Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day Creative Writing Prompts

Happy Earth Day!

Below is last week's column from American Life in Poetry.  I chose Linda Hogan's poem "The Sandhills" for your enjoyment.  I hope you like the poem.

Creative Writing Prompts

Fiction:  Write a short story that starts with 2 characters watching sandhill cranes.  Where are the characters?  What are they talking about?  Note:  This can be written as drama, too. 

Poetry:  Write a poem with a bird in it.  10 lines or less.

Nonfiction:  Reflect on watching birds.  If you are fortunate to look out your window and see a bird, just observe for a few minutes, then reflect on life via a journal entry.

Free write prompt starters from Hogan's poem:

From the following lines, free-write for 3 minutes and see what you get!

1.  The wind is. . .

2.  The shine of water. . .

3.  Above strands of earth. . .

Commentary by Ted Kooser, from American Life in Poetry

This column originates in Nebraska, and our office is about two hours’ drive from that stretch of the Platte River where thousands of sandhill cranes stop for a few weeks each year. Linda Hogan, one of our most respected Native writers and Writer in Residence for The Chickasaw Nation, perfectly captures their magic and mystery in this fine poem. 

The Sandhills  by Linda Hogan

The language of cranes
we once were told
is the wind. The wind
is their method,
their current, the translated story
of life they write across the sky.
Millions of years
they have blown here
on ancestral longing,
their wings of wide arrival,
necks long, legs stretched out
above strands of earth
where they arrive
with the shine of water,
stories, interminable
language of exchanges
descended from the sky
and then they stand,
earth made only of crane
from bank to bank of the river
as far as you can see
the ancient story made new.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem reprinted from Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, Ed. by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, The Univ. of Arizona Press, 2011, by permission of Linda Hogan and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poetry Slam with Animals

Happy Poetry Month!

I got such a kick out of this cartoon that I asked the writer of the cartoon, poet Barbara Crooker, if she would mind if I shared it on the blog.  She graciously gave permission.

So, a chicken walks into a poetry slam. . . .

Your crazy prompt is to write a slam poem written by the animal of your choice.  Which animal will it be?  A cow?  A pig?  A dog?  A cat?  An elephant?  A dolphin?  ?????

As always, I would love to read what you come up with.  Please share in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hans Christian Andersen Writing Prompts

In honor of Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, I would like to offer up a special fairy tale prompt.  Did you know that Hans Christian Andersen wrote 175 fairy tales in his lifetime?  Among them are The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Emperor's New Clothes.  The Writer's Almanac has a nice write-up about him today.

Well, if Hans Christian Andersen can write 175 fairy tales, we can at least attempt to write one.  Today's challenge is to write a fairy tale using something magical and follow the guidelines below:

1.  The protagonist is stuck in a situation he or she hates (school, job, family, etc.).  You pick the situation and give the protagonist character (sex, age, personality, motive, etc.)

2.  The magical element is some kind of a talking plant or flower or tree.

3.  Somehow, love must be involved.

4.  Develop a conflict around the situation the protagonist hates and the person he or she falls in love with.

5.  Use the following items in your story:  a coffee cup, a pebble, a stream, stars, and music.

Alternative Creative Writing Prompts:

Here are some lines from Hans' stories, and you can start free-writing from any one of them:

1.  For many heavy days and dark nights the heart must suffer to. . .
2.  The bird flutters round us. . .
3.  In the country, close by a high road, stood a. . .
4.  It was made of clay in the shape of a. . .

You can read fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen for free here:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Writing Prompts for Easter!

May you all enjoy a little springtime inspiration today.  

Today I want to post a link to a poem from  It is by Caroline Johnson and you can read it here. 

Notice how the poet starts with a striking image.  I am a sucker for goldfinches and sunflowers, so I was hooked right away.

For your writing practice, just journal for 5 minutes from the following starter lines that can be found in Caroline's poem:

We (or I) yearn. . . 

We (or I) need. . 

After free-writing for 5 minutes, take from what you have written and start either a poem or an essay. 


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Young Man with Cigarette Writing Prompts

Photo of James Dean

Today's creative writing prompts contain a short poem by Mary Jo Balisteri from her new book, gathering the harvest.  There are many prompt options below, and I also created a study guide for the poem that teachers are welcome to use in the classroom.   Please let us know if you use our materials and if they are helpful.

Young Man with Cigarette by Mary Jo Balistreri

He sits alone, a dark-haired vision
in glasses, haloed in a billowing cloud of smoke.
Fellow students jostle and crowd
into his space at the Steaming Cup
but he remains still and unconcerned.

In my car, I memorize his image and arrange
a still life --- geometric blue tie, an electric blue
sky on white canvas of his tee, slant
of wrought iron chair, long blue-jeaned legs.
The stoplight changes and I take one last look,
prop him in the crevice between
longing and loss.

Below are today's creative writing prompts based on Balistreri's poem.

Fiction:  Give this man in the poem a name and write a scene about what happens when he is done with the cigarette and leaves the Steaming Cup.
Creative Nonfiction:  Write about one of your favorite coffee shops or cafes (past or present).  Why do you like this place?  Why is it important to you?
1.  Write a poem of your own in 10 lines or less that uses at least 5 of the words listed here from the poem:   haloed, billowing, electric blue, crevice, changes, last, longing, geometric, steaming.
2.  The contrast between the two stanzas is part of what makes this poem work.  Try your hand at writing a poem where you describe a scene in the first stanza, and then add to it from a personal perspective in the second stanza.  Also, in your second stanza, do like the poet did with the scene ---- show (don't tell) your reader what you take away from the scene and what it means to you.

Study Guide for  the poem "Young Man with Cigarette" by Mary Jo Balisteri

1.  Are there any lines that you especially enjoyed in this poem?  Please list them and explain why they struck you.
2. What is the function of the first stanza?
3.  What are some differences between the two stanzas?
4.  How many times does the poet mention the word "blue" in this poem?  Why do you think she did this?
5.  What kind of physical movements do we see in this poem?
6.  What kind of art terms does the poet use in this poem?  Why do you think she uses these words?
7.  Do you think the young man in the poem is handsome?  Why or why not?
8.  There is something slightly magical (in a figurative sense) in the last stanza.  Discuss this.  
9.  What do you think the last line means?

Note:  The poem is courtesy of Mary Jo Balistreri, and the study guide was created by Anjie Kokan.  Teachers are welcome to use both in their classrooms. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fairy Tale Writing Prompts

For today's creative writing prompts, we are going to look at fairy tales. 

Free-Write: Invent a new fairy tale by taking an old favorite and mixing it up a bit.   You can change the ending, add characters, or change the plot. Try free-writing for 10 minutes and see where it takes you. 

For the Brave:

Below are two links to The links will take you to poems.  One is "Fairy Tale" by Ron Padgett.  Notice how the poem is all in one stanza, but there are 3 distinctive parts.  One is the description of the elf, the next part is the place where the elf is, and the third part is a short monologue by the elf himself.  What effect do you have when you read the poem?  How do you think the way the writer organized this influences the effect?  Discuss it in your class or reflect on it in your journal entry.  Do writing practice by describing another character that might appear in a fairy tale, then follow it up by place (it can be a place in the present) and then of course, a short little monologue of what your character has to say and what he or she is planning (but don't give us too many details).  Take this as writing practice and feel free to share what you have.

Here is the link that also provides an audio track if teachers would like to play it for the class:

The next link I'm going to give you is a sad poem called "A Fairy Tale" by Jennifer L. Knox.  This is your warning!  It pretty much brought tears to my eyes (pardon the cliche).  You can write a sad, modern day tale or a happy one.  It's up to you.  Below is the link, and don't say I didn't warn you!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mary Jo Balisteri Writing Prompts and Interview

Enjoy this interview below with Mary Jo Balistreri about her new book, Gathering the Harvest.  This interview is part of The Next Big Thing interview project.  Following the interview will be a poem from the book, and your creative writing prompts will follow.

“THE NEXT BIG THING” asks writers to self-interview about their books with 7-8 designated questions, post somewhere in the blog-o-sphere and then “tag” (5) writers for the next week to do the sameMary Jo Balistreri has been tagged by Karla Huston (
What is the working title of the book?
Gathering the Harvest

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Originally I thought about a chapbook that dealt with my experience of throat cancer, cellular collapse, and almost death. Not expecting to live, and living fully was something I wanted to share. I sent the manuscript to Tiger’s Eye for a critique which was positive. Before that my writers’ group and a special poet friend encouraged me. I never submitted it. Decided that I wanted to continue writing poems rather

than market them probably because I had thought I’d never write again.


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a
 movie rendition?

I’d want Meryl Streep to play the main character. She is interested in art and music as I am, is married to a sculptor, and both of my parents were creative. She plays with emotional depth and courage, and her passion for what she does feels similar. As a model of a strong independent woman, one who loves and lives deeply, she would understand what it is like to be thought dead and live with the consequences of both loss and joy. 

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A blurber says it is both an elegy and a quiet celebration—an elegy for a world either lost or never fully realized, but a celebration too, of all that remains, survives and flourishes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The cancer part of the book was begun in 2008, but there are poems much earlier than that as well. I just wrote the poems as they came with no particular idea in mind. When I realized I it was time to take stock of what I had accumulated, and finally do something about it, the idea of a book came back strong. I had published a chapbook in December with none of the poems in this present book. There were more poems that had been published, some which had won awards so I decided on a book. I brought 90 some poems to a friend and advisor and we discussed what the book could look like. She spent time thinking about an arc, sections, etc. and was most encouraging and supportive. I found a way to include some art poems and then at a certain point, my daughter and I spread the poems all over the floor like pieces of a puzzle. The arc of the book presented itself, the title. The cover.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Having cancer and its aftermath inspired the book, and the thought that this was a second chance. When I finally left the hospital, I could not even write my name. With the support of all my poet friends, and one in particular who never gave up on me, I slowly came back to writing. I wanted to share that experience knowing there were many people out there who thought they’d never do certain things again—that their life was over. I wanted to show that great loss changes one; life will be different, but it can be lived with richness and even more meaning.  It seemed a great opportunity to convey that. So I had circled back to the original intended chapbook.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’m very happy with the cover art—done by a young graphic designer and poet, Chrys Heidel who lives in Delaware. It shows so well a life moving forward toward harvest, reaping all the world has to offer.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book was published in November by Bellowing Ark Press in  Shoreline, Washington.  I had worked with editor and publisher, Robert Ward, on my first book and knew that that he worked closely with authors and sought to produce the best book possible.  

Solace in December by Mary Jo Balistreri


The cushioned arms of overstuffed chairs

hold us, two old friends, as we sip licorice tea,

steep in the slow burn of fireplace logs.


It is almost quiet. The lowered sun

streams through western windows,

The Singing Bowls of Tibet hanging

sound in the air.


The meditation garden in the corner

filled with plants and statues of Buddha, is golden

in this late afternoon. We begin to release

what we had held within—the shock of cancer,

a grandson’s death. The shattered sound of letting go.


As we talk, the Laughing Buddha near the door

takes off his dull black coat,

offers us one polished by light.


Option 1:  Use 5 of the 10 words and phrases below from Mary Jo's poem to write a short poem of your own.  You can also use them to write a short essay or story if you would like.  You can change the form of the words if you want to.  Example:  letting go = let go and cushioned = cushion, etc.  Feel free to post your writing in the comments section. 

Laughing Buddha, death, polished, sound, cushioned, letting go, burn, stream, golden, release

Option 2:  Free-write from Mary Jo's book cover (pictured above) for 5 minutes without stopping. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SciFaiku Writing Prompts

Since this is the new year, how about trying something different with regards to writing? If you have never tried a SciFaiku, I have featured it for today's writing prompt.  While it might not be new to all of you, my guess is that it is new to most of you.  I have also included fiction writing prompts and essay prompts for you, too.

Poetry Writing Prompts

A writing friend of mine just won a SciFaiku contest, and I will admit, I was not familiar with the form. I ask that you read about the genre here. 

Also, enjoy the winners of the SciFaiku contest from the blog Stars in My Sugar Bowl .

After learning about the SciFaiku form, give it a try and feel free to post your attempt in the comments section

Fiction Writing Prompts

Add to one of the following lines and see where the story takes you. Write for 5 minutes without stopping.

1. She noticed a purple cloud floating toward her. . .

2. That evening, the stars started to turn to. . .

3. The dead bodies beyond the hills began to. . .

4. He knew the sword had the secret power to. . .

Essay Prompts

1. The best thing about 2012 was. . .

2. I look forward to 2013 because. . .