Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to Writing Prompt Pit Stop! Here we are, another Wednesday and another prompt to hopefully get your pen gliding or your keyboard humming. This week’s prompt is “Shaking Your Family Tree.” I’ve been working for a little over a year on a manuscript that I’m calling my “poetry memoir” until I come up with a title. My poems focus on my experiences growing up an only child, and on my growing up during the 1960s and 1970s when the world, and pop culture, was going through some major changes. In addition, a few of those poems focus on grandparents, and on some ancestors that I only know through stories my grandparents shared with me.

I was really close to my grandma that I called “mom,” and because of her I was instilled with a real love of not only family history, but of history in general. It’s no big surprise, then, that one of my favorite shows is Who Do You Think You Are? which combines a lot of both, and I was disappointed when it was canceled in 2012. However, I found out last week that TLC picked the show up and is running new episodes, so now I can DVR those shows and watch them in between writing and grading. If you enjoy genealogy/history at all, I recommend this show. There is also a similar show, Finding Your Roots, on PBS with Henry Louis Gates.

A few examples of my poems that I’m including in my “poetry memoir” are “Bird Lessons,” which appeared in Poised in Flight (Kind of a Hurricane Press, 2013), and “Politics, 1960” that appeared in the March 2013, family-themed, issue of cahoodaloodaling.

I find that mining not only my own life, but researching, and finding, ancestors is an untapped goldmine of ideas to write about – especially if you feel you are tapped out on some days.

So with this week’s prompt, I’m encouraging you to explore your own family history. Yes, you may know everything you want to know about your immediate family (and sometimes they’re a goldmine to write about!) but I’m urging you to go back further, a few generations or more. Go back and have a “conversation” with a long lost relative, or visit a country or region that you had no idea that your family came from. With that idea in mind, here’s your sixth prompt (I lost count…and this really is the sixth instead of the fifth! I’m a writer, not a mathematician! LOL!):

“Shaking Your Family Tree”

1) Start with a living relative, take a daybook, and interview them about your family’s history. If you’re lucky, you have a genealogy buff already in the family that’s done some leg work and can give you some concrete answers.

Ask them the broad questions first such as: Where is our family from? What did great-grandpa, etc., do for a living? Were they in any wars?  Where did they first live when they immigrated to America? Etc. Then you can think of more specific questions as you go along, or maybe you’ve always wondered about something, or someone, in your family and it’s your chance to ask.

2) Whether you have a family member to go to or not, it’s always good to go to a local library and see if you can discover any information there, perhaps through microfilms or by the digitized print media from the past. Again, take good notes (You may even discover other ideas to write about while doing this activity).

3) Go on ancestry.com and utilize the free access to their files. They sometimes even have a 14-day free trial that gives you full capabilities of their site. You can get on there and create a family tree. It’s easy to do, and you can track ancestors as far back as you can go. As always, don’t forget to write down notes, dates, etc., as you go along.

I’ve had relatives that have contacted me because of the family tree that I built, which has opened up lines of communication I never had before, and I even had one send photos of my grandfather that died long before I was born – photos that my family had never seen. So there are perks besides getting more writing done!

4) Once you’ve gathered information you’re ready to write – a lot. Take one or two of your ancestors and create a character profile for them to include in your writing. Or discover one of the places your ancestors came from and make that a setting in your writing. You may find 1000s of ancestors or characters, or names of towns in Ireland, England, or elsewhere that could give you volumes of writing possibilities.

Depending on your writing preference, you may find real stories/histories surrounding your ancestors and write poems or essays that stick with the memoir/creative nonfiction genre, or you might utilize the info you find and twist it to make a fine piece of flash fiction, a short story, or even a 10-min play. What you do with your new-found info is totally up to you.

As I’ve stated before the main thing is to get as much imagery and detail into your creative writing as possible. And, don’t forget to revise – it is the true craft of writing.

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!


Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to another Writing Prompt Pit Stop! This week’s writing prompt asks “What is Your Nature?” Some people walk through life never noticing the pleasures that nature has to offer. I was one of those people for a long while; always too busy with life to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

The funny thing is as I’ve gotten older, life hasn’t become any less busy – in fact, in today’s world it’s actually busier with the added distractions of non-stop emails, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets and re-tweets, and catching up on the latest blogs on top of everything else. Nevertheless, I’ve found that I take solace in nature. One of my favorite things to do (now that I make sure I make time to do it) is go to the Metropark, the river, or the lake, and take pictures of various birds.



Inevitably, these feathered friends have found homes in my poems in the last few years. In fact, my most recent chapbook, Winged Graffiti (Finishing Line Press, 2011), is filled with flights of fancy – both literally and metaphorically. I have several bird-related poems in my new book (co-authored with Jayne Marek and Mary Sexson): Company of Women: New and Selected Poems (Chatter House Press, 2013). In addition, I just recently received word that my poems, “Bossy Blues,” and “Turkey Vultures of Thorntown,” will be included in the August bird-themed issue of Cyclamens and Swords. So, it may not come as a big surprise that I’m now working on a full-length manuscript that includes a lot of wings and beaks.

As might be expected then, this week’s prompt is encouraging you to explore your own attraction(s) in nature. You might be attracted to birds, as I am, or maybe you prefer flowers or trees. You may be attracted to mountains, lakes, oceans, or maybe it’s a summer thunderstorm, or a fresh snow in winter. With that idea in mind, here’s your fourth prompt:

“What is Your Nature?”

1) Think about your favorite attraction, and then write in detail everything you can about it – maybe a specific bird or flower – for 10 minutes or until you exhaust your subject.

You may end up with one page or more of information.

2) Mine your work for good imagery or an interesting turn of words or a phrase. Sometimes when we write fast (almost in auto-pilot) we unintentionally come up with some gems. That’s the fun of writing isn’t it!

3) Pull those images, words, and phrases out. Now shape them into your poem or essay. You also might be able to give your love in nature a place in a piece of flash fiction.

4) If you have a hard time narrowing your favorites in nature down to just one attraction, by all means write on each of them, but do so separately first so that you can pay attention to those important details.

Obviously the more you write about nature – the longer your poems or essays may be, and the more likely you will be able to see a series develop! Who doesn’t love that?

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!


Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to another Writing Prompt Pit Stop! This week’s writing prompt is going to encompass something that has been a common thread through a lot of my poems – Nostalgia.

Some don’t like the idea of nostalgia because it may mean that you’re living in the past (or it may conjure up memories that hurt or depress). As a poet, I don’t find visiting the past a bad thing; in fact, there’s a lot of information about ourselves that we can learn by going back into our past – either by memories, old photographs, yearbooks, etc. there are just so many triggers. Of course, one of my favorite ways of visiting the past is listening to music from my childhood: The Beatles, The Supremes, Sonny and Cher, The Monkees or from high school: Elton John, Carly Simon, Carole King,  Alice Cooper, Chi-Lites, etc. I could go through all the decades after that, but I think I’ll just leave it at that. In actuality, any “oldies” song puts me right back in the place I was when the song was popular – for better or for worse. When those feelings are evoked that’s a good time to get the daybook and jot those feelings/memories/images down.

In the last year (I was a latecomer, but now I’m caught up) I’ve become a devoted fan of the TV series Mad Men. It is such a well-written show, with such interesting characters, but another reason I’m attracted to the show is all of the props from the 1960s. During that decade I experienced kindergarten – junior high, so all of the clothes, the cars, the furniture, the events, all evoke memories. Some that I’d forgotten about – for example, the “pedal pushers” that Betty wears early in the series – reminded me of my aunt when she was that age, and brought back memories of specific incidents that I was then able to write about.

Earlier this month The New York Times ran an article “What is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows,” and it shares of how nostalgia can actually be good for you. It also says that instead of making you feel depressed, “reminiscing” can make people “feel better.” I believe that to be true, and my writing shows it. So, this week’s prompt should make you feel better in many ways. Give yourself permission to reminisce, and while you’re at it get a good poem, essay, of flash fiction from the exercise. Here’s your fourth prompt:

“Waxing Nostalgic”

Choose one of these “nostalgia” inducing ideas and freewrite for 10-20 minutes. After you have written as much as you can, start shaping your poem, essay, or flash fiction. If you need to add more, revisit a specific from the idea you chose, or play a different song from the same time period as you write more.

A) Take your daybook and a pen/pencil to an antique store and browse through items there. You’ll discover old magazines, old postcards, and items that you will be surprised to “re-discover.”

B) Think of the decade/era you want to write about, play some songs from that time period nonstop as you write.

C) Go through old photographs, until you find one that speaks to you and you have to write about it then and there.

D) If you’re of a certain age, watch Mad Men; or a movie or a TV show from when you were a child. Write in your daybook anything that inspires you – it may be the clothes, the hairstyles, the jewelry – even an actor/actress or character.

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!


Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to another Writing Prompt Pit Stop! It’s already Wednesday again…where does the time go?

As promised, here I am with another prompt to hopefully inspire some new writing whether it be a poem, a flash fiction, an essay, or even a 10-minute play.

If you love to write, then you no doubt (at least you should!) have favorite writers. I know I do. When it comes to poets, my favorite – and one that I read often is Frank O’Hara. When it comes to fiction, it’s Kurt Vonnegut – I’ve read every one of his novels, all collections of his short stories, and his essays. My bookshelves are full of books by these two, among many others – and no, I don’t shun women poets and writers; it’s just that I happen to like O’Hara’s playfulness, and Vonnegut’s satire. Now I feel guilty, so not to slight them, here are some of my favorite women writers (that also line my bookshelves): Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, Flannery O’Conner, Gwendolyn Brooks, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, among many, many others. I could write lists all day of all of the writers I admire, but then that wouldn’t get to the prompt, or get any of my own writing done. Maybe from time to time I’ll toss in a writer/poet you should know along with the new prompt.

Nevertheless, how do my favorites relate to a new writing prompt? Well, if you’re like me, those favorites are writers/poets that we emulate and know a lot about, so why not use that passion of their work (and of the knowledge we have of them) to enter into your own writing?

Some of the writers that I listed above are still alive, but what if you could have a conversation today with one of your favorites that’s no longer with us? I have been working on a series of poems on the premise of “Resurrecting Poets/Writers” in whatever recent year I choose. My poem, “Resurrecting Poets in 2010” was published in Tipton Poetry Journal, and is included in my chapbook, Winged Graffiti (Finishing Line Press, 2011). I will include a couple of stanzas here:

If he returned to 2010, / would Frank O’Hara write lunch poems / on a laptop in Starbucks / or text his next “I do this, I do that” poem / to Bill Berkson on a Blackberry?

Would Gertrude Stein post mug shots / of Alice B. on Facebook, / share photos of Picasso from her parlor, / and write thoughts of writing thoughts, / of thoughts writing thoughts….

You can see how I took some of my favorites and included them in my poem.

Another in the series, my poem, “Resurrecting Poets in 2012,” appears in Company of Women: New and Selected Poems (Chatter House Press, 2013), and includes Elizabeth Bishop, and Emily Dickinson, among others.

A good prompt idea would be to chat with some literary hero/heroine, bring them back to life so to speak. So here’s the third prompt:

“A Conversation with (Name Your Literary Hero/Heroine)”

Choose your setting – is it a coffee shop? a bar? a bus stop? your living room? The possibilities are endless.

Think of a question to start the conversation and then start writing the dialogue between you. Is there anyone else that appears?

Keep writing until your conversation is exhausted. Cut anything that you feel is useless or redundant; add anything that you feel the writing needs. Once you do that, revise it again!

Since dialogues can be used in poems, flash fiction, and essays – you could try your hand at one of those genres, but maybe you’ll end up with a 10-minute play that you didn’t even know you could write! No matter what, with your favorite writer being included in your work, and you guiding the conversation, your voice will definitely shine through.

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!


Writing Prompt Pit Stop

Welcome to another Writing Prompt Pit Stop! This week I’ve had a lot of different ideas that would make for good writing prompts (with so much news and events happening since I last posted). Even in the past few hours there’s been a lot happening all around the world. So if you aren’t already, be observant of your surroundings at all times and you can fill your daybook (journal) with tons of prompts.  Nevertheless, I know I enjoy stumbling upon prompts that I hadn’t thought of or that are written in a different way, and that is why I’m posting here for anyone that wants to follow along.

Last weekend Company of Women, the small poetry ensemble that I’m a part of, was invited to read from our new book, Company of Women: New & Selected Poems (Chatter House Press, 2013), at Women & Children First Bookstore, in Chicago, IL.


Obviously, anytime I get to read in Chicago is a coup! So what does this have to do with a writing prompt, you ask? Well, Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the U.S., and I’ve visited a lot of others over the years. What came to me while there was this line that I will use: Chicago – What a Love Affair.  There’s just something about that city that gives me a whole array of feelings, memories, hopes, and dreams.


You may have a similar place – it may be a city, like Chicago is for me, or it may be a quiet rural spot, a favorite park, river, or tree, someplace that boosts your spirits and sparks your creativity. With this in mind, here’s your second prompt:

“(Name Your Place) – What a Love Affair”

If you can, take yourself to your favorite place – physically or by looking at photos.

Freewrite any feelings, experiences, and dreams that come to mind.

Once you get enough written to work with (you could feasibly turn this into a poem, essay, or a piece of flash fiction) start playing with words associated with love (not necessarily using such an abstract word as love itself) and see if you can come up with a “love letter” to your favorite place.  All three genres of creative writing can be written in letter form…and writing letters is becoming a lost art! So be innovative – be funny, be serious, be you!

As with all writing, it should be fun! If you ever want to share any successes or attempts that you get from these prompts, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can contact me here.

Look for another prompt next Wednesday! Until then, keep writing!