I’ve rarely given my students writing prompts, so it’s been interesting for me to attend a writing practice where prompts are routinely used. When I receive prompts, often I get practical and bend them into a project I’m already working on.
One of the prompts was “blissful.” Since my stories tend to be darker, this time I decided to just play. Below is what I wrote, reinforcing for myself what I by this time know. Even if I don’t intend to, I find that all of my stories readily fall into a few categories: a) struggles of the working class, b) stories about small-town life, and c) men, or rather, all the men I never.
(If you clicked on that last link, yes, that’s me in the wedding dress. I still have that dress, which no longer fits sixteen years later, but neither did the groom and I grew out of him first.)
Robert Glück, known for Jack the Modernist, and one of my beloved writing teachers, told our class that he wrote about mainly one thing: romantic obsession. It took me years after hearing that to figure out what it is I write about and I remember feeling very excited when I realized I could quite easily place all my half-formed stories into these categories, allowing the potential for themed or even linked collections and giving my odd little story starts a meaningful direction rather than setting them aside in favor of the big right-now project.
Right now I have no idea where the little piece below is going plot-wise, and it really doesn’t matter. But I do know without a doubt that it fits in with all the men I never. In a decade or so a plot might come to me and I’ll pull this bit out and work on it.
I spent a good part of today working on a live project and came out with hardly two paragraphs that I will likely discard and start over. Whereas I whipped out the prompted stuff in five minutes. I’m not claiming that it’s good writing, but it was breezy to do, and a reminder for myself to turn off my editor brain now and then and just play around and see what happens.
He looked like he had a whole blissful of something. It wasn’t just the ears, it was that goofy, toothy smile he kept turning on me when I walked by. First going to the corner and then coming back. So I walked by one more time like I forgot something but really just to catch some of that blissful something for myself.
Walk. Look at him. Catch his smile. Again. Then again.
He never said nothing. Just grinned at me each time like it was the first time he ever seen me – even though the first time I hadn’t done nothing but stare and finally on number three gave him the teensiest smile back.
Hullo, he finally says. Hullo – with a u sound. Not like anyone I ever knew said hello, but it was his own kind of talking. Maybe it came with the ears. How he heard different than anyone on account of them being so big.
I had on my Saturday dress and wished it was my Sunday one that had a blue sash and a hat to go with. Isn’t that how it goes though? See what may be the right fella but on the wrong day and with the wrong dress on?
Still, even though I’m drab and my hair is only in a braid, he still smiles—blissful—and says hullo.
Hullo, I say back. Making it sound like him.
He says, in Yellowstone Park there’s a geyser called Old Faithful that spurts up every hour no matter what.
No such thing, I say. I don’t know if there is or not, but I can’t think what else to say.
He puts his head to the side like he’s listening for that geyser right now and says, in Glacier Park there’s a windy road that goes practically to the sun. If you start driving in the morning, by evening you’re high as the sky.
No such—really? I say. It goes off every hour?
God’s honest, he says.
You ever seen it?
Lots of people have.
We stand there then. Over my shoulder I hear Vera Ellen yelling for her son Myron. Myron is slow and wanders out of the yard when he ain’t supposed to, and Vera goes yelling after him till she finds him, usually down by the creek tossing rocks at frogs.
That’s Myron, I say. You know Myron?
Maybe not, he says.
Now I don’t think his ears are so big, just sticky out ones. If he combed his hair down they wouldn’t show so bad, but I don’t think he minds and neither do I.
Dear Writers, do you write to prompts? Do you stick with one project until it’s ready to submit or do you have several going at once? I do not think there is a right or wrong way to approach a story project. Some ways may be more efficient than others. Some ways may be just more damn fun.
P.S.: If you’re a list-maker or love Top 10 lists, definitely check out Russell Deasley’s The Top 10 of Anything and Everything with a bonus of a great collection of blogging tips. The posts are awesome, plus I keep going back to the tips page and am finding it quite useful.
P.P.S.: I just got asked to teach at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference in October on gorgeous Whidbey Island here in Washington state. My workshops will center on how to write cookbooks and cookbook proposals. I fell in love with cookbooks while working for Chronicle Books and have learned so much from the fabulous cookbook authors I get to interact with. A few years ago, I taught a cookbook writing class for community college and am delighted to return to that topic for WIWA. There are some marvelous stories woven into cookbooks, and I cherish the ones I have on my shelf. I hope I will see some of you at WIWA! It’s an awesome conference.
P.P.P.S: See you at Monday’s Open Mic!
XO Laurel Leigh