With a Little Help

From time to time, I go on retreat. I’ve found a special place and I invite a few special friends, and we hide in an old farmhouse owned by a convent. I’ve posted several times about my retreats, but today I am posting about that well-loved tradition of using your writing friends as guinea pigs.

st francis

Inspiration comes in many forms.

Writing prompts come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and themes. This weekend, Delaware poet Jane Miller and I are offering a “Fall into Writing” workshop at an historic home–the Judge Morris Estate in Newark, Delaware. We’ve been gathering or creating prompts that focus on the five senses, on how objects can be used as metaphors, on inspiration from images, on our legacies as writers. It will be a full day and I hope a beneficial one for our attendees.

One trick for a successful workshop is to try out the prompts or exercises in advance. When you’re together for a week in an old farmhouse with no TV, iffy Internet, and spotty cell phone service, what’s a better time to try out prompts on your captive audience?

Here are a few ideas for creating and using writing prompts:

  1. Keep instructions simple
  2. Time the writing portions
  3. Know the general make-up of your audience
  4. Use a general theme or idea for cohesiveness
  5. Offer prompts that are specific but broad enough to explore
  6. Provide minimal guidance or leading
  7. Remember there are no wrong answers
  8. Encourage sharing but make it optional

If the audience is a mix of poets, prose writers, screenwriters, etc.

  1. Use prompts that will work with all writing forms
  2. Team up un-like artists for exchange exercises
  3. Use external inspirations like objects or photos or music

For any type of prompt or exercise:

  1. Try it out on a living audience
  2. Pay attention to what works and doesn’t
  3. Be willing to revise, change, or pitch a prompt that might be a dud

At retreat, we tried out three of Saturday’s prompts-to-be: on senses, on the unknown, on places from our memories. Each try-out revealed a necessary tweak that will make the prompt more effective. On the flip side, the prompts were a good break from the long days devoted to WIPs. The brain works best when you poke at it a bit.

We even left with a testimonial!

I want to thank you for sharing a few of the writing exercises with us this week at retreat that you and Jane Miller plan to use at the Fall into Writing workshop next Saturday at the Judge Morris Estate. I’ve been able to clarify writing goals, and now I see how I can incorporate observations from the five senses to make my writing come alive. These exercises have made such a difference to me, and I know they’ll be valuable to workshop participants. – Jean Davis

If you are a Delaware author, I hope to see you Saturday at the Judge Morris Estate for a day to honor the change of seasons—and write about it among friends. If you are interested, there is still time to register.

To Maria, Jean, Kim, and Jane–thanks for playing!

One thought on “With a Little Help

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