1. Jumpstarts (prompts) are not meant to be themes or topics, as in “stick to the topic.” They are simply “nudges” to get you going. Once you start writing, you can go in the direction YOU want to go (that’s the goal, anyway!). It doesn’t matter if your partner hasn’t got a clue how you got from the prompt to what you wrote. (SEE FURTHER EXPLANATION AT THE BOTTOM)
2. Don’t reject a prompt out of hand. Plunge into your write even if the prompt doesn’t float your boat. If you keep going, and if you write about what matters most to you, you’ll be able to complete your write. Not only that, you will also often be pleasantly surprised by the “good” writing that results from a prompt that you didn’t feel particularly inspired by.
3. When you sit down to do your write, don’t think for too long about what you’re going to write before you start writing. If you do, you run the risk of not following your first thought or feeling or image. Before you know it, you could be pondering several different thoughts, feelings or images. You will then feel compelled to try and decide which one you like best. Meanwhile, your allotted time to write is fast disappearing. IF YOU ARE SITTING THERE THINKING, YOU WILL NOT BE WRITING. (Note: As we discussed in class, I know there are some people who like to peek ahead and spend a day or so thinking about what they want to write for the upcoming day’s prompt. And as I said in class, if this approach works for you, then do it. But I do recommend also trying out the more “spontanous” approach, because that method often works better (judging from experience as a teacher), for people who tend to be so caught up in their rational thoughts that they don’t know how (or forget how) to access the unconscious treasures that are more likely to pop out when doing a spontaneous write.)
4. Don’t be too quick to judge – or to start revising – your daily writes. Wait a while. Go back to them LATER. They will look different to you a week after you’ve written them. Or a month. Or six months. You will see them with different eyes, at different times. You will also have a more objective perspective, after having distanced yourself from the write for a while.
5. Remember: Your daily writes don’t EVER have to be turned into finished products. If some of them do, great. But if they never do, that’s okay. This is as much about practicing as it is about generating new material. You may not be able to see a direct correlation between your practice writes and potential finished pieces, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. If your practice writes help you to improve your general writing skills – and the assumption is that they will – then, at the very least, there’s an indirect correlation.
6. Don’t stop to read (or edit, rephrase or ponder) what you’ve written until your timer goes off.
7. Let go of expectations. Allow yourself to be surprised by yourself. (Find out what you have to say in the act of saying it.)
8. Tell the truth, even if you (or your fictional characters) wish it weren’t the truth. Be honest. Don’t fudge!
9. Remember to use details, sensory images (ALL five senses!), and specifics (give names to people, places, things)
10. Try to write about what you care about – what matters most to you, what’s truly on your mind. This includes passions, obsessions, and preoccupations. The topic can be lofty or mundane. What matters isn’t the topic itself, it’s how YOU handle it, in your own voice, in your own way . . . bringing all of your personal experiences and history and SELF to bear.
FURTHER EXPLANATION FOR #1:
1. Feel free to change the point of view. For example, If the prompt uses the pronoun “you,” feel free to change the pronoun to he or she, or to use a fictional character’s name (or a real person’s name!), i.e.:
“Once, when you were driving. . . ” could become: “Once, when I was driving.” Or “Once, when she/he was driving.” Or: “Once, when they were driving.” Or: “Once, when Buffy was driving.”
2. Feel free to change the tense: For example, if the prompt is in past tense, as in:
I loved him best when…., you can change it to another tense (or pronoun), i.e.:
I love him best when
I would love him more if
He loves me best when
He used to love me best when
Jack loved Sarah best when
Lance would love Lucilla more if only she….
You loved her more than. .
3. Feel free to NOT use use the phrase or sentence at all. In other words, using a prompt doesn’t mean that you have to LITERALLY use the words contained in the prompt.
Here are some more examples of different kinds of jumpstarts, and variations on how to write from them:
1) A simple, straightforward directive, ie: Write about a bed.
If the first image that comes into your mind is of your bed when you were 16, then write about that bed. Begin anywhere: going to bed, waking up, making out on it with your boyfriend, not making it for three weeks (the bed, that is), whatever.
If you’re writing fiction, then write about a bed from a character’s point of view. It might help you to know that character better.
Start an essay about beds.
Write an ode to your lover’s bed.
Do a “list” poem about beds you have slept on.
These are obvious choices. But there are other, less obvious kinds of choices. Maybe you think of a bed of lettuce, which makes you think about salads, which makes you think about the diet you are on, which is a current obsession. Great. Write about your diet.
Maybe you think about the bed you shared with your ex, which brings to mind a recent fight with him or her over finances for the kids. This makes you think about the fact that we now have $1 coins, which you hate. So write about $1 coins.
Maybe “write about a bed” makes you BURST with emotions about licorice. I don’t care why. It doesn’t matter why (unless you think it does). So: Feel free to write about LICORICE if that’s what you feel like writing about as a result of this prompt.
2) Beginning of sentences, ie: “The last time I saw. . . ”
This prompt is in quotes, which implies dialogue. You can write some dialogue if you want, but you don’t have to. You can drift off into a musing about the last time you saw your grandfather alive, or the last time you saw Paris, or the last time you saw an episode of Seinfeld, or the last time you saw a snail, which makes you think about gardening, which launches you into a 10-minute write NOT about gardening but about your love of the color red (maybe because when thought about gardening you saw tomatoes and strawberries in your mind’s eye, and that reminded you of the red dress you just bought and HOW MUCH YOU LOVE RED.
3) A phrase or a word without any directive . For example: “Sundays.” Or: “After midnight.”
You can use this prompt as the first word or two of your write, OR you can simply use it as inspiration..Whatever comes into your head is all right – a time, a place, a feeling, a sound, a taste, a mood, a memory. If you see the word “Sundays” and it makes you want to write about Saturdays, then write about Saturdays. If you see the phrase “After midnight” and it makes you want to write about the dog you had when you were a kid, no problem!