Monday, September 29, 2008

How Do You Define Success?

Last week my writing group tossed around an interesting question: how do you define success as a writer? We discussed this question in light of this quote from Danell Jones, author of The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop, the book we’re currently reading. “Simply moving through the world with a writer’s eye, she [Virginia Woolf] would contend, gives us a richer human experience, a more expansive life, whether we ever succeed at communicating our experiences in words or not.” (p. 7 of The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop.)

Here’s the question we boiled it down to: If writers are in the business of communication, but we fail to communicate the message we intended, yet still communicate a message (however far removed from our original idea), can we count that as success? I would offer that perhaps it’s all about the degree of interpretive accuracy. The further away our readers are from our intended message, I believe the less successful we are. However, with that said, I think that just getting the words onto paper in any form that resembles what we imagined is a success. When our work goes out to meet the world, we relinquish control over it, but first we must have something to send out. The simple act of writing is a success all by itself.

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” –Lillian Hellman

A Word of Advice and Other Prompts

In prior prompts, I’ve asked writers to describe the worst bit of writing advice they’ve ever received; today, I’m asking the opposite. (And let’s all remember the words of Lillian Hellman , who said, “If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.”) You know what to do: pick a prompt and write for ten minutes without stopping or correcting anything, even if Word puts little squiggly lines under your words. (You can turn that feature off, by the way.)

--Writers get plenty of useless/annoying/forgettable advice, but occasionally we get a really good tip. What is the best writing advice that you’ve received?

--Joyce did not like her husband’s business partner, Phil. She wasn’t quite sure what it was that inspired her dislike, but the more she thought about it….

--Do you have a writing space you can call your own? What does it look like?

--Have you ever golfed? What was your experience like?

--Jack was almost out of patience with his dog, Patches. Patches was barking and jumping at the back door like someone was there to see them. “No one ever comes out to see us!” he scolded the dog, but that was before he spotted….
Photo information: Photo courtesy of Steve Woods/Woodsy at

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


If you’ve been longing for some writing prompts, you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve got a bumper crop for you today. Here are all the prompts I’ve given my writing group since we resumed meeting September 3. So, pick a prompt. Write for ten minutes. No stopping, no crossing out, no checking the dictionary. Ready, set…go!

--Mildred hated her new home. She hated the house, the neighborhood, even the oak tree in her front yard. In fact, Mildred hated the entire state of California, and she never would have moved there if it hadn’t been for….

--“How’s about you give me the gun and we talk about it?” Fred said gently to Daisy. “I know you’re angry about….”

--Recent media reports tell us that the majority of kids today want to be famous more than anything else. Do you think that this is a new development, or has fame always been such a prized goal?

--Paula saw the note on the kitchen counter, the paper neatly folded in half with “Open this first” scrawled on it. She unfolded the paper and began reading: “Dear Mom, I don’t know how to tell you this, but….”

--Combine a broken vase, an arthritic cat, and a shovel in one story.

--Greg and Linda are at the mall. One of them has a serious case of wandering eyes and just cannot stop staring at other people. Which one of the two has the roving eyes? What does their conversation sound like?

--Judy heard tires squealing and horns honking right before….

--What’s your take on bugs? Do you tolerate them, or do you have a lifetime supply of Raid?

--Bill watched Carrie walking down the isle. She looked beautiful in her wedding dress. Bill was mesmerized by the sight until….

--You and motorcycles: have you driven one? Ridden on one? Do you think they’re dangerous or fun?

--Ben couldn’t believe his eyes. Sheila was supposed to be home, sick in bed, but here she was at….

--Jerry had just lit a cigarette when the waitress walked up to him. “You can’t smoke in here, sir,” she said, but Jerry was tired of being harassed about smoking.
“Don’t call me sir. And you can take your smoking rules and….”

--Are you fashionably late or always on time?

--Hector wanted to keep his trophies, but Louise said they would have to go because….

--Combine mud, lotion, and a notebook in one story/poem.
Photo Information: Courtesy of gerard79 at