In our weekly meetings of The Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop, I give out a number of writing prompts that serve to stimulate the imagination and help the writers connect enough ideas to write a short piece during our session.
It may be that they write only a few lines inspired by the prompt, or that they come up with a piece of flash fiction, the initial draft of a short story, or even the premise for a novel. The important thing is just for them to let their minds loose around these cues and trust that a story or an idea will visit them. So, from the last workshop on Valentine’s Day, 14 February, 2018, we have the following prompts:
Prompt 1 – First Love
The Italian writer Elena Ferrante is now writing a series of essays for The Guardian. The first of these is on the subject of First Love. As with all of these prompts, you’re advised to write your short piece first and then, out of interest, take a look at the source for that idea. Incidentally, Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and, although the real writer has been unmasked, she still remains rather reclusive and inaccessible.
Prompt 2 – Dirty Money
Shooter Literary Magazine is inviting submissions for Issue #8, which should relate to the theme of Dirty Money. Check their website for further details. Submissions should be between 2,000 and 7,500 words.
Prompt 3 – The Accident
Watching men at work on the building site next to my house gave me the idea for this prompt. So, you might consider the lead up to an accident, the accident itself or the aftermath. On the other hand, think ‘out of the box’ about other kinds of accidents. Stretch your imagination.
Prompt 4 – There should be more than one word for ‘love.’
I ‘love’ this prompt. It leads us to consider the many kinds of love in our lives. The line comes from a British TV series called River, which is – on the surface – a crime drama but which, beneath the violent storyline, is actually a very moving love story. In the sixth and last episode of the first series, one of the characters quotes this line: ‘There should be more than one word for ‘love,’ and then goes on to list the many diverse manifestations of love.
Prompt 5 – A Nasty Taste
This prompt comes from the title of an article in The National newspaper. A celebrity restaurateur got less than brilliant reviews for the food served at his New York restaurant, hence the ‘Nasty Taste.’ In English, we also say that a bad experience has left us with A Nasty Taste, in our mouth, so the prompt can be interpreted in several different ways. I do in fact get a lot of my story ideas from newspapers. See if the same works for you.
What to write
When I give out prompts, workshop participants generally ask me two questions:
- What should I write … a story, an essay … what?
- How much should I write?
My response is, in effect, ‘I don’t know … because I can’t get inside your head. I can’t see what thoughts these prompts might trigger in your brain.’
Writing is about depending on your own inner thought processes. Too often would-be writers are still in thrall to their old childhood memories of the teachers who told them what to write and how much to write. Writers are proactive. It is important to remember that you won’t become a writer until you start to listen to what your own mind is telling you to write. Train yourself to listen to inner voices and to see both remembered and invented images. Can’t hear them? Can’t see them? Keep listening and keep looking. They will come.