Each week I will set a kickstarter theme or idea, something to get you writing, a prompt to use as you like. Keep writing.
Wk 212 Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about, said Alice Munro. Take an anecdote you heard and dig deep, invent and go slant.
Wk 211 In Bed – we do many things in bed, apart from sleeping. Read this poem by Carol Ann Duffy and write about activities in bed, working, arguing, making dens:
‘Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…’
The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance, his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love –
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.
Wk 210 Getting Going – In the middle of your page write a sentence: include a person, an object, an event eg Granddad, Martha’s bag, a picnic. Describe the object using three senses: sight, sound, smell, taste or feel. Write about the event and what happened. You can repeat this with new people and objects and build up different scenarios.
Wk 209 Names for Nature – “Robert Macfarlane has said: ‘[We are in] an age when a junior dictionary finds room for “broadband” but has no place for “bluebell’”. What will happen when children can no longer name Oak or Beech, Sparrow or Robin? Will they wish to protect an area of nameless land inhabited by nameless creatures? Find the folkloric name of the hill behind your house, or what plants grow in your garden, park or street between the pavement cracks. Try, as Mythologist Martin Shaw suggests, to develop a practice of giving twelve secret names to the plants, animals or ‘things’ they encounter in nature. Now write about them.” From The Dark Mountain Blog, The Ecology of Language by Abbie Simmonds 2015
Wk 208 – A cache of letters arrives – correspondence with a past lover? Written by a dead parent? Returned by an estranged friend? Write one of the letters or imagine why the box was sent to you and write the accompanying letter.
Wk 207 – Old notebooks (if you’re like me you’ll have lots, going back many years) Open one at random and read what you wrote – can you rewrite it, finish it, use it as part of something else?
Wk 206 – Charity Shops – have you ever wondered about that bride’s dress or those red high heels, or the china tea set? Who owned them, and how did they find their way to the charity shop? Write the story.
Wk 205 – Five Things I should have known before… ? See February’s poem of the month for inspiration.
Wk 204 – The Moon Landing, The Death of Princess Diana, 9/11 – people always know where they were and what they were doing when some major event shook the world. Write about an event you remember and where you were. Combine the two memories together.
Wk 203 – Food. A favourite recipe – who made it, where, with what ingredients. Recreate the making of it lovingly, with full detail. Read Elizabeth David for inspirational writing about food. Here she’s describing the market at Rouen: The fish is particularly beautiful in its pale, translucent northern way. Delicate rose pink langoustines lie next to miniature scallops in their red-brown shells; great fierce skate and sleek soles are flanked by striped iridescent mackerel, pearly little smelts, and baskets of very small, very black mussels.
Wk 202 – A stranger comes to town – a classic beginning for many stories, use it for your own version.
Wk 201 Dares – did you play Dares as a child? Did you as a teenager? Do you now? Write about a Dare.
Wk 200 Take a photo out of context (a Christmas card, out of a magazine or newspaper, or even an old family picture) and imagine what’s going on, get inside the head of one character, send it in a wild new direction.
Wk 199 Boxing Day – the next day, the morning after, the aftermath. Regrets or recompense? Let down or looking up? Write about a significant ‘morning after…’
Wk 198 Solstice – the shortest day, and longest night, the great stillness before the sun’s return – consider these words:
“When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.” Ursula K. Le Guin.
“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.”
The Creation of Éa.
You can’t have light without dark, sound without silence, perfection without flaw. What would a world without darkness be like? or never any quiet?
Wk 197 Wind – children go wild when it’s windy, car crashes and arguments happen when the Sirocco blows, hats blow away, important documents fly from hands, lorries get knocked off overpasses, ships get blown off course. Use wind as a driving narrative force.
Wk 196 My Life as a … finish this sentence
Week 195 Edgelands – Corners, alleys, motorway verges, the hidden and forgotten spaces, liminal geographies of border zones, non-places, transitional spaces, or ‘spaces in-between’ no-man’s land. Set a poem or story in such a place.
Wk 194 Skin – We currently have the Lindisfarne Gospel’s on display at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, so consider this poem by Andrew Waterhouse:
The Making of Vellum
Little brother, pray and strike one true blow
to the forehead. String up the body,
ignore that twitching, cut the throat here,
let the blood fill this bucket and the next
and the next; slit the skin from arse to mouth,
pull out the guts, for the cook or the dogs.
Work quickly, little brother, so the hide
is still warm, ease it off the muscle
for the parchment to take and soak
in alum and lime; to stretch and scrape
and smooth and whiten, to cut to size
for our illumination, little brother.
Now imagine the pages licking
your hand as they turn, every word
wanting milk or a mother’s touch.
Write what we do with it – tattoos, scars, fur, leather, parchment, make-up, plastic surgery, botox. There’s also skin on custard, orange, the earth.
Wk 193 in The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa wrote
“Modern things include
 the development of mirrors
…Were I asked to discuss the social causes responsible for my soul’s condition, I would speechlessly point to a mirror, a clothes hanger and a pen.”
Write about a mirror, a clothes hanger and a pen in relation to your soul. Or choose three small objects and write about how they contribute to ‘the social condition’.
Wk 192 November by Thomas Hood
No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
Write your own November poem each line beginning by repeating the same word of your choice.
Wk 191 Hallowe’en Number 3. It is the number of time – past, present, future; birth, life, death; beginning, middle, end – it was the number of the divine. Some consider it the number of harmony, wisdom and understanding. Many things in fiction are in threes: third time lucky, the three sisters, three witches, three attempts at your pin number and you’re locked out of your account. Write about the number three. Get writing!
wk 190 A public place at an unusual time of day – the football pitch off season, the library at 2am. Listen to Sarah Maguire’s poem The Florist at Midnight
Wk 189 The Hardest Thing
Wk 188 Bucket List – write your own, however outlandish, or create one for a character you’re developing. You could make it a list poem for the country – England’s Bucket List.
Wk 187 Dressing up/Dressing Down – Have you ever had a dressing down for the way you dressed up? When I was a child, we had a dressy-up box full of bits of leftover 2WW uniforms, tatty hats and old dresses. We dared each other to put on as many pieces as possible and walk round the block. Later I rescued the 1940s dresses and wore them myself. Rummage in your dressy-up box and pull out those memories.
Wk 186 A Spell – to make love blossom; for rainy weather; to be under a spell. Create a spell. Here’s an example of an acrostic riddle From The Lost Words by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris:
As flake is to blizzard, as
Curve is to sphere, as knot is to net, as
One is to many, as coin is to money, as
bird is to flock as
Rock is to mountain, as drop is to fountain, as
spring is to river, as glint is to glitter, as
Near is to far, as wind is to weather, as
feather is to flight, as light is to star, as
kindness is to good, so acorn is to wood.
Wk 185 Endings are beginnings. Today is Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. Consider T.S. Eliot’s words from East Coker in the Four Quartets below. What endings have been beginnings for you, in a poem or a character in a narrative?
In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Wk 184 Rhyming Story competition – Why not have a go? It opens on September 23rd. When the competition begins, writers are placed in groups where they will be judged against other writers within their same group. Each group will receive a unique genre, theme, and emotion assignment, and writers will have eight days to write an original 600-word story that rhymes. Winners go on to the next round. You don’t have to enter, but can simply try the challenge for fun.
Wk 183 Exploding the Nuclear Family – Mother Father and 2.4 children is regarded as a basic social unit, living in one home residence. Now we have blended families, single-parent families, extended relations and rainbow families. Write about the joys, conflicts and complexities of a family that doesn’t fit the Nuclear model.
Wk 182 What we put in our mouths. Things you shouldn’t/can’t/must – the worst, the best, the disastrous, the unexpected.
Wk 181 Colours – of your life: school uniform, favourite fruit, the football team you support, the front door of your childhood home, painting your bedroom, etc. The possibilities are endless. You could choose one colour and focus on it, or create a riotously colourful memoir, or write about a person with colour as a key to their character.
Wk 180 Knowing your place. This is an extract from Linda France’s poem from her collection The Knucklebone Floor, Smokestack Books.
A hundred ways to know our place
‘Our knowledge is not like the learning of men, to be reproduced in some literary composition nor ever in any learned profession, but is to come out in conduct.’
- We are given the names of flowers, delicate, aromatic – Violet, Lily, Rose.
- Our family names honour sons, their land and professions. No names for our labour, no territory to call our own.
- Birches and backboards break us in.
- We seek to improve ourselves.
- We sit by a window, drawing down what light we can.
- We are laced tight.
- There is a blackbird, there is a robin, hearts full of singing.
- We tend forests, glades – ferns and aspisdistras in pots, ranged round our rooms on pedestals – trophies, talking points.
- We need to be small – small as daisies, small as kittens, small as little girls.
- Come, let’s play hide and seek, solitaire, charades.
- According to Clippity-Clop-Schopenhauer, we are childish, frivolous, short-sighted, by our very nature meant to obey.
- We stand on the brink of light, brink of dark, dizzy with atmospheres colliding.
- Taught to be good, we wake up with someone else’s voice in our ears.
- We are brittle with longing and fury.
- We want to dance in the garden with badly-chosen strangers.
It simmers with conflict and anger. Make your own list: 10 ways to know our place.
Wk 179. A brush with the law/love/death/danger – write about a near miss, something that nearly happened, an anti-climax. Is it funny, tragic or a disappointment?
Wk 178 Autobiography – Write a sentence for each year of your life. See Grace Paley’s short story ‘Wants’ and how she telescopes her life into a sentences.
Wk 177 Rituals – what are your daily rituals? I always like my particular coffee made in a certain way. Write about one of yours, or reveal a character’s through one of their habitual routines. Make the description rich in detail of time, place, objects and actions and the mood surrounding it.
Wk 176 Write Backwards – try writing about an event beginning at the end and finishing at the beginning either in a poem or short story.
Wk 175 – Take a Greek hero or Goddess – put them into the 21st century – Hercules is working in a garage, Aphrodite is a waitress, create the Medusa’s To Do list ( she might be an MP?)Exploit the mismatch between their skills and ambitions and the circumstances they find themselves in.
Wk 174 Dream logic – you’re at a wedding but the bride, groom and guests are all children, you catch a bus and it’s full of chickens, you are on stage performing but it’s the wrong play. Can you recreate the strangeness and unease in a story or poem? Or use it as a metaphor in a novel?
Wk 173 Where there’s a will – how money affects relationships, drives plot, causes bad behaviour. From sharing a bill after a meal with friends to siblings selling a jointly-owned property – everyone has some experience of tricky dealings over cash. Write about yours.
Wk 172 Write a wikipedia page – about yourself or someone you think deserves an entry, or create a completely fictional entry – e.g. a newly discovered animal, or a niche magazine from the 19th century devoted to toes.
Wk 171 The Family Photo – imagine or remember one. Describe what you can see and also what you can’t, including the thoughts of each person in the scene.
Wk 170 Blushing – Did you blush when a teenage crush noticed you? do you blush now at an embarrassing memory when it pops into your head? Blushing is the body given you away, revealing an unspoken emotion. Write down three moments when you remember blushing in your life, describe one and try to explore the feeling it gave you, then fictionalise it.
Wk 169 Have fun with Lists – use it as a form for a poem – Kim Moore’s All the Men I never Married. Or create a shopping list for a character. A To Do list for a mythical person. Can you list all the children in your class at school – where are they now?
Wk 168 Creating Stories – put a person and an object together: Joe’s Hat, Mother’s Handbag, My cousin’s dog. Tell the story or write a poem. Try giving depth to a scene or a character with this sort of detail.
Wk 167 Imagine a world with no gravity, or where we are born old and grow younger. Or you keep being reborn as in Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson, currently serialised on BBC or not dying, as in Russian Doll on Netflix. Mess about with the natural laws.
Wk 166 Mass Observation Day is 12th May. The Mass Observation Archive specialises in material about everyday life in Britain.The archive places a value on subjective experience, and descriptively rich material which can offer insights into everyday life. Try recording your life for a day, including all the ordinary little tasks that make up a day, as well as describing the world around you and your thoughts on it.
Wk 165 Passion – the word comes from the latin for suffering. Do we love that which causes us pain or does the act of loving open us to the pain of loss? Write about something you feel passionate about, painfully or lovingly, or some other way.
Wk 164 Chronos – Time – is relative, Einstein said “When sitting by your lover an hour passes in a minute, sitting on a boiling radiator a minute passes in an hour” – or something to that effect. The rate it passes depends on your frame of reference. It’s also linked to precognition, synchronicity and clairvoyance. Explore the elasticity and simultaneity of time in a short story or scene.
Wk 163 Language – Dylan Thomas wrote in his Prologue these lines “In my seashaken house/on a breakneck of rocks.” He yokes words together. Try putting verbs and nouns together to make new words. Be inspired to wrangle with language.
Wk 162 Creating Scenes No 3 – write a scene between two people using no dialogue, but show what is going on between them. It could be a dramatic fight, but alternatively, it could be a subtle exchange of glances and gestures to convey the narrative. Think about where they are, and what’s going on around them.
Wk 161 Food – Josep Pla said ‘Cooking is the landscape in a saucepan.’ Claudia Roden wrote ‘It might be cold and raining outside but in my kitchen…The smell of garlic sizzling with crushed coriander takes me back to the Egypt of my childhood.’ Recreate memories of people and places by writing sensuously about preparing, cooking or eating a meal.
Wk 160 Creating Scenes No 2 – Remember some dialogue you overheard or eavesdrop on the bus or in a cafe – create a scene, using the dialogue as stimulus, imagine a central character, decide what their agenda is, decide where the scene is taking place, who else is there, what action will there be? What happens at the end of the scene?
Wk 159 The uses of Metaphor – Try describing a character’s features using metaphor – her eyes were lost dogs, his nose was a spoon stuck in porridge. Use it to explore deeper elements of the character than simply physical.
Wk 158 Creating Scenes – 5 people (children/teenagers or a bunch of trekking pensioners perhaps?) find a lost rucksack: inside is either a posh laptop/ a gun/ a baby or all of these – what do they do?
Wk 158 Draw a map of your childhood home (or a fictional character’s) allot each room an emotion, a second character and an event – write truthfully or mix it with fiction.
Wk 157 Form in poetry – Paul Muldoon said form is a straitjacket as straitjacket was for Houdini. Read his sonnet Quoof, and see how far he’s pushed the form. Write your own sonnet about a family word, and be bold with the form.
How often have I carried our family word
for the hot water bottle
to a strange bed,
as my father would juggle a red-hot half-brick
in an old sock
to his childhood settle.
I have taken it into so many lovely heads
or laid it between us like a sword.
An hotel room in New York City
with a girl who spoke hardly any English,
my hand on her breast
like the smouldering one-off spoor of the yeti
or some other shy beast
that has yet to enter the language.
Wk 156 Fly on the wall – Take a photograph from a magazine. You know nothing about the people in the photograph but what you see. Write in the THIRD-PERSON, present tense and describe what you see. Be detailed. No telling—all showing. No dialogue. Now imagine there is some dialogue which you can hear and rewrite the piece.
Wk 155 Short story/Flash Fiction – choose a postcard: an image of a place, object or a person. This will be your beginning image and also the end image of your story, but something will have changed between the beginning and the end. You could try this for flash fiction, a poem or novel. Fish Publishing are running a Flash Fiction competition, closes 28th Feb 2022.
Wk 154 Soundscape Story board – Put your character in a place, use sounds to create the setting. Types of sound to use: Man made, natural, musical, voice, talking, silence. Consider theses elements if it’s a radio poem soundscape or play: Narrator voice; Other Voices; One-off sounds; Continuous sounds; Music; Texture, mood or ambience.
Wk 153. Bring to the surface something that was hidden.
Wk 152 Age. It focuses the mind. Try writing 10 lines, or a page, for every year of your life. What do you remember? Or choose one event for each year, highlight one concrete detail and your emotional state, see what comes up. It could be the start of a memoir or a series of poems.
Wk 151 Writing practice – writing doesn’t have to be about starting on a novel. Just enjoy stretching your mind and your creative muscles, so make a list of 5 words and do 5 minutes of writing for each word. Or simply free write for 10 minutes, no thinking, editing or stopping, just let the pen roam across the page. Or begin with ‘I remember’, no stopping, if you get stuck repeat I remember. There’s no right or wrong, you’re not aiming for great literature, you are simply digging in and pulling out little nuggets that might be useful for another piece of writing.
Wk 150 Writing retreats – there are plenty of places that offer tutored writing courses or untutored retreats, in the UK and abroad. Or rent a caravan for a week and shut yourself away. Or pick a cafe at a quiet hour, or the local library – use that as your place to write, and go every day. The idea is to escape distractions from the domestic routines, time to focus on your thoughts and write.
Wk 149 Jan 2022 – Buy a notebook and enjoy being creative this year. You could set some writing goals as well: from as little as 10 minutes a day to an aim of 1000 words a week, but by the end of the year, see what you’ve achieved. Using a notebook rather than loose sheets of paper means you can look back and see the progress/process of your creativity.
Wk. 148 New Year/Old Year: January. In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus was the god of gates and doors, he held the key to the metaphorical doors or gateways between what was and what is to come—the liminal space of transitioning out of one period of time and into something new. Write about a doorway through which everything changes. Or getting lost in the liminal space.
Wk. 147 Christmas- Write a story set on Christmas Day. Rewrite the traditional historical story or use a modern day setting to take the narrative in a strange new direction. Or try a poem, like the late UA Fanthorpe who always wrote a Christmas poem every year.
Wk 146. Voice: Explore a character, make list of their background and nature – how old are they, what class, race, gender, sexuality, write down three main characteristics and a flaw.
Also write down: what they want – external, what they need – internal, what haunts them.
Now Imagine how they might speak: with an accent or a dialect or slang, fluently or stutter; with a wide vocabulary or are they monosyllabic. Also consider how they don’t say things, their body language when they avoid speaking. Can you create their voice. Give them a monologue, in which they tell a story about their life.
Wk 145. Sounds of our lives: The sound of my morning. The sound of work. The Sound of my youth. The sound of getting old. The sound of my fears. The sound of joy. The sound of next year? choose one or more sounds for any of these and develop into an onomatopoeic piece.
Wk 144. Feminist Psychogeography: a workshop inspired by Lesley Wood, with thanks to an inspiring artist/writer, a former contributor to Poem of the Month:
Write your name, place of birth, your mother’s name, place of birth and your grandmother’s name, place of birth. Where are you now? Write a sentence about each place and each person. Draw a rough map and draw lines between the places.
Name one or more rivers crossed or anything else: seas, mountains, roads, invisible lines: emotional or psychological. Give these lines, seas, routes new names relevant to your experience and feelings.
Wk 143. Pareidolia: a natural tendency of the human brain to perceive faces where there are none such as in tree stumps, post boxes, front doors, light switches – Have you ever done this? Imagine it begins to talk – what does it say about its life? Perhaps it haunts you.
Wk 142. Take the starting line of a poem, then carry on, taking it in a completely different direction. Finally, take out the opening line. A simple exercise when you’ve run out of ideas.
Wk 141. Who do you write like? You can put a paragraph of your prose into an I Write Like website and it will come up with a famous author. I got James Joyce, so that shows you how realistic it is. But a fun exercise. It can be a useful to read an author you like and consciously try to copy their style, in an effort to understand how their prose achieves the effects you admire. I don’t suggest you do it all the time, but analysing novels you rate is one way to understand the creative process.
Wk 140. Monday 1st November. This is the start of NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month, who in their words: ‘provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds.’ Basically, they encourage people to write a novel of 50,000 words in a month. You can sign up and get encouragement to set targets and keep writing. It’s a great way of kickstarting a new project. It’s free. What have you got to lose?
Wk 139. Hallowe’en doppelgänger – W.G Sebald wrote ‘The use of twins or triplets who are virtually indistinguishable from each other can lend a spooky, uncanny edge.’ It’s also common in fairy stories or folk tales. Imagine a character meeting their doppelgänger. Use it to add weirdness and danger to a story.
Wk 138. Adverbs! One of the commonest pitfalls of new writers is the use of adverbs: Harry danced joyously, Silvie crept silently. It’s a bit lazy and doesn’t give a picture. Instead describe Harry dancing in a quick sentence, or show where Silvie was creeping; let the reader see and work out why there was need for silence or joy. It’s easy to slip into using an adverb, simply go back and think of two examples of actions to replace it.
Wk 137. Start with the end. Having trouble writing your novel? Not sure if the plot is right? Imagine how you want your story to end. Write the end scene/chapter. Now go back and work out how you got there.
Wk 136. Take a famous person from history or current, and write from the point of view of a minor character who knew/knows them – maid, chauffeur, bodyguard, hairdresser.
Wk 135. Writing from images. Choose a picture that you like, write one emotion for how you feel when you look at it. Now list everything in the picture: colours, action, shapes, people and objects. Now put your word in front of each item on the list to make titles, eg Confused blue, confused dog, confused lamppost etc. Choose one and expand it into a story or poem, with reference to the chosen picture. Or use them all in one poem.
Wk 134. Subtext – experiment, try writing a scene with dialogue and action where neither character says or does what they mean, but the reader gets a sense of what’s going on underneath the surface.
Week 134 Choose 5 objects and use each one to tell a story about the same person, or one object to tell a story about 5 different people. A notebook, a car, a pair of shoes, an old battered suitcase – could they be a key to unlocking character?
Wk 133. Nature Table Show and Tell – did your primary school classroom have a nature table to display found items from nature: leaves, conkers, shells? Use a nature table to explore climate change: what’s missing, or what’s there in place of natural items? Colette Bryce wrote a wonderful poem Nature Walk which could provide inspiration too.
Wk 132. At the coast this Bank Holiday weekend, I found a pair of glasses left on the beach. I imagined putting them on and seeing through the original owner’s eyes. You could try the idea with shoes, or a coat. How does the owner inhabit the items and what happens to you when you put them on. Could be a classic horror story or a comedy.
Wk 131 – Anger. We have recognisable tropes: Angry young man, angry gods, road rage, angry emoji. We now recognise it as an issue with anger management. Do you revel in conflict or suppress it? is it useful? What makes you angry? Make a list, choose one and let rip.
Wk. 130 – Here is the news. Write about your life or your street in news bulletins, or like a reporter watching events unfold. Refer to the neighbours like a newspaper would: 34 yr old mother of three Julie said… Have fun or make it deadly serious.
Wk 129. Holidays! Heaven or Hell. When is a holiday not a holiday?
Wk 128. Activities – People wear fit bits and obsessively count steps. We’re told to be active to be healthy. Keep a diary of every activity you do in one day. Imagine a society that keeps a check on your physical movements and punishes those who don’t conform to the rules- what are the rules? What are the activities? The punishments?
Wk 127. Infestation – we all know about mice, rats, cloths moths, or animal fleas. What about stranger infestations – internal or sensed but unseen around you?
Wk 126.The Act of Witness. I wrote a long radio poem, Witnessing Westgate Hill. I spent months wandering with a recorder, capturing sounds, voices, music of my home environment. You can listen on my Soundscape page. What does witnessing mean to you? Speaking up, under oath. Trying to recall what you saw accurately? Witnessing two people get married. Signing your name to a document? Many stories circle round ambiguous witnessing – what did they really see? What have you witnessed?
Week 125. The Intercity 125 – what memories do train names conjure for you? Write about a train journey, long or short, in a foreign country or your trip to school. What was the train, who were the travellers, the ticket inspectors, the guards, where were you going and why, what did you see out of the window, what changed along the way?
Week 124. The End. Fire and Ice – Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Frost’s Fire and Ice is a work of eschatology—the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. How do you imagine it?
Week 123. Lying. Write about a liar, in the voice of the liar who boasts about lying – what is true and what is lie? Or write about a lie you told that grew out of hand and had unforeseen consequences.
Week 122. Martin Luther King said ‘A Riot is the language of the unheard’. It’s hard to write something that is both angry yet persuades the reader to lisen, and needs a certain amount of detachment to avoid a hectoring tone. Writing slant, making the reader see the painful truth by making it strange, is one way to do it. Try writing on from these examples: What they did to the knives and forks. What they did to the gloves. What they did to the music. Keep it ambiguous and mysterious. Use your own ideas.
Week 121. Defamiliarisation: In 60 poems, The Poem and the Journey, Ruth Padel talks about Making Strange. She writes: As a boy, Heaney used to hide in a hollow tree where he felt ‘at the heart of a different life’, and looked at the ‘familiar yard’ with different eyes, ‘as if it were suddenly behind a pane of strangeness’. Creativity, he says, combines ‘the security of what is known’ with ‘the challenges and entrancements of what is beyond’. Try looking at a familiar person, place or object as if you’ve never seen it before and know nothing about the person or the place and describe it anew.
Week 120. Place names are great for creating characters: Here in Newcastle there’s Pink Lane, or Red Hut, or further afield, Pity Me and Kirk Deighton. What sort of people would they be? Use a local ordnance survey map and have fun.
Week 119. Take a song/poem, substitute all the nouns and adjectives with ones about clothes/food/a season/medical condition – see what happens. Have fun, and allow something transformational and original to occur.
Week 118. If you don’t feel inspired when you sit down to write, try simply describing your morning till the point you sat down. Or set a timer for 5 minutes and begin I remember. Or give yourself a word or phrase: His hair and write in detail about it. This is a great way to warm up and often the ideas start flowing. Also, if you’re stuck at a point in your novel, don’t try and force it on. Jump three months, days, years ahead, or to another place with your character, write a different scene. The American author Brit Bennet talks about this in an article in The Guardian, when she found writing the storyline too upsetting.
Week 117. Make a playlist of your life – it could follow songs popular at different eras. Write the titles, use them to tell the story of you. Alternatively create a playlist for a fictional character you’re writing about, use it to explore their behaviour, likes and dislikes. Have fun with serious intent.
Week 116. Ferries: Crossing water is mysterious, and romantic and carries a little bit of danger, a journey to the unknown. In Greek mythology Charon the boatman transported souls across the River Styx to the Underworld. Imagine a ferry crossing you made. What time of year, where did you start from, what water did you cross. What did it cost. Why were you crossing. What or who was on the other side?
Week 115. Choose a season as your Utopia.
Week 114. Imagine a telephone conversation – you/the other person, a character, has rung to confess something. Just dialogue, no ‘he said’, or ‘in a menacing manner’. Anything you want to convey about your character must be indicated in what they say and how they say it. Read Tiffany Atkinson’s poem Sonnet to Hand-Rolled Golden Virginia as an example of a one-sided conversation.
Week 113. Describe a landscape as if it were a person, or a mood or a story.
Week 112. Easter Monday – chocolate bunnies or religious observance? A friend of mine was given an Easter chocolate bar called Sweet Jesus. In my house we always dyed eggs then rolled them down a hill, the last intact egg was the winner. What strange family rituals did you have in your house at any time of the year?
Week 111. Consider the place you’re in. Bedroom, office, kitchen, backyard etc. Think of a completely different space: a car wash, a library, a Greek Island. Now write eg My bedroom is not a library because – write 5 comparisons. Or do the opposite, my kitchen is a car wash because…
Week 110. Imagine a wood you know, write down an exhaustive list of words you associate with that wood. Now write about it without using any of those words, find new ones, new ways.
Week 109. Write instructions for doing something you have no idea about. See Julia Darling’s exercise: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jan/05/poetry1
Week 108. 8th March 2021 International Women’s Day – women and their achievements have been written out of history. Who would you want to remember and celebrate? Boudicca or a Great Aunt? Choose a woman from any time in history, research her life and write about her – a poem, give her a voice, write her story, make her live again.
Week 107. Politics and sport – it’s hard to write an angry or polemical poem, but come at it slant. Write about a political event as if it was a game, or vice versa, describe a game as if it was a political event. Or try writing straight about a war or violent event, the storming of the Capitol for example, then a sporting game then mix up the lines. See what effect it has.
Week 106.Write a poem with a repeat line – you can use a form like Triolet or Villanelle – see definitions https://poets.org/glossary/villanelle or create your own. If you’re fed up with being stuck indoors, and the limitations of lockdown, it’s a great way to use the form, a type of constraint of its own, to mirror the feeling of restriction and a life of repetition with no escape.
Week 105. Monday 15th February. What if a Valentine card was sent to the wrong person or someone received a mysterious Valentine message. Where does it lead?
week 104. A diary is a great way to give yourself a structure for a story or novel (or possibly a long poem?) There’s The Diary of a Nobody, a Wimpy Kid, A Young Naturalist. Already the reader knows something about the protagonist from the title and what to expect in structural terms. You could write a diary for a relative who’s life you could imagine, or a completely fabricated character. Diary of a scornful woman? Diary of Donald Trump? Or your memoir?
Week 103. If your family were a cast of characters, who would have what role, what would the arguments and conflict be about? Who is the protagonist, the peacemaker, the antagonist? Is it a sitcom, or a soap or an epic poem?
Week 102. Struggling with a story or poem? Try choosing a different time frame – how would it be different if you set it in the Middle Ages, or the swinging 60s? Clothes, landscape, language, behaviour all change, perhaps bring new life to the scene?
Week 101. Room 101 is a place introduced in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It is a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love in which the Party attempts to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia. Conjure up your own/ a character’s worst nightmare, exaggerate it and put them together in a room, and ramp up the tension to 11.
Week 100 – One hundred is a Century: in cricket it’s a score, in early Roman times, it was a group of soldiers, it’s a ripe old age or a long bucket list. What does a century or the number one hundred conjure up for you?
Week 99. New Year: new resolutions and promises. Create a character whose promises and commitments were broken, or kept? Dry January; write that letter; kill someone?
Week 98 The Box – When I was a girl we had an Ottoman box that held dressing up clothes that we could hide in. Write about a box – is it the wrong box, the unopened, the tiny, the huge, the box hedge? Are you in it or looking at it? Who did it belong to? Open the box and see where it leads!
Week 97. 21st December 2020 Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, celebrates the death and rebirth of the sun. The winter solstice is considered a turning point in the year in many cultures. Tonight, it also witnesses the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, visible in the sky just after sunset, so close they appear to be one bright star, having a ‘Christmas Kiss’. Create a ritual of light overcoming dark, write about renewal, or simply a Christmas Kiss. Festive greetings to everyone.
Week 96 Party – write a short story or poem entirely set in a party. Why is the party happening, Who’s there, what are they wearing, what music is playing. When is the party going to end? Or is it another sort of party – a political one? Or a party wall?
week 95. Masks – Societies wear mask for all sorts of reasons: a job of surgeon, or welding iron ships, or for shamanic rituals to become another being or animal, to hide their identity. We’re all wearing them now. Write a poem or story about a mask.
Week 94. 30th Nov. Gaslighting, Zooming, Trolling, Lockdown – new words enter our culture all the time. Can you make up a new one and describe its meaning and use it in a sentence, like an entry in a dictionary.
Week 93. Sentence length. Writing can easily fall into repetitive traps. Varying sentence length adds interest and indicates mood and movement. Cormac McCarthy is one of my favourite prose stylists. Here’s an extract from the opening of All The Pretty Horses:
As he turned to go he heard the train. He stopped and waited for it. He could feel it under his feet. It came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distances and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fence line down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boiler smoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing ground-shudder watching it till it was gone. Then he turned and went back to the house.
McCarthy uses short sentences to build tension as the train arrives, then one long sentence follows the passing of the train, taking a long time, echoing its journey, using ‘and’ to join the sentence up. Try varying sentence length in your writing and see how it affects the text. Notice how he uses verbs as well, to create drama and movement.
Week 92. Dialogue. Linguist Deborah Tannen wrote, in ‘You Just Don’t Understand’, that women and men talk in different ways. Women strive to make connections along a network, and negotiate for closeness, to make decisions by consensus. Whereas men engage the world as a ladder, men talk to negotiate who’s where on the ladder, they want to get higher, life is a contest to preserve independence and avoid failure. Can you apply these ideas to your characters and their dialogue? Imagine different scenarios, a couple having on a hiking trip, or going shopping, or arranging working from home. The woman uses language to reach out, the man language to win.
Week 91. Rhyme – curse or pleasure? I recently gave my grandson a Dr Seuss book Fox in Socks, which takes rhymes to an extreme and there’s a lot of fun and pleasure to be had with that. But in using rhyme we have to be inventive and surprising if we want to write a serious, thoughtful poem or even a funny one. Try half rhyme, for example bottle/battle halt/bait or ‘museum/to see ’em’ (from Joanie Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi) or internal rhyme, where the rhyming words sit in the middle of the line, not the end, or use enjambement, so the sense of the line moves forward to the next line, and thus doesn’t end on the rhyme itself, which gives a word emphasis. Read Quoof by Paul Muldoon for an excellent example.
Week 90. Weather – can provide setting and metaphor. Look at a piece of your writing, consider the theme or mood and add lines about the weather, time of day and year that might add or contrast dramatically.
Week 89. Characters who break rules: If Eve hadn’t ignored God’s injunction about the apple, there’d be no humanity, the Bible implies. If the Peasants hadn’t revolted, if Anne Boleyn hadn’t insisted on marrying Henry VIII etc. etc. History and stories are driven forward by rule breakers (which often leads to new rules, that may, in turn, be challenged and broken). Good behaviour and timidity about rules can lead to stagnation and makes for boring characters and undramatic stories. But without rules, there’d be nothing to break, to rebel against whether it’s: Time for Bed, No more cake or no, you can’t go to the all-night Rave.
Characters who are well intentioned can get into difficulties when faced with moral dilemmas: either follow an unfair rule or break it for good reasons.
Characters are tested, experience conflict, have to make difficult decisions, and the reader can sympathise, e.g.
a starving boy steals food
a young woman falls in love with a forbidden person.
a man’s faith and belief contradicts the church and/or state
Week 88. My favourite place
Week 87. David Almond says we are natural storytellers. We’ve been doing it since we lived in caves. We shape our memories into coherent narratives. We gossip and tell jokes and dream. We live in a world of stories brought to us in books, plays and film.
But when we try to write, so much gets in the way: doubts about our own creativity; abstract notions about what constitutes good writing…He says ‘..clear away such doubts and anxieties, ..plunge into the messy, playful, difficult, joyous, imperfect process of discovering stories that have their own energy and form. …explore the power of memory, the magic of ordinary objects, the relationships between words and visions…. nourish confidence in your ability to discover your own stories and to write them in your own voice.
Here are some opening lines: It’s all over, I’m not going/ When the Dead Man got Rachel, I was sitting in the back of a wrecked Mercedes wondering if the rain was going to stop./ There’s this totally false map of the human tongue/ You’re only young twice.. Write on from the first line or tell your own handed down family story, feel free to fictionalise.
Week 86. What haunts you? A memory, a deed, a place, a person, a snippet of music… write about any or all mixed together.
Week 85. Personifying objects – Think of an object. Imagine it having a voice. Now answer these questions as the object, in first person ‘I’
1. When were you born 2. How were you made 3. Who are your family 4. How do you move 5. What sounds do you make 6. What do you know 7. What makes you afraid 8. Who do you love 9. Where do you live 10. What can you see 11. What do you hear last thing at night/first thing in the morning 12. What do you do all day 13. Why are you important 14. What do you hope for 15. Where will you be in ten years time
Week 84. Learning to…
Week 83. Smell and taste are notoriously hard to describe – try creating exotic similes:
Describe a Taste as: a colour/ kitchen implement/ clothing/object in space/weather
A Smell as music/ a vehicle/ time of day/ physical activity/a sin
A Texture as an emotion/ a season/ a sound/ fruit/ a favourite word
A Sound as a wish/ jewellery/ a historical event/ a domestic chore/ a game
A Sight as a landscape/ animal’s home/ a journey/ a crime/ something cold
Week 82. Create a nonsense language or an imaginary one for an alternative world, like Elvish in Lord of the Rings. The following are all real words, old dictionaries are full of words you’ve never heard of, you can make them mean what you like: agamoid, baragouin, chevalet, ellops, dop, feckly, gavage, hospodar, iracund, lanterlu, metic, nashgab. Write spell poems. Have fun.
Week 81. These are three strange and mysterious titles of Grimm fairy/folk tales: The Seven Ravens; The Singing Bone; The Girl Without Hands. Use one, or find another title, to write your own story, not necessarily a fairy tale.
Week 80. Describe a room from your childhood in great detail. What other memories does it bring?
Week 79. Two people on a long drive/stuck in a lift/lost in a wood – explore their relationship the situation reveals, like bringing to light suppressed elements, or exacerbating argumentative habits.
Week 78. Sylvia Plath’s poem Mirror begins: I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. Whatever I see I swallow immediately…. Write as a mirror.
Week 77. Create Metaphors. Make two lists: one with 5 or more abstract nouns: e.g. Love, War, Anger. The other make a list of the same number of objects, any you like e.g. House, Mirror etc. Choose a word each from the two lists and find imaginative ways of yoking the two together ie one card might be ‘The North’ or ‘Love’ the other card might be ‘A sewing needle’ – write a sentence, The North or Love is a sewing needle because .. and use the concrete qualities of the object to explore the abstract concept in a new way.
You could think of objects that have particular meaning to your own interests and themes.
Week 76. What would you call this chapter if your entire life was a book? Thanks to Ardea Creatives for this prompt.
Week 75. Write about silence.
Week 74. Write about your favourite vegetable as if introducing it to someone who has never come across it before.
Week 73. 6/7/2020 What is your consuming passion, favourite hobby, loved place ? Create a god or goddess of it.
Week 72. Describe a place you know well without the use of sight.
Week 71. 22/6/20 Open your bag, empty your pockets, list the things on the desk or table you’re sitting at.. Imagine you’ve acquired them like detective, they’re clues to a character or scenario. Develop the character and the scenario into a narrative poem, short story or flash fiction.
Week 70. Interesting to consider Poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s comment in the light of Lockdown:
“It was not whether you were rich or poor, but if you had a big life, that was what mattered. A big life could be either a wide one or a deep one. It held countless possible corners and conversations. A big life did not stop at the alley or even the next street. It came from somewhere else and was going somewhere, but the word ‘better’ had no relation really. A big life was interested and wore questions easily. A big life never thought for one second it was the only life.”
A Big Life, A Small Life or Not the only life – try using any of these as a title for some writing
Week 69. What does a Star Sweeper do or The Lace Eater? Create a fictional category of employment: Toe Tester, Thought Examiner. Describe the post holder and a day at work.
Week 68. Pillow talk – two people talking intimately, or what your pillow might say if it could talk?
Week 67. Choose a physical activity: gardening, swimming, dancing, riding a bike. Make a list of words, the vocabulary associated with it, think about sounds, actions, sensations – write a poem or piece of prose built around the vocabulary. Be imaginative: her shoes were seedling potatoes, his hair pirouetted his head.
Week 66. Reincarnation – what would you come back as, or maybe you were once someone/something else?
Week 65. 11/5/20 We are all rediscovering ourselves and looking anew/more closely at our surroundings in this enforced lockdown. Consider what you’ve noticed since lockdown.
Describe part of your day, or something you’ve noticed/rediscovered outside/inside in close detail. Look at The Observer photographers in lockdown article ‘Through my Lockdown Lens’ for inspiring thoughts and images.
Week 64. The Secret Life of…. Trees, Cats, Boris – you decide
Week 63 April 27th. Weltschmerz – world sorrow, melancholy and world-weariness, Angst – deep anxiety or dread, Heimweh – literally home woe, a nostalgia for the past, or Wanderlust – all great words imported from German that might be describe your current mood. Can you use one to write about your inner state? Or create your own compound noun…
Week 62. Choose a postcard, painting or photograph, imagine you are in the picture, use the senses,
Answer questions in full sentences
1. what time of day is it,
2. where are you,
3. mention a smell
4. describe a colour
5. create a simile,
6. what can you hear,
7. tell us something you can’t see in the picture
8. write a line about someone else
9. what are you thinking and feeling –
10. Choose one line or a few words to repeat
Is this the beginning of a poem, or a story?
Week 61. Imagine animals could talk: What would your pet say? The birds outside your window? Or perhaps you have a dæmon? What would it be?
Week 60. 6/1/2020 Given that we’re all under some sort of constraint, I thought we might explore a form of word constraint Oulipo – OuLiPo is an acronym for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature). For example The “N+7” method: Replace every noun in a text with the noun seven entries after it in a dictionary. … Or try Snowball: a poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer. Or a Lipogram: Writing that excludes one or more letters. You can make up your own constraints and create some weird and exciting text
Week 59. 30/3/2020 What I did yesterday: be thorough and detailed.
Week 58. Monday 23rd March 2020 The world in lockdown: Now’s the time to pull out an old abandoned poem or piece of writing, chop up the lines, re-create it, make it crazy or surreal. Either cut it up line by line and rearrange in a new order, or try cutting the paper vertically, then shifting the left side down and see what interesting lines two new halves make. You can try these exercises with other poems too, but if you want to use the result, do acknowledge the original source! Keep positive.
Week 57. Given that there’s all sorts of scare stories and fake news whizzing about due to the C virus, they’ll soon become Urban Legends – cautionary tales told by those who believe (or claim) the incidents happened to people they know personally or acquaintances of friends or family members. They reflect current societal concerns and fears: make one up about the pandemic, or rising sea water, white slavers, whatever current concerns you fancy, but set it locally, give it real details.
Week 56. A tiny white haired woman came up to me in the library and gave me a small card on which was written: ‘You are not a human being having a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being having a human experience.’ Are you an Angel she asked? Was she?
Week 55. An Ekphrastic poem is a response to another work of art – think Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. This is what I’ve been doing with Janet Lynch’s paintings, the result is a small exhibition at City Library Newcastle, opening on Saturday 7th March 2020. Try it yourself – Think of a work that moves you and write in response.
Week 54. Cast off – knitting, sailing, clothes or a spurned lover?
Week 53. We’ve been battered by Storm Ciara and now Storm Dennis. It could be Storm Ellen next, as it goes alphabetically. I used to have terrible tantrums as a girl. Add your or someone you know or a character’s name to Storm… what sort of storm would you be? Have you ever stormed? have a flight of fancy.
Ta-Da! Week 52. I’ve been writing these weekly kick-starters for a whole year now. So – choose a year, choose an event, begin That was the year I… or look forward This will be the year I…
Week 51. The Sound of… Home, of My Life, the street, Change … describe a place, an event, a mood, in all the different sounds: natural, man-made, music, speech and voice. Think radio, like writing in sound, listen to Witnessing Westgate Hill on my Soundscapes page.
Week 50. Create a celebratory ritual, for an event that doesn’t have one, or you’d like to make your own alternative: for divorce, a not-marriage, for the first period, for the last period! What words, actions, ritual foods and drink would you use, and who gets invited?
Week 49. What happens in the Cosmic Ballroom? Do you move to the music of the spheres? Do you dance with angels or with dust? When do they call Time?
Week 48. Secrets and Truths: what secrets are you/a character/a place keeping? What does it do to someone, to harbour secrets? What happens when we finally tell the truth? Is it met with disbelief or like a bombshell?
Week 47. Go out and visit a place you don’t usually, on your own: – it could be indoors or outdoors. How do you feel, awkward, more aware, out of place? Write about a character in that place, why did they go, what will they do?
Week 46. Gift – wanted, unwanted, surprising, shocking? Was it given or were you born with it? Lots of ways to think about a gift…
Week 45. As Christmas is nearly upon us, focus on the rich scents of the season: woody pine, cinnamon and star anise in mulled wine, baking mince pies. Write about food, the smells and tastes that bring moments to vivid life – the food of childhood, the food of ritual, the food of love, of medicine, the last supper, the awkward meal, eating in another country.
Week 44. When he/she/they said…
Week 43. The Wall – ” There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.
Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Week 42. Grace Paley, a wonderful short story writer, in Wants wrote: “(My ex husband) said I attribute the dissolution of our marriage to the fact that you never invited the Bertrams to dinner. That’s possible, I said. But really … first, my father was sick that Friday, then the children were born, then I had those Tuesday-night meetings, then the war began.” She telescopes a life into a few sentences. Try writing one random sentence for every decade of your life – turn it into a poem or short story.
Week 41. Open a local paper – read the small ads, imagine who wrote them and why, or turn them into a found poem. See the anthology published by Grey Hen Press of ‘found poems’ (in which I have a poem) to get the idea.
Week 40. Rewrite a fairy or folk tale, set it in modern times and see what happens. Read Angela Carter’s collection for inspiration.
Week 39. A Printer’s Devil was a printer’s apprentice who performed tasks such as mixing ink and fetching type. A Powder Monkey, usually a young boy, carried gunpowder to the gunners on a military sailing ship. Create an unusual job and give it a strange title: who did it and what did it entail?
Week 38. “Ustopia is a world I made up by combining utopia and dystopia – the imagined perfect society and its opposite – because, in my view, each contains a latent version of the other.” Margaret Atwood. Create your own Ustopia.
Week 37. The evening hour… gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves. From Street Haunting by Virginia Woolf. An appropriate theme for Hallowe’en?
Week 36. Write an instructional poem How to… e.g. See Helen Mort’s How to Dress from her collection No Map Could Show them, or some of Julia Darling’s wonderful poems e.g. How to Deal with Terrible News.
Week 35. Write a Haiku for every month – traditionally three lines of 5-7-5 syllables which focus on a brief moment in time; a use of a seasonal reference, a colourful image; present tense and a sense of sudden enlightenment and illumination. Here’s a wonderful example by poet and lyricist David Bradford.
Twelve Haiku Mourning a Death – David Bradford
January brings winter’s inch of ice
Horse in the yard waits
Look, here is Death
February floods the marsh
How expensive these flowers
March comes banging the door
Better get down to grief’s black art
April gets its pig’s snout over the wall
The slaughter shed
Come flowering May
So white, so lovely, May
Sweet airs remembering thorns
Up we go skylarking
Where June’s a blue bubble
At the grave’s lip
All July let the great flag of the sky
Beat clutch batter
And wound me
Through August’s sun-struck
Moonfall drags night’s catch of stars
A bright shroud
For stubbled September
A table under trees
A wine glass empty
Full shattering October
Leaves bleeding from the trees
Blood rusts to earth
Earth iron to the core
December draws its bow
Arrow! Sing into the almighty silence
Week 34. Write a manifesto for your household
Week 34. As this is the beginning of Stoptober, why not create a Ritual or Celebration for a Big Change in your life, such as giving up smoking, or Divorce, first period, last period, work…
Week 33. Open a book at random. Use the first full sentence as your beginning…
Week 32. Imagine your pet can write – a will, a letter, a diary, a holiday packing list…
Week 31. Lost things
Week 30. Read My Mother’s Handbag by Ruth Fainlight. Note effective use of the senses. Write your own handbag or other object e.g. My Dad’s Torch poem/flash fiction.
Week 29. I have never… make a list of things you’ve never done or think you never would. Now write about doing one of them. Be bold.
Week 28. Take the end words of each line in a poem you like, now use them as your line beginnings or endings. Use in any order you like. This is interesting to try with rhyming words at the end. You could try using them as internal rhyme words too.
Week 27. Mondegreen – a mishearing of a phrase that gives it new meaning. Writer Sylvia Wright said that as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as, “…and Lady Mondegreen. I misread The Alteration Service as the alliteration service – what would that offer? What have you misheard/read?
Week 26. Waiting – for the train, for the rain to stop, for Godot – what are you waiting for?
Week 25. Walking gets our creative brain working. Don’t sit at your desk looking at blank paper, go for a walk, notice what’s around you. Use place names to create the name of a character: Kirk Deighton, Red Hut, Pink Lane, or to suggest a story title or event: Pity Me, Wideopen.
Week 24. I tend the mobile now/like an injured bird, “Text” Carol Ann Duffy. What’s your relationship with your mobile?
Week 23. Write a poem entitled A poem in which… (I wrote A poem in which I bring back the dead) or you could write ‘A story in which…’ instead
Week 22. Pleasures – important in dark times to list simple things that make us glad to be alive. Radio 4 started this week with a look at Bertolt Brecht poem Vergnügungen, a simple list poem that begins First look from morning window… What gives you pleasure?
Week 21. Some people… see the poem by Rita Ann Higgins
Week 20. Translations from Nushu. The script, Nushu, represents the language spoken in Jiangyong Prefecture in the rolling hills of southern Hunan Province. Women, who were denied education for many centuries in China, used it to share feminine feelings, including fears about arranged marriages, husbands and, of course, mothers-in-law, under an oath of secrecy. Imagine you’ve translated a poem or letter.
Week 19. Describe an outfit you once wore to a significant event, describe it in detail, make it a metaphor for what happened i.e. you met your first love, you attended your grandfather’s funeral, you had an important interview etc.
Week 18. A Wind Phone Who would you phone and what would you say?
Week 17. Make a list of alliterative word pairs: so-and-so, pretty penny, pay and display, round robin: turn one or more into a poem or short story – have fun with it.
Week 16. Turn your fear or other emotion into an animal – what does it look like, how does it move, where does it live, what are it’s habits? Write a poem and create the mood of the emotion.
Week 15. Describe a door in detail – does it lead in or out, what’s behind it, what’s going to happen when it opens? Who goes through it?
Week 14. Using a photograph/postcard: write five sentences about what you can see in the picture. Then five sentences about what can’t be seen. Now place yourself or a character in the picture and write a scene drawing on your ten sentences. Here’s a picture to get you started
Week 13. Imagine having Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: People feel as though their bodies have been altered in size and they have visual hallucinations. Write a story or poem where a character experiences distorted time, space, and body image.
Week 12. Write an Urban Legend – a modern cautionary tale, you know the type: I heard it from a friend who heard it from an acquaintance etc. They reflect current social concerns – about the dangers of buying drugs online or big bad business or global warming. Make up an outrageous story with weird events and a sprinkling of true facts.
Week 11. Maps: A-Z, Route map, contours, climate, constellations, tourist sightseeing map, map keys. Draw a map of your life, however you like: geographical, chronological. It could be a map of the area you live in, or the route you take to work, or the main places you’ve lived in throughout your life. All the places you’ve visited in the world. The groundplan of your home. Or it could be a place, a moment in time, an experience: love, work, children etc. Use it to write a poem or a short story or begin a memoir.
Week 10. Choose a favourite object, give it a voice, its own unique view of the world, its history, family, thoughts and desires.
Week 9. Go outside, somewhere alone. Close eyes and listen – note all sounds, far and near and internal. Write in response. (Listen to my soundscapes for inspiration!)
Week 8. Describe your hand in detail – front, back, colour, texture, shape, skin scars, jewellery, compare in size to something, what it’s done, would never do, compare to a landscape
Week 7. What will cause the most pain?
Week 6. Something very small that had a profound effect
Week 5. Write a sentence: include a person, an object, an event – describe using all the senses. Who missed the event?
Week 4. Look out of the same window at three different times in a day – describe the changes
Week 3. A colour you hate – List everything in that colour. Write a poem or scene using that colour to create a mood. Can you redeem that colour?
Week 2. Write A Recipe for Disaster