Monday, August 22, 2011

A Sure Way to Get Started

I was only on page five of the Introduction to The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life , a recent book written by Marion Roach Smith, when I felt my eyes widen and my mouth drop open. Roach writes: "This [memoir writing] is serious work. And it cannot be reduced to generic writing exercises and prefabricated prompts. . . . I suspect that those manners of nonsense have instead stolen what little time you had for writing." There's more to her rant, but you get the idea.  

Despite my dismay at the introduction, I read on and found much to agree with in the book. However, I could not stop thinking about writing prompts, (Launching Pads as we call them here) and Launching Pads made me think about  Betty S. I think Betty, who has been in our life story writing group the longest of anyone, loves Launching Pads and has great success with writing from them and getting the writing published. So I asked Betty to tell us about her process. Here's what she wrote: 

"The launching pad for next time is bicycle,” our writer’s group leader instructed. I had no idea how to write anything that had to do with a bicycle. I never had a bicycle, not even as a youngster. But, my brother had a black and orange bicycle. I also had a subject to write about.

I saw my brother’s bicycle in my mind’s eye and soon I was tossing words around in my head, then eventually I had a poem written, titled, “The Bicycle.” Much to my delight a favorite national magazine published it.

Another time the prompt or launching pad, which our writer’s group relates to,
was “A Strand of Beads.” I gathered thoughts in my head. The antique necklace I couldn’t live without from the Antique Mall would be something to write about. Or, the necklace a high school friend bought at a garage sale which she later gave to me. But, I felt a closer bond to my mother’s necklace she wore on her wedding day. When I had sufficient material stored in my brain, I typed the words on my computer. The poem “A Strand of Beads” was born.
Capper’s magazine asked readers when they think about a special Christmas, what do they remember most about the day? Again, the brain process worked for me. I had the initial writing subject. I remembered many special Christmas days, and then chose one to write about. I wrote a memoir about a Christmas in Albuqurque when my husband was stationed at Sandia Base. The editors posted the story on their web site.

Sure, I can write without a launching pad, but when I need motivation, inspiration, or just simply something to write about, it’s the prompt that gives me a head start.

What’s next month’s launching pad? Oh, yes, write about an item that belongs or belonged to a loved one.

I use a white oval bowl that was part of my mother’s everyday dishes. I see steaming, hot, mashed potatoes fluffed and piled high in the bowl. The plates sit on a faded oilcloth that covers the small, drop-leaf, wooden table.

Ah, the story begins………Potatoes again tonight? It was depression years……..

I'm not sure how many stories, poems, and essays Betty has had published that began with writing prompts, but the number is considerable.

Whether you are writing for publication, posterity, or personal growth, don't overlook the humble writing prompt. It might be the pad to launch you into satisfying and successful writing. Thanks, Betty, for the "how-to."


Humble. Remember last time the post here was about making your story connect with the reader by using a concrete object or a specific event. What can you write about the concept of "humble" (humility) without ever using the actual word? Do you know a humble person? Have you ever had to learn the painful lesson of humility?


Look at this from  Only two ingredients. Cake mix and a surprise. This I gotta try.

Yum Yum Brownie Muffins

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes

One 18.25-oz. box devil's food cake mix
One 15-oz. can pure pumpkin (Libby's is the best!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour cake mix into a large bowl and whisk to remove any lumps. Add pumpkin and stir until completely smooth and uniform.

Don't add any other ingredients that may be mentioned on the cake mix box, like eggs, oil, or water. The mixture will be very thick, so you might be tempted to add in other things to make the batter thinner. Do not do this!
Evenly distribute batter into a 12-cup muffin pan lined with foil baking cups and/or sprayed with nonstick spray. Place pan in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and then serve!


Recipe photo courtesy of All other photos by Carol Newman.

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