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I’ve been leading Amherst Method writing groups since 2008 – in arts venues, in community centres, in my local library, and from the sitting room of my house in north Leitrim. In late March 2020, shortly after lockdown was announced, we left my sitting-room and entered into the Zoom-room.
The first few sessions were challenging. Together we learned a new and unfamiliar technology; we learned how to function as a group in a virtual space; we learned how to be spontaneous, while also being respectful of each other’s voices.
Some things stayed the same. As before, people gathered once a fortnight to write together in a safe and inspiring environment, based on the Amherst Method guidelines. At each session I offered a prompt and invited the group to write in response. Silence fell as words poured onto the page, for 10, 20, 30 minutes. If someone got stuck I could meet them one-to-one in a private “breakout room”, to help them find their flow again.
As before, I invited people to read what they had written; the group practiced the skill of “close listening” – a vital skill for every writer; and those who chose to read received positive feedback that helped them develop their voices. People wrote about everything under the sun in these sessions, including the minuscule virus that had upended our lives. One person wrote the first chapter of a witty Zoom-room murder mystery…
Sometimes a video connection broke down, sometimes the audio was glitchy – in rural Ireland strong broadband is a gift, not a given. The disadvantages of writing together online are obvious: you don’t get to meet your fellow participants in the flesh; you can’t read their body language or hear the small gasps of admiration as you read your work; you don’t get to chat one-to-one during the break.
But there are advantages. You can join in from anywhere in the world. And you don’t have to get into your car on a dark, blustery winter’s night to drive to my sitting-room in north Leitrim.
The endlessly inventive and productive people at Across the Lines (IFI) / Open Mic Manor / The Thing Itself are inviting video or audio contributions for their next Crossing Borders Open Mic Online (IFI). The theme for this event is “Way-points and Markers” – the places, journeys and signposts that have marked our individual and collective transitions over the last three months. They invited me to come up with a prompt to spark contributions. Here it is:
Hestia is the Greek goddess of interiors, of contemplative time and space. She is the hearth-fire that makes a house into a home.
Perspective of a dutch interior viewed from a doorway *oil on canvas *103 x 70 cm *1642 – 1678
Hermes is the trickster god of travel, trade, computers, protector of doorways and boundaries, the messenger and mover, the communicator.
In her books “Goddesses in Everywoman” and “Gods in Everyman”, Jean Shinoda Bolen tells how these two very different archetypes are related. In Greek households the “herm” – a pillar symbolizing Hermes – stood just outside the front door, in a distinct but intimate connection with Hestia’s hearth-fire at the centre .
I invite you to see in your mind’s eye a place that represents the containment of “lockdown”; and a place that represents the process of “unlocking”. These places may be in the geography of your home, your county, your country, the world; or virtual places; or the space inside the arms of someone you love – a hug you are grateful to have received during lockdown, or a hug you are still yearning towards.
Whatever spaces come to you, feel them through your senses, through smell, and sight and touch and sound. And then write about these two spaces, placing them in relationship each with the other.
This will be my last Writing Prompt from the Cocoon for a while – not because I am fully out of lockdown, but because summer is here and it’s time to concentrate on my own writing.
I leave you with another ekphrastic prompt, from this excellent Facebook page where members recreate famous works of art – in this case Кира Викторовна’s recreation of Salvador Dali’s 1925 work, “Girl at the Window“. You might write in response to either one of the images, or you might decide to place them in dialogue with each other.
Two sources of prompts to keep you going over the summer:
- Every week O Bhéal post a new five word poetry competition
- The Poets and Writers website posts “a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays”
Happy writing – stay well, stay safe, stay creative – Monica
A writing prompt to keep you going for a few weeks: Write a short story. How? There is plenty of advice on the Internet, some excellent, some less so. I chose the following from The Write Practice for one piece of advice that resonated: “Write your story in a single sitting”.
Here’s an abbreviated list of their suggestions:
- Read short stories…
- Write your story in a single sitting… Everyone hates being interrupted when they’re telling a story. Use that to your advantage and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished…
- Read your draft… without changing anything. This will give you a sense of what work it needs…
- Write a premise… Get your head around the main idea behind your story by summarising your story in a one sentence premise. Your premise should contain three things: a character, a goal, and a situation.
- Write, edit, write, and edit. Good writing is rewriting. Use your second draft to fill in the plot holes and cut out the extraneous scenes and characters you discovered when you read the first draft in step #2. Then, polish up your final draft on the next round of edits.
Write a flash memoir. Start from the memory of a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch. Set yourself a 500-word limit – for me this is the equivalent of two handwritten A4 pages.
Flash Memoir tends to be:
- Free of preambles—They start at the flashpoint—the moment when conflict ignites tangible action that drives the story forward.
- Scene-based—They frequently take place in one run of time, without jumping around.
- Observant—They tend to feature not the “I” but the “eye.”
- Insightful—Like a flashlight illuminating a dark corner, they explore something that provoked an insight.
- Specific—They stick with concrete, observable events and actions rather than abstract concepts.
- True—As a subgenre of creative nonfiction, Flash Memoir must uphold the nonfiction contract that what is reported actually happened.
- At its most basic, a micro-memoir is written in sentences, drawn from personal experience, and strives to create a world in as few words as possible.
- A true hybrid, the micro-memoir strives to combine the extreme abbreviation of poetry, the narrative tension of fiction, and the truth-telling of creative nonfiction…
- What they’re not: fragments. Micro-memoirs aren’t slivers of a bigger creation. They’re designed to stand alone…
- Forget about the big memories, like meeting your beloved or witnessing a tragedy.
- Consider memories that you retain without understanding why.
And here are links to places where you might publish your flash memoir:
Image from page 80 of “The new art of memory, founded upon the principles taught by M. Gregor von Feinaigle: and applied to chronology, history, geography, languages, systematic tables, poetry, prose, and arithmetic.”
This week’s prompt is a quote from Eavan Boland, who died suddenly on April 27.
“I was aware,” she said, “that it was easier to have a political murder as the subject of an Irish poem than a baby or a washing machine.”
And as a bonus prompt, begin a piece of writing with the first line of The Pomegranate:
The only legend I have ever loved is…
“It was the day the dandelions turned into clocks.” — Sherrie Scott, member of the original Scratching Hens.
You might use this quote as a regular prompt, or you might use it to create an acrostic poem — definition and examples here and here. Here’s a sample start:
it was the day i got lost in
Not a writing prompt this week, rather a signpost to online resources that will help you develop your craft.
If you have time on your hands, the renowned Iowa Writers Workshop offers FREE online courses in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.
And if you have time and money to spare, the excellent Arvon Foundation and Faber Academy offer a variety of options.
These range from a two hour Arvon Masterclass in Plot and Narrative Structure, (April 30 at 11 AM, cost £35); to Faber’s flagship eight-month course, Writing a Novel Online (application date August 19, cost £2500).
Happy writing – stay well, stay smart, stay kind.
This week’s prompt was given to me by Eva O’Callaghan, another Amherst Method creative writing facilitator.
Start by reading “Four Horses”. Eva says: “I like the structure of this poem by David Whyte as a prompt for reflecting on and writing about any happening and its impact. I found it helpful to me to reflect on what is going on in our world at the moment.” She suggests that you write a response that is anchored by these phrases from Whyte’s poem:
- On XXX day…
- Since then…
- Since then…
- Each morning…
- I spend my whole day…
- I find myself wanting to…
- I find myself wanting to…
- I hear…
- I feel…
And if you come up with a poem that you want to publish, be sure to credit its source: after Four Horses by David White
Photo credit David Whyte