey.” She has a Bluetooth in her ear and holds her phone at waist level. When the other passengers get off at the second floor, she turns to me. “They want to cut my mama’s leg off. Nobody’s listening to me. I can’t let them do it.” She follows me off the elevator at the wrong floor, still talking, then pauses. “How the hell do I get out of this place? I hate this place.”


The curly-haired woman whose 56-year-old husband collapsed on Thanksgiving Day with an aortic aneurism the size of a grapefruit and underwent 10 hours of surgery while she waited, sure he was going to die. Today she follows him, smiling and brushing away tears as he takes his first steps around the intensive care unit, pushing an IV cart.

The woman from India whose husband also went to the hospital on Thanksgiving in need of a triple bypass. She waited all weekend for an opening in the surgery schedule. In the intensive care waiting room, she deals with phone calls from co-workers who can’t seem to do their jobs without her.

The young black woman at the security desk who has been working since 5 a.m. and is making her Christmas list between visitors.

The guy selling bread sculpted into the shape of flowers in the courtyard in front of the hospital.

The Italian-born surgeon hurrying into the cafeteria to buy sushi between heart surgeries. He wears green scrubs and stops to shake hands with three middle-aged people picking at salad-bar salads. Their father is next.

The man on the street digging cans and bottles out of a garbage can. Above his ragged tennis shoes, his bare ankles are grimed with dirt.

The tiny old man sitting on a plastic crate outside the Japanese cultural center.

The man in a suit waiting for the bus at Geary and Fillmore.

Every one of these people has a story, a real-life story we could tell if we interviewed them or a fictional one we can make up. There’s a poem to be written about each one, too. Use your imagination. Where are they going? Where do they live? What will they eat for dinner? Do they have spouses, children, lovers, cats? Do they have hundred dollar bills in their wallets or a few coins? When they woke up this morning, what was their first thought?

Wherever you are, look around and ask questions. You will never run out of stories, I promise.

Now go write.

Three Tips: shy writers, summer journals, a writing prompt

Here I offer three quick tips you can read and use without taking too much time out of your writing. If you have suggestions for books, websites or writing prompts, please include them in a comment or email me at


The Shy Writer Reborn by C. Hope Clark. Are you an introvert? Do you find that you’re comfortable at your desk but would rather get your teeth cleaned than go out into the world to sell your writing? In this all-new edition of an older book, Hope Clark, the Funds for guru and author of the Carolina Slade mystery series, tells us how to work around our fears to succeed at the writing business. Lots of good advice here.


Diane Lockward’s “Blogalicious: Notes on Poetry, Poets and Books” offers a fabulous list of literary journals that accept submissions in the summer.

Try This

Start with the words “Ask me” and continue writing a poem, essay, article, short story or whatever comes to you. Thanks to William Stafford’s poem for the inspiration.

Now Go Write

Three Tips: Freelance Writing Guide, opportunities for writers, an exercise

In this space, I offer three tips that writers can apply immediately to their writing. This week’s offerings:

Read This

The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing. If writing and selling nonfiction articles and books is your thing, you’ll find lots of information in this anthology put together by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. The book includes chapters on setting up a writing office, finding an agent, writing successful queries, self-publishing, and so much more. ASJA, which I belong to, is a great organization; its members are all professionals with substantial publishing credits, so they know what they’re talking about.

Click This

If you’re looking for writing contests, publications seeking submissions or teaching jobs for writers, visit and perhaps subscribe to the Creative Writers Opportunities List at Yahoo groups. This will keep you busy with new listings every weekday.

Try This

Start with these two words: If only . . .

Now write for 15 minutes, using these two words as the beginning of a poem, story, essay or whatever you’re led to write.

Now Go Write