Writing Prompts

There are times when I feel the need to write but have nothing to say. Okay, that’s really not true. As anyone who spends time with me can attest, I always have something to say. But there are so many choices, how do I narrow it down? Do I journal out my worries about my children, do I write a chapter in one of the three books in progress, do I work on the outline for this year’s NaNoWriMo work? And then I realize that none of those feel right, and that what I really want, or need, to do is blog.

Many moons ago, many many moons ago, my “blog” was a blue-covered spiral notebook. The pages were college ruled and it was divided into sections by four buff-colored tabs. When I got the urge to write in a broad and non-specific way, I would get out that notebook and a pencil or pen and I would write. It was full of short stories, essays, really bad poems, plot ideas for novels, observations about the people around me. It was more than and different than a journal. It was my writing. I lost it years ago in one of my many moves, but I can still see the blue marble-patterned cover. I can even picture a page with its pale, blue lines filled with my somewhat messy, striving to be cool handwriting. My blog is now my blue notebook, and has been for years, either here or somewhere else.

There was an international student who somehow wandered into our small group when I was in college the first time around. I don’t remember his name, but he had shaggy black hair and blue eyes like perfectly round bits of sea glass. He spoke in a rumbling, purring sort of British accent. My mind remembers the tone and cadences even still but I have long since forgotten what he actually sounded like. He stands out in my memories of that short time as clearly as does Jenny, my favorite roommate.

British Guy was fascinated by the blue notebook. He wanted to know about my writing, he was truly interested. And I, with my crazy hormones and often odd attractions to the worst people, saw him as a friend and a confidante and shared both the best and worst with him. I remember him saying “I think you could write about anything.” Under the light of his blue eyes, I really could write about anything. He challenged me with prompts like you’re in a field of flowers on a summer afternoon or it’s your birthday and your family forgot. I would write a page or two, let the words fly right from my head to my pen, and then give it to him, unedited and rough. He would tell me that I needed to make things happier, stop making everything end badly. I was full of angst, remember? He also told me that I had words in me, beautiful words, and that I was destined to share them.

Circling back to today, I still love a writing prompt. I feel like prompts pop the cork and let the words flow. Sometimes the words fly out like my brain is a bottle of champagne that has been shaken by an overly enthusiastic post-game celebrant. Sometimes they flow slowly, yet without stopping, like the silver cop in Terminator 2. I found myself looking for a prompt this morning, a cork-popper, and found many but none. I found some that were shared by teachers but they were not the sort of thing I was looking for. I found some that were too detailed, or at least more detailed than what I like. I am the Goldilocks of writing prompts today. Except I didn’t find one that was just right.

Instead, my quest for a prompt became a prompt in and of itself. It reminded me that life is a series of circles, some interconnected and some distinct. I am circling around, nearly thirty years later, to the place I was then, to that girl with the bad 80’s perm and the footless tights, sitting lotus-style on a narrow bed in a college dorm room, handing her dreams to a stranger whose eyes spoke to her soul. I feel that girl waking up inside me, each time I think about going back to school to let her live her dream. She had so much potential, and she had so many beautiful words in her. Even if the tools change, the words do not.


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