Grab a blank notebook, a manuscript already in progress, or open a new note in your phone. Each week, our publisher will give you a writing nudge. Write on...
January Week 1, 2017. Theme: TRANSITIONAL PLACE. Open a story by describing a new setting for your character. This is a scene of discovery for your character. They've never experienced this place until now.
Additional advice: For nonfiction prose and poetry, consider a place that was unfamiliar to you and describe that transformation--a new job, a home, moving to a different city, a new room, a park you wandered into, the first time you saw the ocean or mountains.
Week 5, January 2017. Theme: NERVOUS HABIT. Create a nervous habit for one of your characters. If not the main character, choose a minor character who needs more description in order to come alive in the story. This habit could add an element of humor and/or realism to your story. The habit could be a sound they make, an action toward themselves or others, or an inability to act. The habit could create a central conflict for the character (consider habits such as cutting, binge eating, and other forms of serious, repetitive self-harming). Likewise, the habit could be more of a side-note, something endearing and entertaining without being central to the conflict. Adding a habit could show more depth to a character or to the overall story.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Most of us have habits that we form as children and can spend a lifetime trying to break, but we also develop new habits as we age. Focus on your own personal habits. Journal until you express more about one of your particular habits than others. How did the opinions/reactions of others influence your habits as you were growing up? Are there habits that you hide and protect, keeping them a secret from the rest of the world?
Week 9, March 2017. Theme: SMELL. Explore the sense of smell for one of your characters. Free-write about the variety of smells and your character's reactions. Take this beyond the typical, and consider how a character's sense of smell changes with the different seasons and how the seasons themselves have a variety of fragrances. What fragrances are pleasant to your character? Do certain scents cause the character to remember his/her past? Are some odors harmful or painful to your characters? Can you add humor to your story or scene by using smell? Consider how some fragrances change in meaning over time, and how cultures categorize scents in different ways. Also, notice how some people and animals are more keen observers of scent.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Explore one smell for a poem and try to capture the essence of that fragrance. If you have an additional poetic theme, consider writing a series of poems combining your existing theme with the concept of smell. For creative nonfiction, explore how the sense of smell can trigger memories and/or foretell reactions/events to come in the future.
Week 6, February 2017. Theme: ENRICHED SETTING. Enrich your story's setting by adding details about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and languages found in the story's scenes beyond those expressed by your main character. Consider how much your main character might observe about the setting and/or elements in particular scenes without having a direct experience with those sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and so on. You might want your character to focus on another character at least for a particular scene. Often, this observational stance of the main character can show a comparison/contrast between the main character and a minor character or someone simply passing through the scene of a book. These scenes could reveal how a main character views the setting as a whole or some particular element in the scene, such as a smell, taste, sound, etc. For example, perhaps your character is sensitive to the sound of someone slurping coffee, and you could show this in a scene by using a stranger at a restaurant or a lunch date with a friend, etc.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Choose a setting and a sense (taste, touch, smell, sight, sound) and fully write about each sense in that setting. How does your writing change if you focus on smell versus sight and so on? How does the sensory experience blend together in some settings/places more than others?
Week 2, January 2017. Theme: VALUE OBJECT. What is something deeply valuable to your character? Describe something that is important throughout the character's life. Choose a specific time in the character's life to first introduce this object, idea, story, and/or dream to the reader, but consider the full passage of time for the character.
Additional advice: For nonfiction prose and poetry: Is there an object, idea, story, dream that has recurring meaning throughout your life, something you can trace back into childhood and that might have changed in meaning for you over time as well.
Week 3, January 2017. Theme: CONFLICT EXPLORATION. Before writing the actual scenes, free-write and explore the central conflict for your main character. What does your main character most fear regarding the central conflict? What situations cause discomfort for the character and either foreshadow the scenes of central conflict and/or trigger the character (their actions, emotions, motives, etc.) in later scenes.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose & poetry: Write about a conflict that you knew was looming in your life based on foreboding events that preceded the conflict. How does this conflict continue to impact your life, especially in unpredictable ways?
The Weekly Writing elbow given by our publisher, straight from her prompt journal.
Week 8, February 2017. Tool: RESEARCH. Consider adding another layer to your story by adding actual historical information, data, political events, cultural events and trends, and/or architectural structures to specific settings in your story and/or the plot/events of the story as related to time period in history when the story takes place (or via flashbacks). If your story's time in history is current or futuristic, you could still include references to actual places and work in that information or create new places as if they have been established (in a futuristic work...think about the novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and how Orwell pulls this off). When you add any of the above styles, it's important not to sound like a textbook or tour guide style of book, so try to share this type of information in a creative way through a character's experience(s).
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Explore a cultural practice that has changed over time and/or through the generations. Write about the shifting perspective of a cultural practice that's related to history and/or tradition.
BONUS NUDGE, Lunar New Year, January 2017.
Theme: FRAMING MOTIVE. Don't simply consider your narrator's motive for telling the story (or the main character's focus in a third person narrative), think about why they *need to tell the story and how they would frame it. Everyone frames their story just as they dress themselves in clothes, wear a uniform, and alter their appearance in some way. Framing stories is what we do when we tell them, but you get to construct this frame. Does it have flare? Is it simple and straightforward? How will you choose to present your story and why, oh why, is your narrator telling it in the first place? Somewhere in the beginning, you must give the reader a clue about that without giving away the entire story. The reader wants to feel driven to "know it all," so they need a hint about your motive, even if your narrator surprises them later.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose & poetry: Consider juxtaposing one story about your life with another time in your life and link the two by theme or symbol. For poetry, consider "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as a way of framing a long, narrative poem. The mariner has a need to tell his story.
Week 7, February 2017. Tool: DIALOGUE to SHOW vs. TELL. Read through your story and find a scene in which your narrator tells the reader what happens instead of showing the reader. Often, we get comfortable with a narrative voice in a story and don't allow the characters to show their conversations. One way to accomplish this revision is to use dialogue in a scene where two characters interact, as this allows the characters to speak for themselves versus using a narrator's prose to describe/explain a scene to the reader.
Additional advice for nonfiction prose and poetry: Experiment with how you could use dialogue for emphasis. Consider writing in a specific, unique voice for an entire poem, or suddenly giving a voice to an inanimate object.
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Week 4, January 2017.
Theme: FOOD'S ROLE. Food is essential to life so consider how to incorporate food into your story. Food can be central to the conflict of your story, or it could simply play a minor role in the conflict while still delivering a thematic impact. What role will food(s) play in your story?
Additional advice for nonfiction prose & poetry: Consider a specific food to discuss in your life and/or the overall role of food in your considerations of economics, preservation, and/or sustainability, etc?