If you are slogging through a marathon project like a novel you need to throw in an occasional quick sprint. Short pieces work a different set of muscles and will send you back to the epic project refreshed.
If you are just starting out, writing prompts will help you face that daunting blank page and develop the habit of writing regularly. (Inspiration is nice, discipline is essential).
Give these prompts a try.
This is an exercise in extended metaphor.
Life is a river.
There are places where that river rushes over rocks and places where it enters a quiet oxbow and lingers, basking in the sun.
Sometimes it shallows out and is in danger of running dry. Sometimes it runs deep, the bottom hidden in darkness. There are churning, turbulent passages, muddy stretches, and some as clear as glass.
Remaining true to the river metaphor describe the stretch of river/life you are in right now.
Welcome to planet earth:
Imagine you are a new arrival here on earth, either as a newborn or as a visitor from some other place or time. What would you notice, and how it would strike you. (Imagine seeing nostrils for the first time, or the color blue, or feeling your first breeze).
Choose a particular place for that first encounter with this world. Of course you would have no way of understanding what you were perceiving, but you would notice things about this strange new world, and chances are you would have an emotional response as well: fear, pleasure, anticipation, wonder.
Dogs and cats:
Create a dialogue between two characters, one of whom exhibits the personality traits associated with dogs, the other of whom exhibits the personality traits associated with cats. This will, admittedly, reveal your personal bias.
Being a dog person, my dog character would be exuberant, overwhelmingly friendly, and demonstrative, the cat person would be reserved, cool, and a little bored, but no matter which you prefer the differences are striking and will create characters that contrast nicely with each other.
Give them something to disagree about, for example: Where should we go for dinner? You’re not wearing that, are you? Why do you always do that?
Where I come from:
Begin each sentence with that phrase, then follow it with a noun, such as:
Where I come from men go to work in the dark carrying lunch in a paper sack.
Where I come from kids dare each other to let go of the swing-rope and drop into the icy river.
Where I come from the summer night is spangled with fireflies.
Abstract made concrete:
Take an emotional label like empathy, fear, heartache, fatigue, distraction, joy, irritation and write a paragraph that embodies that emotional state without ever naming it. This will require you to create a small scene. Remember to rely on details from the setting and all the senses to amplify the chosen emotion.
You were always there:
Write to someone who has been a constant in your life. I would write to my younger sister, Claudia, and would begin like this:
Except for my first nineteen months, time spent learning I had hands, and not to use them to pull the dog’s ears, and that I was meant to be bipedal, you were always there. Chin up, fists clenched, you should have been the older sister. You were the tough one, I the dreamy follower.
Inventory something from your life.
You can inventory anything that recurs: things I’ve done for money, the sofas in my life, conversations across the kitchen table, favorite pairs of shoes, people I have loved, everything that is sitting on my desk.
In the spirit of making an inventory, keep it list-like. You will be surprised by how powerful such a stripped-down piece of writing can be.
Explain the difference between (pick one or more):
Chicken McNuggets and Chicken Cordon Bleu.
Skinny jeans and Mom jeans.
A bouquet picked in the garden and a dozen florist roses.
Falling madly in love and a long marriage.
Life in the north, life in the south.
Dogs and cats.
How you talk to your mother versus how you talk to your best friend.
A nightmare and a bad day in real life
Begin with the phrase, “The last time…
The last time I saw him, the last time I was in Philly, the last time I fell in love, the last time I believed in myself, the last time I ate my mother’s chicken pot pie, the last time I thought about you. This can come from real life or be fictional.
Eulogy for an inanimate object:
Choose an ordinary object: a stapler, a ballpoint pen, a button, a rubber band, a spatula, etc, and write about it in the most laudatory way possible. Be precise in describing its merits. In order to be convinced the reader needs to see the qualities you see in that roll of toilet paper, that kitchen sponge.
Pull out the old paper dictionary. Open it at random and stab at the page with a finger. Do it until you have one noun, one verb, and one adjective. Write something that uses all three (no do-overs unless the word is so obscure no one but Webster knows what it means—or you feel like cheating).
Example: noun, galley verb, glimmer adjective, hypnotic
The galley for his first novel arrived in an unimposing manila envelope, but when he slid out the sheaf of pages, the crisp black type glimmered against the dress-white of paper, and the words he had worked so hard he was sure they had lost their shine glowed, a river of story that streamed across the page.