I'd like to welcome YA author Tamara Ireland Stone to the blog today. She's here to chat with us about something all writers face at some point--getting stuck. Even better, she'll also share a few of her favorite writing prompts to help keep the muse happy. These look like a lot of fun and a great way to get started on those sluggish writing days. (Some of them even look like fun ways to develop a character)
Tamara is the author of the young adult time travel romance, Time Between Us, which will be published in fifteen languages and has been optioned for film. In addition to writing, Tamara co-owns a Silicon Valley marketing communications firm and enjoys skiing, hiking, and spending time with her husband and two children. Tamara lives just outside San Francisco, where she is at work on her second novel. You can visit her on the Web at www.TamaraIrelandStone.com.
Take it away Tamara...
For a long time, I considered writing to be a form of therapy. When I was young, I’d write long entries in my diary about everything I had on my mind—friends, parents, boys. Okay, it was mostly about boys.
I abandoned my diary in the later part of high school, but picked up the daily writing habit again in college after one of my professors required us to keep a journal. At a time when I had a lot of challenges in my life, it reminded me that writing was therapeutic. Like regular exercise, it was something that kept me happy and centered.
That same professor introduced me to writing prompts, which opened a whole new world for me. I learned that writing wasn’t only about sorting out my thoughts—it was about storytelling. Writing became what reading had always been: Fun. An adventure.
I fell in love with Natalie Goldberg’s, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life and her Try This prompts. They taught me how to turn off the inner editor, but even better, they showed me how to be a great people-watcher. I’d spend hours in my local coffee shop making up stories about other people’s lives and writing them down (it’s fun. Try it. Just don’t stare. That creeps people out.)
When I began drafting my first novel, it didn’t occur to me to use prompts. The story flowed and I had more ideas for scenes than I had time to write them. But then, one day, I got stuck. I’d written down everything I’d crafted in my brain, but there was a lot more of the story to tell and I had no idea where to go next.
I sat in front of my computer screen feeling totally dejected. Where did the inspiration go? I didn’t know how to write a whole book! And a young adult book at that… did I even remember what it was like to be a teen? What was I thinking?
It had been years since I last picked up Wild Mind, but that day, I grabbed it off the shelf and opened it to a page. These were the first words I saw:
Try this:That exercise instantly picked me up and dropped me off in my middle school. I saw the posters on the wall in my English classroom, and remembered how horrible my science teacher smelled. It came back to me how much I hated first period gym, especially in the winter. But my most vivid pictures were of the hallway.
Do a timed writing for ten minutes. Begin with “I remember” and keep going. Every time you get stuck and feel you have nothing to say, write, “I remember” again. Keep going.
The hall was circular and the classrooms were on the perimeter. To keep order, students could only walk in one direction—clockwise. If you forgot a book in your locker, it meant another trip around the circle. Which often meant a tardy slip.
The writing exercise I did that day became the inspiration for “The Donut” in Time Between Us. I pictured Anna, curious about this guy she saw earlier that morning, walking the hallway between classes and trying to find him again when she could only walk in one direction. I wrote that down. And then I wrote more and more.
The “I Remember” prompt did its job—it put me right back in school, deep into Anna’s frame of mind, and gave me the setting I needed to build my scene.
One thing I have learned about writing and about myself is that when I get stuck, it's often because I've stopped having fun.
But isn’t that why we write? Because it's fun to create whole people out of thin air, or to travel to places we’ve built from our own imaginations? I love remembering what it was like to drink coffee in an Italian village, or how it felt to look into the eyes of an elephant in Thailand. I write to bring myself back to places and feelings and people and moments that moved me, and translate them into stories people might want to read.
The last time I was in a bookstore I found another great book: 642 Things To Write About, by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. I brought it home and found a prompt that was right up my alley:
Put your iPod on random shuffle, write down the lyrics of the first song that comes on, and use it as an opening line.My iPod chose this song.
I took off, starting with the line: “She hates my mama. She hates my daddy too.” The result was this wacky little story I’ll never share. But I will say this: I had a blast writing about a character who was the absolute opposite of the ones I’ve been living and breathing. It was fun.
If you’re feeling stuck or just looking for inspiration, go on a prompt date. Wander through your memories, or into the life of a total stranger, or into an imaginary world. See where the journey takes you.
To get your started, here are a few more ideas from 642 Things to Write About:
- A lie you told and got away with.
- A family that lived on the street where you grew up.
- Start with, “I never told anyone…”
- The topic is “teeth”. Twenty minutes. Go.
Do you have a favorite writing prompt? What lines get you going when you need a little jolt?
GIVEAWAY: My agent, Caryn Wiseman, has kindly offered to do a query letter + first three pages review for one winning entry, picked at random from the comments below. So go ahead, let us have your favorite prompt. You might win. Or even better, you might free a stuck writer. (Contest winner announced Sunday, noon EST)
About Time Between Us
Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett’s unique ability to travel through time and space brings him into Anna’s life, and with him, a new world of adventure and possibility. As their relationship deepens, they face the reality that time might knock Bennett back where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate—and what consequences they can bear in order to stay together.