Writing Prompts: Some great tools for those not so fresh days

Help me.

Writer’s block sets in slowly and as unpredictably as does productive bursts of semi-genius. Rare is the latter, the former happens at least once a month. Blame the cancer writer’s block occurs far more often than it used to back in my “normal life.” But cancer became my go to writing prompt for the simple fact that it became my life. It’s neither fortunate nor ever what I’d choose to write about but it’s clearly important. Still, I run out of ideas or my chemo brain or brain fog if you prefer robs me of ideas. I am compelled to jot everything down now. My running list of writing prompts helps me get out of the wet cement and so I can run with my output.

While writing typically comes quite naturally, poems can take years to get right and essays can become stale before I’m finishing the final paragraph. I always go back to my old expired or uninspired writing to take another whack at it or to just not begin with a blank stare at a blank page. I keep it in my journals scattered all over the house, and car, and in purses, in between books I’m reading. You get the point…but I don’t toss away or delete anything unless it’s pure drivel. The white page glaring at me keeps my mind dormant at times.

So if you take a single piece of my advice, for what it’s worth, it’s don’t start with a blank page. And reused writing is only one way to get the job done.

Using writing prompts does as well. Keeping up a self created running list isn’t necessary. You can feel free to use some of mine listed below or check out the web by searching up “writing prompts.” Specific or general you’ll find something to write about or to get the old noggin in gear. So dig deep or tread in the shallow end of the pool, but write. Your blog needn’t be the final goal, nor your work on some overdue white paper for work. Using prompts might just surprise you, though.

My prompts ran away with my homework

In the mirror this morning…

If I had wings…

The universe…

The concept of time…

Kindness…

Laughing…

My expectations of…

When I think about (place) I think about…

If tomorrow…

Changing my mind about…

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day…

I want to grab a flight tonight to …

If I could predict the outcome of…

When it rains…

At night I love to…

The first thing I do every day…

I want to change my…

I woke up…

Sunshine…

Full moons…

Mythology character…

Music gives me…

A letter to…

If I knew at 20 what I know now…

Death…

Birth…

If tomorrow never came…

I am so afraid of…

Spiders…

The last thing I ever expected was…

My skin feels…

I wish ____was here because…

Suddenly…

My patience…

The best possible way to…

Under a microscope…

In a telescope…

I grew up…

I feel like a little kid when…

The best age to be is…

If I were born in the year (past)…

If I were born in the future…

When I cannot fall asleep…

I think about____all the time…

Ice cream…

I want to live to see…

It’s no use, I…

Finally…

Walking along the ocean…

Driving in the mountains…

Rollercoasters…

Beginning…

Endings…

Nighttime…

Mornings…

Secretly I love…

I’ve always loved…

I never did like…

Flowers…

Technology…

My favorite musical genre is…

The best day looks like…

My best day to date…

My partner…

Being (religion)…

Museums…

This song brings me back to…

The scent of/ odor of reminds me of…

I finally learned how to…

Cats are better than dogs…

A group of ravens is called a murder…

My top 3 online prompt resources

In my experience, these websites provide fertilizer for sprouting ideas of your own, with straightforward, self explanatory, yet engaging writing prompts. Although these sites focus on poetry, you could eagerly apply most of them to prose, non-fiction, even science or psychology.

I love these lists I reckon for several reasons. First, they get straight to the prompting. No book selling after a tease of a dozen prompts, no sign up forms for more spam email. Just the content without shameful self promotion. Next, no one site takes the same approach to growing your ideas. Furthermore, the sites are professionally written and edited. They’re not cutesy or too self reflective, such as say a goth self published novel writer and their five best steampunk writing prompts. Finally, and my all time biggest web click regret: as the frustration of writer’s block bubbles to the surface while you browse your search engine’s top results, some sites muddy the content with perpetual advertisements bombarding your overloaded or underused senses.

My short list of the three best sites ALL alleviate frustration and grant you FREE access to the articles. Novel idea! Also the links below open up directly at the best articles with writing prompts but do check out each site.

Writer’s Relief

Think Written

Think Written

Pet Rich Ore

(Dedicated to chemotherapy)

Steal the scent of aftermath,

Of rivers, ponds, waterfalls, of

Mangled limp leaves, blown

Around. Fog, water’s mystical state

Lifted the ground up by noon

Do the arithmetic:

What’s left outside after a storm?

Rain leaves its distinct message:

More precisely, less understood

Oily ascension from the earth

Reaches to encounter rising

Mountain roads. Projecting

On a green screen we stop

Acting, instead slowly, slippery,

and wet, waiving goodbye to my

Now-relinquished memory.

Mirrors from lighthouses beam

A spot where the words hide.

Vast oceans of gray crevices

Foggy and neglected, recollect

Years before, a pear-green sky

Ripened and began blowing.

Curtains beckoning with arms

Waving to the operatives

Waiting for instructions.

No signs yet.

Finally the storm bursts

Through a bedroom door

Met by an unkept little dog

One that came with her name.

“Petrichor.” The memory

Satisfied finally, for

Here’s the word for the oily scent,

Rising up with a heave to hear

Earth’s sigh of relief

When water rises after it falls

And worms rejoice in its muddled

Grounds. Mud made puddling

Mid afternoon humid

A swampy mystery

Finally rests in its ground.


Cancer and The Diffusion of Time

It’s improbable, but not impossible, that I’ll have enough time post diagnosis to continue my PhD in quantum mechanics. Or, even begin one for that matter. My academic career ended years ago, after embarking on a failed attempt at finding the funds to eat and live while pursuing a masters degree. I gave up my dream of becoming a full time writer who traveled extensively, to actually make a living wage in marketing during the rise of the tech economic hot air balloon.

Each day, the alarm did its best to beat me awake at 4:30 am and after downing my cup o’ 5 am Cuban coffee (cortadito) and hour at the gym, I ran my young self a quick shower and took a quick drive to the office. 15 minutes took me over the causeway connecting Miami Beach to the mainland to downtown and down Brickell Avenue. And I always arrived at my desk early.

D-Day and Chronic Lateness Syndrome
Since diagnosis day (D-Day), I’m persistently, consistently late. I find myself getting distracted by just about everything and even simple tasks seem to take me longer since D-Day. However, it’s something I’ve never quite gotten used regardless of how I try to trick myself. The use of anti-dilatory tactics such as setting clocks and watches 20 minutes fast do not work particularly well, if only to confuse everyone in my house.

Since D-Day, I’ve absorbed many lectures and books on quantum physics. Cancer artificially inflates the time space continuum, and my greatest discovery yet, although I still await word from the Nobel Prize committee (who also are chronically tardy), is the following equation:
time + cancer = tardiness
Or
T + CN = D (where D is the diffusion of time)

Needless to say insomnia keeps me from getting to sleep until 4:30 am, not getting up to go to the gym before work as was once the daily habit. Due to an early and forced retirement, I look for ways to redefine my purpose in life. I’m a writer, so I’ve been able to circle back on an early career goal and I appreciate that immensely although it’s not ever going to earn a living. I’d be incessantly pissing off editors for my inability to meet deadlines. So my blog and notebooks replace professional gigs, although one day I do hope to publish a chapbook of poetry. Before I leave this conscious life that’s one goal I hope I’m not late to achieve.

A Very Important Date
Yet I’ve forgiven myself for my lack of timely arrivals and missed deadlines. Sometimes, poor health or overwhelming side effects, impede any hope st beating the clock. Mornings set the pace simply to get out of my own way and escape the house before sunset, or to even ready myself for the occasional visitor. Any of the first three tasks of the morning, after I ascertain how I feel physically and emotionally when I get up, effect how to measure out the minutes of elasticity in my schedule. Rolling out of bed, first shaking off the painful pins and needles of neuropathy, next reading and/ or writing while sitting on the porcelain throne combating turgid bowels and numb ass cheeks, while the hat trick amidst silent suffering, fumbling, squeezing and allowing my medications to take effect, thirdly, deciding whether or not shower or take a bath. Depending on my overall health, pain, and fatigue, I obsequiously send texts and make calls, if it’s necessary, to rearrange my schedule for later that day or another day altogether.

To cope with losing self worth and the care of others as I look less and less like a good friend and more and more like a Prima Dona, I use different stratagem. Aside from pure honesty, which I cannot imagine doesn’t sound like pure bullshit to some people, I pre-empt disappointing others with a written warning before accepting an invitation: “ATTENTION: chronic illness causes chronic lateness. Plans may change without any written warning or consent. Your mileage may vary”

I’m generally about 15-30 minutes late, even to see doctors – my palliative oncologist in addition to my oncologist. Although my palliative oncologist helps with most of my symptom management including the psychological impact of having an incurable disease knocking on my door day after day, she cannot help my chronic tardiness. Metastatic cancer is neither easy nor fun, and most people don’t believe I am as sick as I am. I refuse to let it dampen my optimism. Or, more truthfully, I try not to allow other’s opinions to bring me down. False Stoicism isn’t my strong suit and I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve.

Makeup to Make Up
Yet even if I’m home all day I still get up and get dressed and put on some makeup. Mascara and a curling iron become my personal therapeutic counselors. I really couldn’t care less if people say I don’t look like I have cancer – or if they don’t even believe I have stage 4 because I still have most of my hair. It’s my internal state that makes the most difference to my overall wellbeing.

Motivation and timeliness don’t always go hand in hand. I’m relatively optimistic and motivated by good intentions every day. It’s a new day, there’s light and life and love around me and I’ve achieved consciousness after awakening from my unconscious state of sleep for the gift of another day. For that I celebrate my life and I get dressed as nicely as I can. As ridiculous as it may sound, this act seems to help my ability to find positive motivation. Perhaps I may overdress and take too long in doing so; otherwise I may not back the Mini out of the garage or dare think about walking out of the front door. Those kinds of days cause a cascade of cancellations and schedule rearrangements. It would feel awful to the people who got bumped to throw away any part of their day and some of their well-meaning hope with a bad bet that they won’t sit idly waiting on my appearance at some future point. I feel really awful when I think I’ve wasted someone’s time, knowing to the cellular level how precious and few are every moment to the living.

Writing It Down
Sometimes just looking back at the week or month or year gives me hope and also perspective that I would have forgotten had I not kept up with writing. I recall numerous times with good friends, cancer peer groups, and fundraising events when I arrived on time. To the delight of others let me add, and to my humble embarrassment.

Writing too, chases the hours like a dog after a mechanical rabbit on a race track. Once the shoot opens I sprint through an idea for an essay or a poem until it’s complete. Usually this happens late at night or early in the morning. And with that, Simon my cat has come to let me know he’s finished puking on my new rug, and my friend is driving from Reno as I finish up editing this post. My husband still in the throes of chronic depression will not get out of bed until I do.

I must wrap up this lengthy discussion by saying this: if I’m late to my own funeral I won’t be a bit surprised, because cancer also succumbs to my late arrival. I’ve already beaten the artificial deadline of my initial diagnosis. In the meantime I’ll keep smiling, getting dressed to celebrate each new day, writing, and hoping you don’t mind the days when I just can’t seem to make it.

Buddy, can you spare word or two?

Expressing the greedy silence
A picture’s worth of words
Swallowed whole by memory’s avarice.

Wishing wells charge five cents for
Lies it disguises as your dreams and
Sells for a penny a dozen accidents.

Ascending into the ravenous night,
Darkness craves sleepers who whisper
Hungry with the first sun’s frowning light.

Handmade gifts thoughtfully cost a
Harem’s ego, yet steal away all hopes
From the receiver quietly plagiarizing quotes.

Gracefully I lept over four word puddles,
a tutu laden pink dancer without her
penguin waiving a stick in front of
without an eighty piece band.
Lexicographers cry and streak the pavement
raining possessive determiners
As I try to rescue those nouns and that verb
from washing away down gray grates
toothy gateways open like mouths
to the sewers below.
Perhaps I’m late to save portmanteaus
from my brain smog.
Forgetting prepositions and
their phrases, going where to there
I haven’t a sense of direction
nor know which path to take.
So I explain and you listen all patience
And smugly knowing the definition of milk
And salt. Even a small three letter word
the subject of my sentence: frozen
water hanging in a dark cave
like stalagmites or stalactites,
So important hanging or protruding
the way they do because their
directions are very dangerous to
the blind observer.
So don’t lose your directives or
your objects, either,
and make sure not to lose, for heavens sake,
any pronouns, or else they, you know them,
or even we and us, but certainly not him or her,
Could spend all day waiting
just for you to finally
remember.