Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Winter Break Writing Prompts

            It’s nearly winter break, and you are probably feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and as overdone as a turkey left too long in the oven (are Thanksgiving jokes [can that be called a “joke?”] allowed in December?). Winter break. Concentrate on it. It is nearly within reach.
            And this blog post, perhaps you’ve guessed already, you clever person, is about making the most of break. Because, yes, you do need sleep. And yes, it’s a good idea to catch up on Orange is the New Black (I just goggled popular TV shows for 2013 and picked the one I’ve seen, ha. What good TV are you watching? Leave the title in the comments). You’ll be baking, maybe, or traveling; celebrating with family and catching up on reading (what are you reading? Leave titles in the comments. I just finished Maddaddam. Oryx and Crake was better).
            But listen. Find the time to write. Choose a time every day, give yourself space, peace. Write. It doesn’t matter what you write, only that you do. Only that you use this time of relative freedom to pour yourself onto the page.
            If you know me, you know I don’t really believe in writer’s block. If you can’t find something to write, you can always revise, but writing prompts are also great. Here, have a few (leave more in the comments section – look, this is an interactive blog for the holidays, okay? Get involved in the conversation).
1.      Write an argument between two characters that begins at the dinner table.
2.      What wouldn’t you trade for anything in the world? Why.
3.      Describe sound (music, quiet, the ringing in your ears; an important concert, festival, or show; your baby’s voice, your mother’s voice, your lover’s voice).
4.      Write a lyric essay as a how to guide. How to garden. How to let go of someone. How to get through grad school. How to drive yourself crazy.
5.      What does the concept of time mean to you? Can you demonstrate the effect of time through two characters interacting? Through dialogue? Through a series of memories?
6.      Get all DFW and write a piece with a proliferation of footnotes. What goes in the story/essay/poem, and what goes in footnotes. Why?
7.      Start a piece at the end and work backwards. Begin, as they say, with a bang (literal or otherwise). Start as big as you can.
8.      What do you know more about than anyone else, like ever? Write a piece explaining this. Demonstrate how this knowledge has been transformative (or not).
9.      What would you change about yourself if you could? Would you be the same person with a different face, voice, or set of life circumstances?
10.  Go all “Hills like White Elephants.” How much can you reveal through dialogue and character action? How true can you stay to the third person objective point of view? What is lost in this exercise. What is gained.
So. Hopefully one of these will speak to you. And if they don’t, google writing prompts, buy a writing prompt book (like the cool little book The Writer’s Block). Hold a reading. Invite me to it! Inspire and encourage each other. Inspire and encourage yourself. You have something important to say. Write it.

Mary Sheffield (MR Sheffield, as she prefers) is FAU's English Graduate Advisor. Email her with questions about the program ( Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Pank, Fiction Southeast, The Florida Review, and other publications. She is getting married in ten days.


  1. There's a journal-style book called 642 Things to Write About that is great for prompts.

    1. That sounds fabulous - I'll have to check it out. Thank you!