Prompts, Exercises, and Those ’70’s Songs

Seems like writers can’t go anywhere without being challenged to do writing prompts or writing exercises. It used to be I felt they didn’t teach me anything, especially when compared to books on writing that made me learn the craft better. Then when artist Lisa Hsia sent me regular prompts, I realized they work great for warming up preparatory to working.

Yesterday, while trying to clean the office, I got distracted by piles of paper scraps – those vital pieces that aren’t organized so we can find them when we need them. And yep, I found a list of writing prompts/exercises. This one caught my eye: Seventh Grade Soundtrack.

Knock Three Times by Dawn. This was hugely popular and I was embarrassed when it would play. Why? Because what kid wants a mom who loves the same song they do? It would play on the TV and mom would sing along. She’d sit in her chair with dad on his end of the couch, puffing his pipe. I’d be lying on the brown and yellow shag carpet in the middle of the living room floor with siblings scattered around. We were the remote controls of the time.

Black Magic Woman by Santana. I liked this song but always felt a little uncomfortable, a little lost, knowing there was something I was missing out on, didn’t understand, didn’t yet know. Of course that meant I also felt just a little racy and grown-up listening to it. A future not yet grasped but on the distant horizon.

Mr. Bo Jangles by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. There was a deep craving when I heard this song, that I also didn’t yet understand. I was writing stories by then but didn’t know how deep that went in my soul. I only knew that when I heard this song I ached to know the story, what happened, why, what happened after. I wanted beginning and ending, not just middle. I still do.

He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother by Neil Diamond, during the year we’re talking about. I still listen to this song and it still brings up melancholy feelings, the hope for society, the sadness that we’ve never attained the goal; back then the realization that the hippy era was fading without having accomplished world peace. And now, the realization that so much time has gone by and we still haven’t. I wish this was a theme song now when reading the news about the refugee horrors.

Oh my gosh – One Bad Apple by the Osmonds, I Think I Love You by the Partridge Family, I’ll Be There by the Jackson 5. Instant flashbacks to slumber parties. With girls, now women, some now grandmothers, all still my best friends.

Slumber parties!

Slumber parties!

And way too many to write about all the memories attached to them. But I’ll list the titles here as my Seventh Grade soundtrack – the songs I loved as I transitioned to Junior High wearing the hated skirts and knee socks (no pants allowed, let alone jeans), cat eye glasses, freckles, not fitting in, horribly shy, blushing at everything, a story world more real than the real world, daydreaming on the school bus.

Indian Reservation (Raiders), Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling (Fortunes), Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers), Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves (Sonny and Cher), One Tin Soldier (Coven), Sweet City Woman (Stampeders), Draggin’ the Line (Tommy James), Rainy Days and Mondays (Carpenters), The Drum (Bobby Sherman), Me and You and a Dog Named Boo (Lobo), Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)…

I need to stop. I’m starting to sing out loud. And now I’m warmed up to go do some writing.

How about you? What memories are attached to your seventh grade soundtrack?

Please Prompt Me

I am tasked with coming up with some writing prompts. I’m promptly challenged.

This is a topic I’ve talked about before, but keep coming back to. A wonderful, artistic friend, Lisa, over at satsumabug.com sent me writing prompts on a regular basis and I had fun with those. What I found, though, was that I picked the topics that interested me rather than ones that challenged me as a writer. I’d grab something fun, scribble a little, and feel like I met my obligation. I learned that those fun little interludes were great for warming up my brain so I could then dive into whatever my work in progress was. Rather like priming the pump.

I can also see lots of uses for them. To warm you up, as I mentioned above. To make you think about specific ways to write something you might normally struggle with, such as setting, description, dialog, etc. To force you to try a different style than what your normally do, such as present tense, first person, and so on. So I see them as beneficial even though, as I confessed above, I might not take advantage of these as I should.

One conference I attended gave us prompts with five minutes to write each one. For a half hour session she gave us four prompts, which meant she only had ten minutes that she had to actually speak to us. Supposedly the prompts were to encourage us to free-style write, to release the subconscious. Personally, my problem has always been more reining in that rampaging subconscious and imagination. For this upcoming event, I definitely do not want the audience looking at prompts as filler for speakers who have nothing to say.

A more relevant question for me at the moment though, is what should the prompt be? Reminds me of a creative writing course I took many, many years ago. The teacher told us to write about a peanut. I thought that was silly until I wrote and had fun. But really, trying to come up with an original prompt that will stimulate the imagination, not be something that’s been done thousands of times before, and that actually challenges a writer…well, I’m clueless.

Though I’m fascinated by asking writers to write a scene in a tense they normally don’t write in, because writing in present tense is so difficult for the majority of writers. I do believe, pondering prompts in this blog has given me at least one idea.

And I’d love your thoughts on prompts in general.