Monday, August 1, 2011

Instant Inspiration

Photo Illustration by Carol Newman

Last week you read Donna Holman's fun story, written in response to the writing prompt "a step." This week Donna tells us how she used the prompt to consciously recall an event she hadn't thought of in years. Here is what Donna wrote about the process:

It’s difficult to describe a mental process. It took me half an hour to write the paragraphs explaining how I got from “a step” to a story about a ski lift; but the process actually happened in seconds. And…everyone’s process is different.

When I saw the prompt “a step,” nothing came immediately to mind. Then I considered the suggestions Carol provided along with the prompt: Write about a step you took or didn't take. Or write about the front porch steps at your house. Or how about a dance step you learned? What other steps can you think of? Step-ladder. Step-mother [etc.]

So I started doing some word association of my own around the concept. First, on a literal level, as a noun: first steps, back steps, baby steps, broken steps, steep steps, stair steps, step one, step two, step three.

Then I thought about it as a concept: stepping up, stepping out, two stepping, stepping in it, stepping into harm’s way, a step in the right direction, a step in the wrong direction.

And I thought about how we step: we do it barefoot, or in shoes, in flip flops, or in boots…

Ah ha! Somehow, in that mysterious way the mind works, the combination of the words “step” and “boots” brought to mind skis and how awkward it is to step around in them. And that triggered the memory of when I put on a pair of skis and stepped onto a ski lift for the first time. Once I made that connection, the story was there.

Whether a person is an experienced life story writer or a novice, each individual has to experiment until they find what works for them. Something will – journals, daydreams, classes, conversations, quiet contemplation. The thing about writing prompts is they can lead you to unexpected places….like the top of a mountain. The material is there…waiting for you. As Flannery O’Connor said, "… anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."

Prompts can help take you to your stories. Even if you have to hop on a ski lift to get there.

FOOTNOTE: Several years later, I returned to the ski slopes. Older and wiser, I resolved to give the ski lift another try. In a perfect world, I would have dismounted the lift and glided away for a lovely sashay down the mountain. But, in fact, my second experience was nearly identical to my first: me on the ground with a cracked noggin. Lesson learned.

The photo illustration is a rough (very rough - and not entirely accurate) approximation of how Donna arrived at her topic. This method has various names, including Mind Mapping, and you can look at the illustration and see how it works. Often, however, this entire process will happen in your brain in seconds. If it doesn't, you can rely on the pen and paper method.

Thanks, Donna for a wonderful story and wonderful explanation.


In seconds - The mental process described above can happen in seconds. What else can happen or has happened to you in seconds: fall in love, win the lottery, get a life-changing phone call, understand an equation, get an idea? This is the "stuff" of story. Something changes.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL This recipe is from a friend who is preparing a family cookbook. An ice cream dessert sounds just right for this hot, hot, hot weather. No cooking, baking, or heating required.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Dessert

1 pkg. Oreo cookies (crumbled - reserve some for topping)
1 gallon mint chip ice cream
fresh strawberries (optional)

Crumble Oreo cookies and spread in 13"x 9" pan about 1/2" thick. Spread ice cream over crumbs. Freeze. Thaw slightly to cut. Serve with a few Oreo crumbs sprinkled on top & a strawberry for garnish.

Write your life story or memoir with help from Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook - Second Edition.

All rights reserved 2011 There's An Angel In Your Inkwell®

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