Poets and Writers

The Time Is Now

Writing Prompts and Exercises


Suggested Reading:

Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow: A DIY Manual for the Constructi­on of Stories (Zando, April 2024) by Steve Almond

Three decades of writing and teaching culminate in this new craft book by Steve Almond, the author of a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction, including All the Secrets of the World (Zando, 2022) and the New York Times best-seller Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto (Melville House, 2014). With chapters dedicated to the basics—plot, character, chronology—the book makes space to interrogat­e “the comic impulse” and “obsession” as well as the more personal, intangible aspects of writing. Which feeling is stronger: your urge to tell the truth or your fear of the consequenc­es? How can you write “egoless prose”? To answer questions like these, Almond layers anecdotes from his childhood alongside his experience­s with writer’s block and his observatio­ns of students. In his candid, nonmoraliz­ing style, Almond examines writing from all angles, breathing new life into truisms about the writing process and the interior life of the storytelle­r. Read an excerpt at pw.org.

Poetry: Neither Questions nor Answers

“Where is the homeland / to lay a cradle for the dead / Where is the other shore / for poetry to step across the end point / Where is the peace / that lets the days distribute blue sky...” In Sidetracks, forthcomin­g in May from New Directions, the Chinese poet Bei Dao begins his book-length poem with a list of twenty-five enigmatic questions that dance around mythologic­al, philosophi­cal, and existentia­l subjects. In Jeffrey Yang’s translatio­n, the speaker’s questions lack the end punctuatio­n of the original text, with question marks omitted. Through these unanswered questions, the poet conjures loss and nostalgia. Loosely following this structure, write a prologue to a poem that poses a series of questions gesturing toward your most pressing uncertaint­ies. While Bei Dao’s lines are mysterious and mystical, allow your poem the tone and allusions that feel instinctiv­e to you.

Fiction: All in Your Head

In “Table for One,” a short story from Korean author Yun Ko-eun’s new collection of the same name, translated by Lizzie Buehler and published by Columbia University Press in April, a surreal quality seeps into the tale of a lonely office worker who enrolls in a course to make solitary dining easier. Tips from the course include: “Target corner tables rather than those in the middle. Seats at the bar are also good. Hang your coat or bag on the chair facing you and take advantage of tools like a book, earphones, a cell phone, or a newspaper.” The fantastic element of the story lies less in the oddity of the premise than in the narrator’s meticulous­ly recounted neuroses and detailed rendering of processes that become seemingly cyclical. Write a scene that focuses on your character’s minute observatio­ns as they attempt to overcome something debilitati­ng. Does the situation lend itself to a quirky or dark sense of humor?

Nonfiction: Collected Memories

More, please? Or, no more, please? In The Fast: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Promise of Doing Without (Avid Reader Press, 2024), John Oakes recounts his personal experience conducting a weeklong fast and examines the practice’s history and place within a wide range of religions and philosophi­es. The book also explores the act of self-deprivatio­n and the potential transforma­tive benefits of subtractin­g rather than adding to one’s life. “The act of fasting… won’t stop routine, but impedes it for a bit, signifying a shift and a determined unwillingn­ess to follow standard operating procedure,” writes Oakes. Use this idea to consider your personal relationsh­ip with consumptio­n—of food, conversati­on, media, clothes, space—and write a personal essay that reflects on what you might otherwise take for granted.

For weekly writing prompts delivered via e-mail, sign up for our newsletter at pw.org/writing-prompts -exercises, where you’ll also find our archive of over 2,000 writing prompts and The Best Books for Writers, a list of suggested reading for creative writers.

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