Friday Speak Out!: Prompted

Friday, September 17, 2021
by Linda Petrucelli

Now, I am not usually the kind of person who likes to have someone tell me what to do. But in the case of generating words on a page, I often need a nudge to defeat that amorphous feeling of having nothing to say.

A terrific writing prompt, I believe, acts like a pressure cooker. It should create some heat. Make you sweat—just enough and not too much. Literary limits (word, subject, or craft restrictions) can supercharge a piece of writing. By holding you back a little, an impactful prompt revs your engine that much more.

My innate resistance to not doing what people tell me to do, though, is simply no match for those kind of diabolical, subversive even, writing prompts Chelsey Clammer dishes.

I admit it. My creative mind is hopelessly hooked on Chelsey’s writing prompts. I’m sure I’m not alone, considering the many writers her WOW! online classes attract.

Here’s the reason why I save her writing exercises in a specially marked doc stashed on my desktop: Almost all of my published CNF pieces, this year and last, originated from one of Chelsey’s ingenious writing prompts.

Her creative exercises have a way of turning my pen into a guided missile. Like the time I wrote to her prompt—Pretend you are giving instructions at the time of your birth and I launched into a flash memoir of my bellybutton. Soon to appear in print! Or this one—Write about a time of intense anxiety as a Countdown. That suggestion exploded into an essay about my ten minutes of terror and won runner-up in a CNF contest.

Often, Chelsey’s prompts are interactive with her teaching lectures and are designed to highlight a craft technique like use of language, point of view, or tense. In my endless search for fresh ways to tell a story, I appreciate how her prompts often instigate non-linear, non-sequential approaches to a narrative. This amazing prompt—Look up five facts and write about something happening in your life has actually affected my writing process. I’ve used it multiple times and am now prone to include facts and research as a way of telling my personal story.

If I were writing this essay for one of Chelsey’s WOW! writing classes, I could very likely receive a prompt directing me to conduct some etymological research. For the curious reader, the word “prompt” comes from the ancient Latin promptus, meaning to incite to action, to bring forth. In the 1670s, “prompt” began to be used in a theatrical sense—coaching a speaker with her lines. In her role as prompt provocateur, Chelsey Clammer has helped me get past the stage fright and remember what it is I have to say. I am grateful.

What kind of writing prompts work for you?

What role do prompts play in your writing practice?

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Linda Petrucelli is a writer obsessed with short form fiction and CNF. Her latest essays appear in Sky Island Journal, Pollux, and Barren Magazine. Her flash memoir, “Omphilomancy,” is found in Permafrost 43.1. She is also runner up in the Santa Clara Review 2021 Flash Non-fiction Contest. Linda lives on the Big Island of Hawaii where she writes and shares a lanai with one husband and ten cats. For more about Linda, browse:
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Theresa Boedeker said...

I took one of Chelsey's classes and worked with her on a few pieces. She is wonderful. Now you have me wondering where we can get these writing prompts. Does Chelsey have a book out with writing prompts? Because I would buy it.

Marcia Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcia Peterson said...

I've never been into to using writing prompts, but I'm really drawn to the ones you mentioned. Yes, we need a book or something from Chelsey with more of these! Her classes get a lot of positive feedback. :)

Lisa H. Owens said...

I discovered Chelsey when she critiqued two of my essay submissions for the quarterly contests. I agreed with her assessment and hired her to edit my first book. That book is now pending publication with a small press. Thank you, Chelsey, for all you do to bring out the very best in the emerging author!💖

Angela Mackintosh said...

Linda! I love this post and Chelsey's prompts! They are priceless and evergreen--to be used time and time again with surprising results. Your post and questions at the end inspired me to write an introduction to our markets newsletter (publishing on the 28th) that answers your question. I reference Chelsey's prompt and your award-winning essay, "Ballsy"! Stay tuned. I also share some other structures/prompts. Thank you for inspiring that. :)

Her five facts prompt will deepen any story and inspire the narrative to take new directions. I love the countdown prompt as well and would love to read it if you have a link?

I frequently use prompts to jumpstart my writing. Most of the time it's reading past work and picking out a line to start from, or it's reading poetry that sparks an opening to a piece.

I'm definitely going to suggest to Chelsey that she put together a prompt book! <3

Linda Petrucelli said...

Angela, I'll look for your forthcoming column! I would love to see what Chelsey would do for a prompt book, too.

There are some prompts like, I remember or I do not remember that I use to investigate myself all the time. But I've found that other prompts encourage more layered writing that investigates a conflict or metaphor or image and that moves me toward a more finished piece. I also like to take a line from a work in progress and use it as a prompt to go deeper.

Here's the link to the countdown piece and thanks for asking :)

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