Same old prompts, creative writing groups – and a poem

Betty in flowerI’m sometimes asked what I take for inspiration when I’m writing my poems and stories, so I thought I’d share a few words about ideas, imagination and writing prompts.

I’m a member of several different writing groups; one is mostly for criticism of finished work which can be eye-opening (and eye-watering), but the others are creative writing groups. We take turns to suggest prompts, and then we just write. Sometimes the prompt is a piece of music, an image, a piece of poetry, a random selection of words, anything that will inspire (usually) 20 minutes of creative scribbling. And in two hours, we usually get in at least three prompts, which is a whole hour of writing time.

It is amazing what comes out of these little writing sessions. There can be half a dozen or more of us there with the same prompt – but you can guarantee that we’ll each end up with something different.

I find the words I’ve assembled in a creative writing session often need a lot more work to make them finished pieces, but I’ve made a start, and that’s half the battle…

My story ‘Five Staves and an Instant’ began as a writing group prompt, ‘I am friend to…’ It started out life as a poem, but then morphed into a story.

Another story, ‘A Week Without Mary’ began from the prompt: ‘Imagine you are left on your own for a week. Who would you miss and why? What happens?’

My poem ‘Yellow Brick Road’, about my love-hate relationship with the colour yellow, arrived after I was prompted to write about that colour at a creative writing workshop.

And the story ‘Same Old’ which appears in this week’s Roscommon Herald is another that began life as a poem at a writing workshop a couple of years ago – inspired by a conversation with some friends who all have knowledge of the same (and of course different) bachelor farmers. It began from the prompt, ‘Who would you give a lift to?’ and the story developed from there, the character arriving as an amalgam of three or four different people and plenty of imagination!

I’m never usually short of ideas on what to write (maybe time to write them all down is what is in short supply), but the writing group prompts are a wonderful mixed bag of idea-generators.

At one of last week’s writing groups I listened to a Janis Joplin song, studied a photo of teens queuing to see the Pope in 1979, and looked at a passage in a text book about the 18 different kinds of smile a human is capable of.

And in the same week, another group had prompts taken from an obituary (of a writer we didn’t recognise), the opening gambit between two characters at a railways station, and a bag of objects that included a passport, a fiver, a map, a magnifying glass, gardening gloves, a religious icon, a clove of garlic, a wooden fish, a pepper pot – and a fisherman’s ‘priest’.

It was that last thing that got me, a priest – it’s a kind of cosh used to kill fish – and I wrote the following poem from it.

in air
a hook-lipped trout
snatched from the river’s slippery grasp
lies gasping and flip-flapping
on the mud grass bank
heaving, rainbow belly dancing
silver spangles inviting
holy ministration of the priest
brass tipped and final
bestowing a trinity of blows
until cold-eyed and still
the light continues to dazzle.

If you are looking for inspiration, don’t forget, there’s loads on the internet – along with lots of cat stories. I mean, that’s why the internet was invented, wasn’t it? So we can share cat pictures and stories? Like this one of my lovely (not ugly) Betty? No? Oh…

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