Thursday, February 2, 2012

Writing Prompts - Love Them or Leave Them? - Cathy Biggerstaff

The Encouragers Christian Writers Group was formed about two and half years ago under the leadership of Linda Tomblin, published author, editor, and writing conference director. Most of the people in the group were aspiring writers who felt a call from God to write, but hadn’t done much about it because they didn’t know what to do. Some had taken a stab at writing, but were clueless about cover letters, submission guidelines, and other foreign terms. It has been quite a journey for those who have stayed with it.

At our first meeting, we broke into small groups based on our writing preferences – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or children’s literature. We became fast friends with the people in our groups, already having the call to write and the genre in common. Near the end of the meeting, we were given our first writing prompt – grapes or vineyard. The assignment was to write something in our genre using the prompt. We left the meeting starry-eyed, with the wheels turning in our brains, knowing we had to come up with something worthy of sharing with the group at the next meeting in two short weeks.

At the next meeting, it was amazing to hear the many different stories/poems that had been created around grapes. One lady wrote a story about a little Indian boy. She has been perfecting that story since then and will submit it for critique at Boot Camp.

The prompt given at one meeting was “the shade on the light at the end of the couch was strangely tilted.” For me, this became a children’s story about a missing Grandma who, as it turns out, wasn’t missing after all. I am still tweaking it, but hope to publish it as part of The Grandma Cathy series one day.

One month we were all instructed to bring three small items to the next meeting. At that meeting we gathered everything we’d brought in a basket. Then we passed the basket and each one picked out an item, sight unseen. We passed the basket until all the prompts had been taken. Our assignment was to write a story using the three gems we’d drawn from the basket. I got a satin and lace baby bootie, a pig, and a quilting safety pin. My items evolved into a story called “Down Memory Lane” about a woman lovingly decorating her Christmas tree.

Another member drew a fishing hat, a movie ticket and an owl. Her research and creativity turned these items into a young adult story about a boy at a turning point in life, his wise Grandpa and what the owl teaches them about life. Again, this story will be sent in for critique at Boot Camp.

It sounds like everything is rosy in Encouragers land, but we have members who hate using writing prompts. They feel the prompts lead them away from the writing they are supposed to be concentrating on. They succumb only because they know the group will be expecting to hear from them at the next meeting. One person says it gums up her mind to have to think about a crazy prompt. When she draws a blank, she gets frustrated and that feeling affects her writing of the Bible studies she feels drawn to do.

For now, we are striving to cover the needs in the group with a Love It or Leave It policy. If you want to use the writing prompt, love it and run with it. Let your creativity soar. If you don’t like prompts or have a work-in-progress you want to concentrate on, leave it alone and do what God has called you to do.

Are writing prompts for you? Do they make you love or hate, percolate or melt down, create or frustrate? This year, the option is yours.

Cathy Biggerstaff
Rutherfordton, NC