I moved out of my college home this past weekend. I had lived in the dingy old house near campus that my roommates and I fondly called “The Stoop” (because of its big porch) for my Junior and Senior year of college. I’d lived with the same 7 girls both years and they’d been my “people” all throughout college—my best friends, my confidantes, my support system. Many of the girls are leaving Austin and I’m not sure when I’ll see them next, so moving out was emotional and weird and felt like growing up.
The house itself was disgusting. The bathtub clogged. Parts of drawers fell off. The refrigerator wouldn’t stay closed. The roof leaked. Cockroach sightings were common. The flue in the chimney was open (despite our many requests for our landlord to close it) so we boarded up the fireplace and got used to chirping birds living in our chimney. One especially memorable night, the birds escaped into our living room and two of my roommates chased the birds around the house and eventually trapped them in an old shoe box—much to the surprise and confusion of the unsuspecting Chinese food delivery man who knocked on our door during the fiasco. Clearly, living in The Stoop was an adventure I don’t think I’ll soon forget.
While my new house is clean and new and not falling apart, I find myself missing my old dive because, despite the cockroaches, The Stoop holds cheery memories. Fits of laughter with friends. Tears and breakdowns and crying so hard you eventually start laughing. Stressful late night study sessions cramming for tests the next morning. First kisses with new boyfriends. Wine nights and roommate dinners and stuffing our faces with cookie dough. Quiet, coffee-filled mornings reading on our porch. Cool fall nights sitting on the roof. Walking back from campus and opening the front door and seeing my roommates sprawled out on our big leather couch and feeling overwhelmed with a sense of welcome and belonging and finally being home.
Places hold such a power over us. We visit a familiar place and it can immediately transport us back to the moments we experienced there. Whenever I drive by The Stoop in the coming years and see its new residents sitting on the porch, I will always remember the memories I made there.
For this week’s writing prompt, I want you to write about a place that’s special to you—an old home maybe, or a favorite coffee shop, or a street you used to drive down everyday. Capture the details of the setting, the spirit of that place, and the memories you made there. Transport your readers with you to that important place.
With the 4th of July already weeks behind us and fall looming, summer feels like it’s winding down (of course, in Texas, we know that summer weather won’t truly end until Halloween’s come and gone, unfortunately). But despite the appearance of back-to-school-supplies displays in every Walmart and grocery store, we still have a few more weeks to enjoy summer freedom. One of the greatest things about summer, in my humble opinion, is the opportunity it gives us for travel and adventure.
Trips and vacations have long been fodder for writers everywhere because traveling challenges our worldview, changes our perspective, and always seems to teach us something about ourselves and even how we understand the places we’re returning to. For this week’s writing prompt, write a story about travel. It can be a non-fiction account of your recent family vacation, a short story about a young college graduate’s trek through Europe, or a poem about a retreat to cabin in a sleepy rural town. The specifics are up to you, but the mission is to capture the spirit of travel and the immense capacity it holds to change us.
I will leave you with this quote from Austin-based writer Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist: “Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.”
In honor of the Frida Festival in Houston this weekend, write a short story through the eyes of an iconic artist of the past. For the three pages write in first person, past or present, in the voice of Frida or Hemingway or Monet or Rodin or Plath or any other iconic artist. Try to make their voice honest versus cliche. Let their strong, and enduring spirit guide the story.
If you attend the festival, be sure to take photos and post them on the WLT facebook!
Today is officially the first day of spring, and here in Austin it seems more like summer. However, I will put my sass away and be thankful for all the lovely flowers in bloom (and bees.) Write a two page short story or one page poem starting with this line :
It was the first day of spring, I stepped out to the garden and …
It could be positive and ‘spring like’ or it could be completely pessimistic and strange. Follow the first line and let spring bring something fresh into your writing.
I have many fiction friends who are incredible writers and incredible readers. I keep them up on poetry, they keep me up on fiction. A friend of mine recently demanded I read Susan Minot’s short story ‘Lust.’ It blew me away. The form felt so effortless, but I know how skilled Minot must be to have accomplished such incredible style and prose. I am currently writing a non fiction essay, reading Minot’s story inspired me to model it after ‘Lust.’ I have not been able to find a body for my essay and believe it may find it through the exercise of vignettes The story inspired me in many ways and I hope it will inspire you for this weeks exercise.
First read ‘Lust’ and pay attention to the form, to the seamless shifts in story and tone. She does all the changes without introduction or explanation. Once you have sunk into the short story, try to write a story modeled after this form. Pick a word of inspiration, like Demise or Infatuation, and tell as many vignettes connecting to the title as possible. This week may not produce a work you stick with it, but it should remind you that we have to be as good (if not better) of a reader as we are a writer.
Some hate it, some like it but regardless your opinion Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. The prompt is easy, and I am sure many will greatly resist it or end up quickly trashing it before anyone can see it, write a love scene. Love and sex are everywhere you look, but writers tend to struggle with writing an honest account of either. If you write fiction write a 1500 word love scene, if you write poetry write a two page narrative poem about a love scene. Use honest language, push away from the Valentine language. Sometimes less is more, sometimes you have to just go there. Fresh imagery and honest language may create something you would have resisted ever writing.
On January 25th there is a celebration, Burns Supper, to honor the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Essentially the evening involves drinking Scotch Whisky, reciting of Burn’s poems, and addressing (then eating) Haggis with a large knife. All in all, it sounds like a night of blurry memories and well metered fun.
What if each poet gone had a supper in their celebration? Would Plath’s be Domestic Rebel’s Supper? Or Blake’s The Roast of the Tyger? For this lovely weathered Wednesday, write an evening dedicated to your favorite poet (or writer for all you anti-poetry folks.) Think of this writer’s persona, writing style, and topics they took to task. Make an evening in their honor, which can include Scotch Whisky or not. I would hope it would include some libation, as poets tend to favor that sort of thing. Only speaking from experience. Let the life of the writer passed guide your writing – which means do not dictate what form the exercise will be in. The evening’s festivities could call to express themselves as a final scene in a screenplay, or a narrative poem, or a short story.
I think life would be much more colorful if we celebrated poets lost with a festive supper on a regular basis. Leave it to those cool cats across the pond to have such a unique tradition. What are some American poets we can begin a Burns Supper for?
Do you ever wonder what your favorite musician’s life is like beyond the basic ‘Personal Life’ section on wikipedia? Pick one of your favorite artists and research their personal history on their wikipedia page. Whether it be two paragraphs or two pages, fill in the blanks with your own fictional biography.
What is it like to be a local phenomenon like Austinite, Bob Schneider? How does Bob Dylan spend his Sunday afternoons? What scandalous crime did Randy Newman commit while vacationing in Maui?
Now take what you’ve written and put a new face on your character. Give him/her a new look, put them in the studio, and write song lyrics or a poem that reflects the history you’ve created. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, break out the dusty tuba from your high school marching band and come up with a melody!
I have had a difficult time committing to a writing prompt because I have been engrossed in Flavorwire’s New York’s 100 Most Important Living Writers. There is so much talent in that small island, it is just astonishing. My first idea for a prompt was – to read the work of a New York writer you love, and mimic their style (this is always a helpful go to prompt). Then I thought, there has not been a prompt lately about place/scene/image.
Google photographs of The Big Apple. New or old. And simply paint the picture in writing. No characters, no dialogue, just the scene. Force yourself, in either two pages of prose or poetry, to just describe that New York landscape. The city always becomes a character, regardless of how we try. Also, peak through the list. I found a number of Christmas gift ideas, and my Holiday reading list.
Since Writers’ League of Texas is based out of downtown Austin, we are thinking a lot about the upcoming Formula 1 Race. Traffic, anyone? This made me wonder, how many of our readers wanted to be race car drivers when they were little? Or a fireman, or a veterinarian, or a circus clown? I wanted to be a rockstar. I am just dating one now, does that count?
This week, go back in time to your childhood hopes and aspirations. Write out five different things you wanted to be when you ‘grew up.’ From those five things, chose 1 to live out and 1 to write about. If one of the dreams was to be a professional tap dancer, this week take a dance lesson. Or if one was to the President, this week volunteer at an event happening at the Capital.
Next, the second choice of five is to live it out via a short story, at a very hightened time of your career. If the dream was to be a Marine Biologist, write about discovering a new species of coral. Or if the dream was to be a Disney Princess at DisneyWorld, write about your first day on the job in mid July.
Have a chat with your inner child this week. He/She is way more fun, anyway.