Last spring, I purchased a book called 642 Things to Write About; a book of writers’ prompts. The book was written in an amazing 24 hours, by a team. The writer of the introduction, Po Bronson, received a call from an editor asking for a book with 642 writers’ prompts. She accepted the challenge, and asked for help from 34 other members of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. She was hoping to have it done in 30 days. Twenty-four hours later she delivered a printed copy of the manuscript to the editor, in person. Some examples of prompts are: I can’t go into this right now, but if I could, I’d tell you this…; Write the lyrics of a catchy jingle--for a plumbing service; and Never underestimate the lives of old men sitting on park benches. The pages are variously divided into quarters (quartered?), thirds, halves, and full page.
After I had done about 50 of these I decided I wasn’t getting the full potential out of them. It seemed to me that the responses should lead somewhere; not be complete ideas. I then started writing my responses as if I were starting a larger work. Here is an example:
“The toy you most treasured.” My answer: I was at a cocktail party talking to a tall brunette when she asked me what my favorite toy had been as a boy. I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a conversation starter, or if she really wanted to know more about me, but it took no time for my response…my Lotus Ford pedal car. Little did I realize what that response would yield.
I never had any such toy, in fact, I doubt that I ever had a pedal car, and I don’t remember any of my toys. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not the point. I thought of a pedal car and looked it up on E-Bay. I scrolled through the innumerable offerings until I found the Lotus Ford, a formula one car. It fit my own history and evoked many memory threads, almost like going through a class annual. My junior year in high school I took a class in journalism. I was interested in writing. My class mates were interested in partying. The teacher had a reputation for liking parties and football players. This eventually got her into a lot of trouble.
Meanwhile, I became a member of a small group within the class interested in sports cars, which became a life-long passion. The following year I was invited to be a member of the pit crew for an older friend of theirs who raced a Porsche in amateur races. I was really hyped about this opportunity. When we got to the track, I stood around waiting for someone to tell me what to do. No one ever did. Afterwards I was told I would not be invited back because I didn’t contribute. This was a lesson I learned over and over in the work world and other places. Do I have enough here to start a novel? I think so. I thought of the title “Sink or Swim.” I looked it up on Amazon. Unfortunately, it has been used over and over by many authors. How about Fish or Cut Bait? Lots of those too. I guess I’ll have to think of something original.
If you are having a difficult time getting started on your next writing project I recommend you get a copy of 642 Things to Write About, promptly!