Word Association Story

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Create a grab bag of words. Write random words on slips of paper or clip them from old magazines and place them in a container to draw from. This would be a good writing group or classroom activity, as each person would contribute different words to the grab bag and no one would know what to expect when the draw was made.

Alternatively, use one of these random word generators:

  • random word generator (options: generate unlimited number of words; include/exclude duplicate words)
  • random word generator (options: generate 1-8 random words; click/drag to rearrange words; double-click to swap out a word for a new one)
  • random word generator (options: generate 2-10 random words; temporarily save words you like to a list)
  • random word generator (options: generate one word at at time)
  • random word generator (options: generate unlimited number of words; choose first and/or last letter; choose number of syllables or letters)

Draw one word and write the first sentence that comes to mind using that word. (Like a word association game, but word ➡️ sentence instead of word ➡️ word.) Repeat nine more times, so you have a total of ten sentences.

Write a story using all ten sentences. These sentences can be rearranged (used in any order) but must be used as-is. The ten original sentences are just a starting point—add as much as you need to fill in and complete the story.

If you do this exercise as a group, read the stories aloud once they’re complete.

Alternative group story exercise: After everyone has completed their 10 sentences, have one person start by choosing one of their sentences as the first sentence of the story. Go around the room in turn. Each person can either add a sentence to the story or pass when it comes to their turn. Stop when someone runs out of sentences. Read the completed story out loud.

July 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. That nervous feeling in your stomach when…
  2. Use these 5 words: roasting, hungry, tough, spatters, heat.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: probe, gaunt, children, inside, ourselves.
    2. Write about being sick and the stuff you didn’t get to do.
    3. Use the phrase, “Major party foul.”
  4. Use this phrase: “the need to explain the obvious”
  5. New fireworks lighting up the smoke from old ones
  6. calling someone by a sibling’s name
  7. Working together to figure out what’s wrong
  8. Use these 5 words: reconciliation, journey, expat, insularity, activist.
  9. Many years later, on the same date…
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: silent, song, fatalistic, sailors, doves.
    2. Write about turning off the news.
    3. Use the phrase, “I wanted to strangle him/her.”
  11. Substituting ingredients in a recipe
  12. Start with a character saying: “I actually did a double-take.”
  13. Obsolete technology saves the day
  14. a publicity stunt
  15. “What did we actually do, back then?”
  16. Use these 5 words: magicians, roller coaster, inhalers, key, prison.
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: secret, lunar, ranklings, snarl, misused.
    2. Write about a street musician playing something beautiful.
    3. Fill in the blank: “The ______ made in hell.”
  18. Use this line: “I’ve been observing the pattern…”
  19. Late additions to the schedule
  20. a deleted tweet
  21. Repeat until you can’t remember how.
  22. Use these 5 words: engulfs, crashed, emotional, cloud, overturned.
  23. Wrong word comes out when flustered
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: crossing, windy, woman, waterski, twists.
    2. Use the phrase, “I broke for egg rolls.”
    3. Write about forgetting to do something important.
  25. “I really didn’t change anything. Except…”
  26. Start with a character saying: “That’s not fair!”
  27. “I’ve been expecting you,” said to a stranger.
  28. the field of shark research
  29. People watching with an unlikely companion
  30. blue is the new pink
  31. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: strength, believe, those, shore, attempted.
    2. Use the phrase, “I don’t think anybody else knows that either.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “I was just brushing my teeth, when _________.”

Choose Your Own Adventure!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Write a “choose your own adventure”-style story. That is, start writing your story, but when you get to a point where your main character has to make a decision, first continue the story with the character making one choice (up to the point where another decision has to be made), then go back to the fork in the road and write the story with the character making a different choice.

Pick at least three points in your story where it could go in two or more directions and write each of the versions.

A simple version of this exercise would go something like this, and result in eight different versions of the story:

  • Original story 📝 at the first fork, choose A or B.
    • A story 📝 at the second fork, choose C or D.
      • C story 📝 at the third fork, choose G or H.
        • G story 📝 continue to the end.
        • H story 📝 continue to the end.
      • D story 📝 at the third fork, choose I or J.
        • I story 📝 continue to the end.
        • J story 📝 continue to the end.
    • B story 📝 at the second fork, choose E or F.
      • E story 📝 at the third fork, choose K or L.
        • K story 📝 continue to the end.
        • L story 📝 continue to the end.
      • F story 📝 at the third fork, choose M or N.
        • M story 📝 continue to the end.
        • N story 📝 continue to the end.

Of course, stories can get more complicated than this, with more options and storylines backtracking and crisscrossing on each other. Play around and have fun with it.

While a choose-your-own-adventure story can be meant to be read as-is, this is also a good exercise for exploring your options when working through the plot of a longer story or novel.

It’s also a great way to complete a challenge like NaNoWriMo if you “run out of story” before reaching your word goal. Go back through your story and look for points where it could have gone in a different direction and write those versions. You might find you like one of the alternate stories better than the original.

June 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Forgetting to make coffee in the morning
  2. Use these 5 words: hype, version, second-degree, engagement, deadly.
  3. Raining on the parade
  4. Start with this line: “I’ll drink to that!”
  5. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  6. no free meals
  7. Strange noises in a quiet house
  8. Use these 5 words: congestion, extended, haywire, dicey, tools.
  9. A departed loved one’s birthday
  10. Start with this line: “Don’t go home without a plan.”
  11. “Remember when these were rare?”
  12. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: memory, arrogant, remorseful, grunts, sights.
    2. Write about getting away with something.
    3. Use the phrase, “Is that what really happened?”
  13. Wanting to wear something forbidden
  14. struggling for relevance
  15. Forgetting how to ride a bicycle
  16. Use these 5 words: mapping, rights, underdogs, gold, wisdom.
  17. “Why are you so fussy today?”
  18. Start with this line: “Wow! Where have I been?”
  19. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  20. illegal sales of spot prawns
  21. “Does it always take this long?”
  22. Use these 5 words: hybrid, fork, diamond-encrusted, juices, makeover.
  23. Doing something you know you shouldn’t.
  24. Start with this line: “Some people are so gullible.”
  25. Turning in a project to be reviewed
  26. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: world, excerpt, persons, lunar, boxes.
    2. Write about turning the picture over to see if it makes more sense.
    3. Use a non-standard answer to, “How are you?”
  27. A complicated story that’s not quite right
  28. a baffling array of long words
  29. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.
  30. Midyear check-in! Review your 2016 writing goals and revise as necessary 🙂

Modify an Old Book

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

In Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the title character is an unidentified man whose only link to his past is an old book he used as a notebook / commonplace book:

She picks up the notebook that lies on the small table beside his bed. It is the book he brought with him through the fire—a copy of The Histories by Herodotus that he has added to, cutting and gluing in pages from other books or writing in his own observations—so they are all cradled within the text of Herodotus. (p. 16)

And in his commonplace book, his 1890 edition of Herodotus’ Histories, are other fragments—maps, diary entries, writings in many languages, paragraphs cut out of other books. All that is missing is his own name. (p. 96)

This month’s exercise is to use the English patient’s book as inspiration.

Step One: Find an old book to repurpose. I suggest starting with a used book that already has some scuffs and scrapes so it doesn’t feel too precious to modify.

If you don’t want to use a book you already own, look for a suitable book at a used bookstore (check the discount bin out front) or charity book sale. Tip: library book sales often sell hardcover books for $1 or less.

While you can start with any book, a copy of a favorite novel, a nonfiction book whose subject is interesting to you, or one with aesthetic appeal (but perhaps less-than-interesting content) are good options.

Step Two: Modify your book! You can play with the existing text or treat it more like a blank journal.

Some suggestions:

  • create found poetry using the existing text
  • paste in photos, clippings, tickets, etc.
  • doodle or draw
  • add patterns or color
  • write notes in the margins
  • journal between the lines
  • fill in blank pages
  • write an alternate ending or add a “missing” chapter
  • add a character
  • modify illustrations/photographs
  • dry leaves or flowers between the pages

Step Three: Continue until your book feels finished. Use your book as a source of inspiration for your writing—both during the process of creating it and afterward.

[Page numbers from the 1992 Vintage edition.]

May 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: grunts, share, looking, clings, alter.
    2. Use the phrase “I’m not surprised it didn’t work.”
    3. Write about opposites both being true.
  2. “Tell me again why that’s wrong?”
  3. Use these 5 words: vibes, lyrics, flash, shame, tribute.
  4. Learning from someone else’s misfortune
  5. Include this line: “This song makes me want to dance!”
  6. A long time between days off work
  7. a deafening silence.
  8. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: misused, comes, haunches, unrequited, memory.
    2. Use the phrase, “Don’t go without me.”
    3. Write about fixing something that wasn’t broken.
  9. Use these 5 words: meeting, petty, hard, nominate, psychopath.
  10. “I know where to look that up.”
  11. Start with: After her release from prison…
  12. Going home to more drama
  13. what actually happens during a commercial break.
  14. “I’m using that. Get your own.”
  15. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: excerpt, moaning, public, preserve, south.
    2. Use the phrase, “Are you sure about that?”
    3. Write about a bad day at work.
  16. There’s always one more of them to do.
  17. Use these 5 words: disgusted, king, intimidate, truths, earful.
  18. Becoming aware of someone else’s pain
  19. Include this line: “This is the job I’ve dreamed of.”
  20. Doing something domestic for a friend
  21. a lawsuit over too much ice in iced coffee.
  22. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: reaches, hand, agony, appear, these.
    2. Write about a sequence of numbers.
    3. Write about making something with one’s hands.
  23. Use these 5 words: monster, rigging, victim, anger, exposed.
  24. …and you need yet another password for that.
  25. Include this line: “I fangirled over _____.”
  26. Getting old is not for the faint of heart.
  27. shenanigans at a picnic.
  28. “Put the phone away and talk to me.”
  29. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: killed, unrequited, barking, boxes, light.
    2. Write about doing something you’d never do.
    3. Use the phrase, “There’s no guarantee.”
  30. Write something completely different today.
  31. Your dog hates hugs.

Track Your Submissions

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. If you haven’t already, set up a way to track your submissions. Duotrope’s submission tracker used to be free but when Duotrope went pay, so did the submission tracker. Membership is $5 per month, less if you sign up for a year. Writer’s Database has a submission tracker and free accounts.
  2. When you set up your submission tracker, go through your email and add everything you’ve ever submitted. It can be inspiring to remember how many times you gave it a shot.
  3. Set a goal for submitting your work over the next three months, like:
    • Send out a story every Thursday for 12 weeks.
    • Clean out your file of unfinished or abandoned work and polish one piece for submission within 90 days.
    • Submitting poetry? Max out your submission. If you only have one poem slated to send but the journal accepts three per submission, add two poems. You never know what will move an editor.
  4. Read the submission guidelines for a handful of random journals. New Pages runs a nice listing, as does Poets & Writers. Compare submission guidelines for similarities and differences. If you’re curious about why a journal has set a specific criterion, click through to read it and you might discover further explanation at the site.

April 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandThe feelings of the April Fool.
  2. Write about someone who is young but old at heart.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: fog, pestilence, through, toadstools, built.
    2. Use the phrase “Nobody was injured, but…”
    3. Write about complicated instructions.
  4. Start with: “Tonight I’m auditioning for…”
  5. “Well, that’s a proper train wreck.”
  6. Use these 5 words: mission, waiting, events, echo, time.
  7. Trying to stay awake after lunch
  8. “Stop whining and eat your dinner. Children are starving.”
  9. Everything I knew turns out to be wrong.
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: secret, their, yard, misused, pianos.
    2. Use the phrase “I’m holding it in my hand.”
    3. Write about a late-night snack.
  11. Dividing up stuff after a breakup
  12. Have a character pose topless.
  13. There’s always one more thing you need.
  14. Use these 5 words: anecdotes, suspends, delicious, absolutely, ready.
  15. Unexpected last moment extension
  16. “You’re under contract.”
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  18. Give your MC some form of punishment.
  19. “I’d like to trade places with _____”
  20. Use these 5 words: text, hopes, impossible, audience, nautical.
  21. I could never get the hang of Thursdays
  22. “Another naked selfie?!”
  23. Maybe if it’s dark they won’t notice it.
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: nothing, muttered, memory, factory, opened.
    2. Use the phrase “What are you going to say?”
    3. Write about a headache.
  25. Book ’em, Danno.
  26. Write about a massive disappointment.
  27. We’re oddly even.
  28. Use these 5 words: coloring, prejudices, profane, trending, blame.
  29. April showers bring May _______.
  30. Write about ‘a state of unlimited freedom’

Start a Project Blog

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

One of the big appeals of writing challenges like NaNoWriMo or April’s NaPoWriMo is that they have a concrete timeframe and goal, whether it be to write a 50,000-word novel in a month or thirty poems in thirty days. Even if the task as a whole seems daunting, it can be broken down into manageable daily goals: don’t worry about writing 30 poems, focus on writing one poem a day.

Because a writing challenge is finite, it’s easier to keep going on those days when you’re uninspired, tired, or busy. You can remind yourself if you skip a day, you’ll have to make it up later. You can remind yourself you only have X days left, you can do it! You can remind yourself how good you will feel when you complete the challenge.

Writing challenges give you the satisfaction of completing a project. At that point, you can decide what you want to do next: keep writing? start editing? set it aside and move on to something new? Whatever you decide to do next, even if it’s stick your project in a drawer and never look at it again, doesn’t take away from the fact you finished (and, of course, celebrated!)

The challenge-goal reached-reward cycle is what keeps people going for years in many endeavors, but it’s often something lacking in a writer’s life. Writers tell themselves they need to write everyday—indefinitely, forever! Then they get mad at themselves when their enthusiasm for a project started a decade prior wanes. A writing life without meeting goals and taking the time to reward oneself for doing so is a recipe for burn out.

So this month’s challenge is designed to get you moving away from setting goals with no end in sight. For this challenge, you’re going to start a project “blog.” Any social media platform can be used for this project as long as it allows you to post text. Your project blog should be separate from your existing social media. In other words, don’t use an existing account for this project—start fresh! Your project should have a theme, a writing goal, and a set timeframe for completion.

Example: write 52 100-word flash stories, each based on a photograph, in a year.

Think about your daily life and your existing commitments when deciding on your project. Be realistic! The point of this project is give you the satisfaction of reaching a tough, but manageable, goal. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Do-X-every-day-for-a-year projects are popular, but keep in mind it’s hard to do anything every single day for a year. If you do attempt such a project make sure your daily goal is small.

Challenges like NaPoWriMo work well because the writing goal is for the entire length of the project. Writing one poem each day is one way to reach your monthly goal of 30 poems, but it’s not the only way. You might have days during the week when you have time for writing and days when you don’t, making it better for you to write two or three poems on the days when you have more time.

It’s good to have some flexibility built in, especially for a long project. Setting a daily goal for a year and then missing day 360 because you simply got busy and forgot would be demoralizing. If the platform you’re using for your project allows you to schedule posts, take advantage of it. Schedule time to work on your project as you would any other appointment, and set a reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.

When you reach your goal: celebrate, then re-evaluate. Do you want to continue, take a break, or try something new? If you do decide to continue, renew your project for the same timeframe, just like renewing a library book.

March 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. beautifully executed
  2. When all is said and done, much more is said than done.
  3. the bad kind of mushrooms
  4. Write about glare.
  5. Use these 5 words: salvage, currencies, diversity, faith, killers.
  6. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: morning, deeds, hand, curled, bookish.
    2. Fighting to stay awake and pay attention.
    3. Write about something unexpected and brightly colored.
  7. a 90-foot-tall billboard
  8. Variations on a recipe
  9. 5% battery left
  10. Make up a smartphone app for your characters.
  11. Use these 5 words: design, copyright, monarch, economy, victories.
  12. Spreading misinformation about the daylight time change
  13. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: plum, border, women, which, world.
    2. Scooping up an armload of _______.
    3. Write about a gadget that doesn’t work.
  14. Rescheduling a stressful appointment
  15. Some good news!
  16. look around to see if they’re looking at someone else
  17. a bunch of middle school boys
  18. A place where there are no landmarks.
  19. Use these 5 words: sweetens, pollution, server, exchange, finger.
  20. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: dismantle, public, dead, plum, excerpt.
    2. Write about hearing from a long-lost friend.
    3. Write about understanding misunderstanding.
  21. a pair of tickets
  22. An awkward position
  23. “It’s taking too f—ing long.”
  24. Perhaps I should have reminded her.
  25. Use these 5 words: acclaimed, celebrate, gaffe, making, judgmental.
  26. Passive aggression with a smile.
  27. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  28. Obsessively playing a game.
  29. one last photo from space
  30. Going out like a [not-lamb].
  31. there is definitely something fishy going on!