Prompt and circumstance

If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve encountered (begrudgingly or not) the writing prompt. Actually, if you’ve authored anything at all, it probably all started with a prompt.

Eighth grade journal prompt: “A time I was embarrassed was…”

University essay prompt: “A time I challenged an idea was….”

Email to parents prompt: “Hey Mom and Dad. A few reasons I’m broke are…”

Writing prompts go well beyond student uses. Prompts followed (or, I guess, led) me through grad school, resume writing, employment and even parenthood.

Hospital comment card prompt: “Dear Hospital. As a new mom I’m afraid to leave you because…”

(I was later told this was not the intended use of hospital comment cards, although I did also use a paragraph or two to question their puzzling obsession with egg salad sandwiches, which was probably more on point than freefalling my deepest, darkest fears of failing as a parent.)

I use prompts a lot, especially when writing this blog. When I think of a really great title or topic, I jot it down for future expansion. Then, when I get a minute, I open up my 18 or so Word documents and wonder what the hell I meant by, “Motionlessness sickness.”

Sometimes the concept is narrow: “Buying a minivan. Discuss.” Sometimes the concept is so broad that I begin by writing about “Why I love Fall” and I eventually end up on the other side of an Internet rabbit hole where I’m one click away from adopting a rabbit. (Well, actually, a kitten. Seriously, guys, you should see this kitten.)

The point of the prompt, I think, is not what you’re writing, but that you’re writing. Sure, you may never read my Ode to Blanket Scarfs and all things pumpkin, but at least my typing fingers got a wiggle that day.

I have big writing plans for the next few months, so I need something to light a fire if I have any hope of delivering. Writing prompts provide that little bit of tinder. (Although like most mortals, I would much prefer to fan the flames with alcohol and accelerant.)

But starting small can still lead to big things. I just need to stay focused and keep the fire burning.

Fire. Campfire. Marshmallows. S’mores. “A time I overindulged on vacation was…”

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