Unprompted writing

drawing of imaginary cat in dryer

The point of writing is to write.  Sometimes, though, we draw a blank.  We tend to think that’s a serious problem.  It’s not.  It’s a silly problem.  We’re just not being loopy enough.  Not goofy enough.  Writing is playful confabulation, not actual brickwork; systematic daydreaming, not bloodletting.*

Go ahead.  Make things up.

Most people keep lists of writing prompts handy for when they’re stuck.  I take it one step further:  I write prompts when I’m stuck, instead.  If I find I’m getting too serious, I disengage my brain, unfocus my eyes, invite things in, and then tweet the results.  For instance (selections from my Twitter feed):

  • Small house cats operate heavy machinery in your neighborhood, tying up traffic. They keep making you move your car.
  • Adijah found a hat under her bus seat, and wore it until her hair grew through it.  The hat began speaking for her.
  • A proud, independent woman falls in love with a proud, rude, uncouth man; he rejects her; she sensibly joins a wolf pack in the wilderness.
  • The things I most worried about came true.  Bed bugs. Roof leaks. Dying parents. Food on my chin.
  • I gave up talking entirely because words had consequences. Also, the possums were listening all the time.
  • Protagonist gets braces, whitening, which makes teeth loosen. Keeps shoving teeth back in socket & hoping.
  • I don’t remember when I first noticed the faces peering up from glass portholes set flush along Broad Street every ten feet.
  • All I recall of those summers now is the smell of pine needles and a pile of old glass pharmacy bottles.
  • I was alone in the house with the dryer going. Inside the dryer was a large brown bear. He was staring at me reproachfully.
  • My father used to steal people’s pets. He would often bring a dog home on an improvised leash, having thrown away its tags.

These are all grounded in some sort of reality:  The heavy machinery was outside my house.  The old glass pharmacy bottles are from my childhood.  My bite plate loosened one of my teeth.  I wear hats.  The cat got into the dryer once without my noticing, and I turned it off fast.

Think about your childhood, or the street outside, or something that happened today, and twist it.  Make it a different object, a less likely or a more terrifying emergency.  Be honestly silly.

And then get back to work, with your machinery a little more lubricated and your flywheel spinning.


*You, being a writer and therefore dramatic and metaphorical, may want to call it bloodletting because it’s painful and self-revelatory.  Having suffered the occasional bloody injury, including having a fencing sabre go into my palm and into my wrist, I can tell you that bloodletting is nothing like writer’s block.  It’s much messier, much more dramatic, and other people take it much more seriously.
†This works for me because (a) Tweets are short so I can’t write too much and (b) Making it public is a game I play with myself because an audience frees me up.  Honestly.  I’m much more likely to be uninhibited in public.  Yes, I know.  I agree.  That doesn’t make sense.
‡She was fine. She only went around once. I, on the other hand, was a bit of a wreck afterwards.

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