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A prompt writing workshop, and a prompt...

Tonight I attended a workshop advertised as follows:

PROMPT WRITING WORKSHOP -- Author Nancy Peacock leads writers into serious writing through prompts at 6 p.m. at Market Street Books in Southern Village. Fee is $5. Workshops are held the first Thursday and third Saturday of each month. Call 933-5111 or e-mail

A sizable group of 20 attended tonight's workshop, and we started off with introductions of 1) our name, and 2) where we are in the "writing process."

I introduced myself: "My name is John. I've written an abandoned novel of nine chapters, have had a short story published in the now defunct Urban Hiker, do boring technical writing for a living, and have been blogging for almost five years, having missed only a handful of days in three-and-a-half years."

Nancy reviewed the "rules" for prompt writing:
  • I'm going to give you a prompt phrase from which to write.

  • You write, without stopping, for 15 minutes. I'll start a timer after giving you the prompt.

  • Do not edit as you go. (This was extremely difficult for me, as an editor is what I am.)

  • It's okay to stray off topic if you don't really have anything to say specifically about the prompt. What's important is to just keep writing.

  • Once time is up, you have the option of reading your piece to the group for feedback.

  • Feedback is in the form, of "I liked this about the piece..."

"The first prompt is, 'Hey Baby.' Begin."

This is what I wrote, and subsequently read aloud as the first volunteer to read his work.

"Hey baby." That's what she said to me, and then asked me to two-step. After one trip around the floor, the next, by now inevitable, line came from her, "So, you come here often?"

"Not, too, really," I smiled back. I had trouble negotiating her while talking and dancing, because the truth is I'm not much of a lead when it comes to this dance.

She persisted, "I don't ever remember seeing you here before; I'm sure I'd remember you."

"Off and running," I thought, and I took a deep breath and said, "Actually, I'm just here to learn how to lead, as I usually two-step with men, and somebody has to lead," ending with the kindest smile I could genuinely produce.

Again, the inevitable, "Oh," followed by a silent remainder to some song about someone's mother getting run over by a train the day before she was to pick up her son at the end of his prison sentence.

We exchanged polite thank yous, and I watched her return to her group of friends, where as they are prone to do, she bent over to whisper the recent goings on with her pals.

Usually, I'm not too concerned about what they say to their group, but this group contained two men, who looked mean, and I briefly thought about my safety.

I stood, alone, along the rail to the dance floor waiting for the next line-dance, which I could do partnerless, and get lost in the endless appeal of a prescribed dance to an anal-retentive person.

Not only that, it would keep my mind engaged until those next, inevitable, words were spoken to me again. "Hey baby. You come here often?"

I'm done with that story now, but the timer hasn't gone off, and I'm thinking about the writing process. I don't like writing on my lap. I can't stop thinking about that inviting desk that's right behind me, and how if I had my druthers, I would whip right around, clear me a corner, and use it as, well, a desk.

Some comments shared:
  • I liked the way you said you had trouble "negotiating" her on the dance floor.

  • I liked the repeated use of the word "inevitable."

  • I liked the part about the "partnerless line-dancing" and getting "lost in the endless appeal of a prescribed dance."

  • Though the whole piece was about you, of course, when you said that part about thinking about your safety, that really brought me right back to you and how you must have been feeling.

  • I liked the visual of the woman going back to her friends after the dance and gossiping with them about what just happened.

  • I liked when you said, "Off and running"; the piece did just that, too. From that point on, one thing just tumbled into the next.
Other people read their pieces, and several of them were beautifully done.

"The second prompt is, 'When the dust settles...' Begin."

This is what I wrote, but deferred reading, so that others who hadn't had a chance to read their pieces during the first round could do so this round.

When the dust settles, the person doing my dusting is going to thank me. My personal home page has a section called "Last Wishes" on it, which contains three subsections: My Documents, My Memorial Service, and My Obituary.

The My Documents section lists those "instruments" we're all supposed to have, but most can't bear to put together -- you know, the Will, the Healthcare Power of Attorney, the Financial Power of Attorney, and the How I Want To Be Treated in My Final Hours: "Do I, or don't I, want someone to press a wet cloth to my lips at some regular interval," "Do I want someone present to pray over me," and "Is there some special music I want playing in my room, even if the monitors all indicate that I can't hear it."

The Memorial Service section details that I want to be cremated, and that it's already all arranged and paid for, that I want the cheapest pine box to be burned in, there's to be no "viewing of the body," and no flowers -- just a gathering of friends to reminisce about the good times we had together.

I am an avid obituary reader, and over the years have learned, I think, just about every possible euphemism for died -- "Went to sleep in the Lord," "Was promoted to glory," "Answered the call of the angels," and "Was plucked from God's garden." Being cremated, my obituary employs the technical writing tenets of conciseness and clarity stating, "John was burnt to a crisp on [fill in date here]."

The other thing every experienced obituary reader wants to know is, "How did the deceased die???" And I hate having to look at what suggested organization memorial donations should be made to in order to surmise the demise. My obit says, "John died as a result of [give the people what they came to find out by filling in the cause of death here]."

Most people I know think it's morbid that I have this on my web page; either that, or they insist that I'm a control freak to the point of grasping for control even from the grave. My take is that it's a thoughtful gesture, and one that were they to be my executor, they'd appreciate immensely as to dust I do return.

Tom, I believe that was his name, read his exceptional piece to this prompt. It was riveting. It started off with a line to the effect of: "When the dust settles, Billy-Joe is going to pull the trigger on the gun he is holding to his wife's head as she sleeps in their bed."

"The final prompt is, 'Write about a superstition you have.' Begin."

This is what I wrote, and read aloud afterwards:

I am not at all superstitious, and writing the word just now -- I don't like it. Visually, superstitious has a suspicious number of Is in it; that is, if I've spelled it correctly.

My mind is now wandering to other "itious" kind of words -- like delicious, vicious, bubblelicious, and vociferous. I'm quite sure vociferous is a word, though I have no idea what it means, and technically, it ends with a "rus" sound, not a "shus" sound, which reminds me of some songs. You know, when two lines are meant to rhyme, but they just don't quite do.

Speaking of songs, a big pet peeve of mine is bad grammar in country songs. "She don't love him...," "You don't love me no more..." -- those kinds of phrases.

Which takes me to conversation in general these days, particularly with regards to the word "like." I heard a lady the other day, in response to the question, "What do you do for a living," say, "I teach, like, 8th graders."

I wanted to shake her and ask her what it would take for her to teach actual 8th graders as opposed to like 8th graders. Or, ask her for further clarification of "like 8th graders." What were they exactly? 7th graders, or 9th graders? Or did she, like, mean something, like, totally different altogether?

Yes, I'm one of those people who came back from his Alaskan cruise last August with digital photos of various signs and placards on the ship with misspellings and grammar errors in them. I opened them in the PAINT software program, and superimposed thick-edged red circles around the offenses.

I'm also quite fond of the strikethrough symbol, which I use to annihilate redundant, unnecessary, and superfluous words.

Some comments shared:
  • I liked how you didn't really have anything to say about superstitions, so just veered off on something else, with it as a jumping off spot.

  • That line, "I teach, like, 8th graders," was hilarious.

  • I really related to that part about lines in songs that don't quite rhyme.

  • I liked, "What were they exactly? 7th graders, or 9th graders?"
The most rewarding feedback about this piece of mine was actually during the reading of it. People were chuckling and laughing, throughout, with the "climax" being when I read the line, "I teach, like, 8th graders." I actually had to stop and wait for the laughter to stop before going on, so people wouldn't miss the subsequent part.

Again, several others read, and it was just interesting, as with the other two rounds, how one prompt, well, prompts such different stories for different people.

One of the participants in tonight's workshop was Art Fettig. We had a brief chat between "rounds," and he asked me if I had a few minutes afterwards to chat.

As it turns out, Art is quite a prolific author, with over 50 published books/works to his credit, in addition to being a celebrated motivational speaker, as his web site details.

In our chat afterwards, he asked me if I had ever considered publishing a book. Of course I have.

He went on to say that if I've been blogging for as long as I said I've been blogging, "You already have the material. It's just a matter of pulling it together and publishing it."

He challenged me to pick, say 10 topics, and go through my writing looking for entries that fit the topics. "I basically wrote a book in one day by pulling together a collection of articles, stories, and pieces I'd already written," he said.

He then told me that he's written a book on how to write a book, and took me through this small exercise, which I presume is in the book:

"What color is your book?" he asked me.

I hadn't ever thought about it, but said pretty quickly, "It's blue."

"What size is your book?"

There was a book laying on the desk near which we were talking, and I said, "I like that size book," pointing to it.

"Okay, say, it's 5 1/2 by 8 1/2, then," he responded, and continued, "How many pages are in your book?"

"Oh, about 200," the answers just rolled off my tongue now.

"Okay, 200, and in how many chapters is it divided?"


He calculated, "Okay, that's about 20 pages per chapter. You have that much material already."

All during this discussion, he was writing down my answers on a sheet of yellow, lined paper from a pad.

"And when will you have this done?"

This last question sort of stunned me, and I thought out loud as I answered, "Well, school starts mid-to-late August, and I'd like to have it done by then, so say, the end of August?"

He wrote down, "August 25th," and then drew a line on the paper. "Sign here," he said. "This is your commitment to yourself to get it done."

I did, and he took the paper back, and said, "I'm going to sign here as your witness." He signed it, dated it, and tore the sheet out and handed it to me.

Then he said, "I want you to do this: Go home and create the back cover of your book -- what it's going to say on the back cover, the marketing of the book. Then make the front cover, remember it's blue. And then I want you to create it on your computer, and print it. Then, take an empty book, like one of those journals you can buy, and glue your covers on that book, so that you see it done."

This was a very interesting exercise, which I appreciated immensely. I talked a little about the fact that a lot of my writing was gay-centric, in effect, and he responded, "Well, there's your audience, then."

And I said, "Oh, yeah, gay people read, too."

He then talked about the naming of the book, so that it "brings in" the straight audience too, and he suggested something like, "Blogging for Survival in a Straight World." Brilliant notion.

So, I left this workshop thinking about synchronicity again, how:
  • I'd finally gotten to one of these workshops after twice before blowing it off,

  • Art attended this particular one, when he doesn't get to all of them,

  • I've been "prompted" (at a Prompt Workshop, no less) to write/publish a book that I've always wanted to, and at a time when I've been granted a leave of absence from work in which I had signed up for a summer course that ended up being canceled due to missing the minimum student enrollment requirement for 12 people, giving me the time to actually do it.
Things that make you go, "Hmmmm."


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 10th, 2006 02:09 pm (UTC)
Publishing that book
Yes, John Martin! Go for it! Of course, I expect an autographed copy as soon as it comes out! WOO HOO! - Courtney
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )



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