WriteSpa #22 – Writing Prompts

WriteSpa – An Oasis for Writers

For many years, every morning I write down three phrases that I call my ‘daily happinesses.’ These are simple – usually appealing – images that help me peek into another, more objective, reality.

In a way, they are also writing prompts. Each one of these little phrases conjures a vignette, a mood, a story, a person. For example: “Planning for a garden of rare and wild roses.” “Penguins diving into the sea.” “The silence before applause.”

When I was in college back in the seventies, I vividly remember stumbling across this paragraph, written by Sylvia Plath in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams:

“How I envy the novelist! I imagine her… pruning a rosebush with a large pair of shears, adjusting her spectacles, shuffling about among teacups, humming, arranging ashtrays or babies, absorbing a slant of light, a fresh edge to the weather, and piercing, with a kind of modest, beautiful x-ray vision, the psychic interiors of her neighbors – her neighbors on trains, in the dentist’s waiting room, in the corner teashop. To her, this fortunate one, what is there that isn’t relevant! Old shoes can be used, doorknobs, air letters, flannel nightgowns, cathedrals, nail varnish, jet planes, rose arbors, and budgerigars; little mannerisms – the sucking at a tooth, the tugging at a hemline – any weird or warty or fine or despicable thing. Not to mention emotions, motivations – those rumbling, thunderous shapes. Her business is Time, the way it shoots forward, shunts back, blooms, decays, and double-exposes itself. Her business is people in Time. And she, it seems to me, has all time in the world. She can take a century if she likes, a generation, a whole summer. I can take about a minute.”

For me, reading this paragraph was a revelation. Writing furiously at the time, both novels and poetry, I knew in an instant what she meant. Every single detail in life – doorknobs, the tugging at a hemline – is relevant to a novelist.


Fun Writing Practice

Writing prompts are more than just a way to get you started. They are small awarenesses that keep you alive to the subtle qualities of writing fiction. Just as on the stage of a play, every prop is relevant to the action, characters, and dialogue, so every detail in a novel is relevant. It matters.

It also inspires.

Come up with a few of your own. Simply observe the folded sheets, or the curled up cat, or the sleet at the window, or the quirky smile of a friend, and write it down. You might be amazed at the story that surrounds an everyday image regarded in a different light.


Daily happinesses

  • fresh pineapple in the middle of winter
  • Friday night
  • snow crystals blowing off trees in the sun
  • beauty
  • a noodle shop in Hong Kong

2 thoughts on “WriteSpa #22 – Writing Prompts

  • Dear Winslow,

    Here are my happinesses.
    I love this practice!
    Love, S

    1. The mound of food placed accurately on a fork by a hungry teenager.
    2. Snow dervishes dancing across the road before me
    3. The gravelly tone of mucus in the music teacher’s voice and her natural way of organizing her voice around it
    4. The short torn nails of my friend Lisa in art class, confidently smoothing down the collage she shares with me
    5. The Moon rising silvery yellow, large, heavy fruit and it’s changing shape as it trims itself for the night time sail over the mountain.

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