Today, I'm excited to introduce our guest, Heather Marsten. I asked Heather to write a post after she mentioned a technique she learned from her writing teacher. I'm glad she agreed because I think you'll enjoy this. Heather writes two blogs, one about healing from abuse and another on Xanga. You can read more about her at the end of the post. Take it away, Heather!
Have you ever sat at your desk, fingers on the keyboard, ready to type your manuscript, and no words come? How do you battle writer’s block? Books suggest techniques such as writing junk prose, reviewing the previous chapter, and brainstorming.
Sometimes authors use writing prompts gleaned from books and websites to unleash their prose, but these prompts are unrelated to their stories and do nothing to help finish a manuscript. It is possible to utilize writing prompts that enrich your prose and advance your story.
Martha Frankel teaches a writing class near Woodstock, New York, called, “Write As If No One Is Looking Over Your Shoulder.” The title of her class, by itself, is an excellent writing prompt. So often we censor our writing and imagine others might read and criticize. It is freeing to just write and let censoring and editing come later.
Consider enhancing your manuscript by trying some of the following prompts she used in her class.
1. Write two pages of your story and incorporate all five senses.
Adding the senses to descriptions helps show the story to the reader and makes dull passages come alive. Readers want to be involved in scenes. Using senses adds plausibility and immediacy to the story. When a passage seems flat, check that some of the senses are included.
2. Write two pages that begin with the phrase: Nobody knows this about me …
The emotional content of the manuscripts that were brought to class from this prompt showed how valuable it was. Nothing gets to the heart of emotions like confession. All the characters, even in fiction manuscripts, have things to confess.
3. Write a typical day.
Not every aspect of your story needs to be sensational. Characters are developed through typical day-to-day interactions. Readers want to draw their own conclusions about characters through action, not author’s descriptions.
4. Write a passage entirely in description, then the same scene only using dialogue.
When dialogue is included in a story, the scenes are more immediate and interesting to the reader.
5. Write your last chapter.
Where is your story going? Every story needs an ending. Knowing the ending causes you to focus on the paths you need to cover to attain the resolution of your story.
If these suggestions don’t target the problems in your manuscript, you can devise your own prompts. Sometimes Martha gave individual assignments to class members to help expand a weak story plot and make the writing stronger. Some class members needed to revise chapters or introduce different characters to the reader.
Prompts can be adopted to fit the part of the story you are working on. Using them can make your writing stronger and help to advance your story or combat writer’s block.
How have you used writing prompts to advance your manuscript and writing techniques? What prompt can you use today to make your story stronger?
Heather Marsten is a happily married mom of three young adults. A survivor of incest, she is now working on a memoir of her healing journey. She maintains two blogs Wondering04 and Healing from abuse. She can be reached at heathermarsten (at) gmail . com.
Joe here. Writing with all my senses is my favorite way to write, so let's take Heather's advice and practice using prompt number one. Spend some time in the world of your work in progress (and if you don't have a work in progress, write about your own personal world).
Make sure to write using all five senses.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, post your practice in the comments.