T.C. Porter Discusses the Importance of Writing Prompt Groups

Posted by on Feb 14, 2013 in Blog, Fresh Ink | Comments Off on T.C. Porter Discusses the Importance of Writing Prompt Groups

After a recent writing prompt group, I was a block away from the trolley stop. But the trolley was already there! I kicked off my flip flops and held them while sprinting to the stop. On board, I gasped for air, lamenting that I have let myself get out of shape.

If you want to get in shape, and you’re like me, you need a fitness coach. If I do yoga at home, it lasts about ten minutes and I’m pulled by the distractions of the day. But in 13 years of practice I have never left a 60 or 90 minute yoga class early.

Writing can be like this, sitting all day in a lonely room doing everything but writing, catching sunburn from a computer monitor. Checking Facebook. Dusting the bookshelf. Daydreaming. It happens less frequently for me now because prompt groups transformed my writing life, in many ways.

You might get along fine without prompt groups. You write a couple thousand words every hour. But there’s more to a prompt group than simply working out the writing muscles. I never met a writer while sitting alone in my room. Getting out, I learned there are other writers in the world. Just as a Star Trek convention is a gathering of like minded people with shared quirks and gold (or red) shirts, so a writing group brings together people who think and dream in a special way. “You have Scriveners too!” I love going to a place where titles such as “1Q84” and “Infinite Jest” are part of the shared narrative.

And another thing – my ego shudders – there are many good writers, writing amazing things. I sit at the table and listen as they read their prose. Never fails, every time, someone writes something to make us cry, laugh, cry while laughing, think, get a meaningful sense that yes we are human and there is feeling and this is a place to be alive.

I suppose you could sit home and watch TV or read another book or stare at a blank page or even write The Great American Novel all by yourself and emerge from the mountaintop to enlighten us. Better talents have done just that, but I deluded myself.  I wasted a lot of time. Writing in a vacuum is foolish for most of us. None of this may apply to you. But the best thing I’ve done in the last year was stick my nose out of my coffee cup and get out of my pajamas and write with writers. And I want to share it. And it’s not a pyramid scheme or anything. Really.

And now, linear thinkers rejoice:

What is a writing prompt group? We gather, trade small (or big) talk, read a few rules (such as, write what comes to mind, don’t judge yourself, breathe, you have permission to write the worst or best junk in America, first thoughts rule, don’t worry about speeling grammar or any-thing), share a prompt (“Write about the first time you [or he, or she] made out with a puppy”), write for something like thirty minutes, read what we wrote to the group.

I wasn’t paying attention. What are the reasons to attend a writing prompt group?

  1. You will write more words.
  2. You will meet other writers.
  3. You will laugh.
  4. You will cry.
  5. You just might get some exercise sprinting to the trolley.
  6. You will write more words.
  7. You will improve as a writer.
  8. You will get ideas from others.
  9. You will exercise your practice.
  10. You will help others.
  11. What, you hadn’t thought about that? Maybe you’ll gives some good advice, encouragement, humor, bring some cookies. That counts for something.
  12. It’s one day where you will actually have to get out of your pajamas.
  13. After a while, as you do it with the group, you will find your writing comes more fluidly even while you are alone.
  14. You will write more words.
  15. You will write more words.
  16. You will write more words.

What were 15 and 16 again? Did I mention you will write more words?  This I suppose is really the main thing, and it’s magical. Truly. I think there are witches around here or something. The good kind. Wearing white. Unless you want them to be evil witches. Perhaps you’re writing wicked evil greatness. Nevertheless, greatness is what I hear. Without fail the leader reads something like, “Write about writing about writing,” and twenty minutes later one by one we start reading and it actually works; writers write, sometimes not much, sometimes a whole lot, but on the balance they write about redemption, love, hate, yearning, longing, believing, becoming, doubting, experiencing. They write about home and outer space and murder and intercourse. The ostensibly vast wasteland of writing is replaced by at least a good half hour or so of productivity.

Alrighty then. Sign me up. When can I attend a writing prompt group? Scroll down to the calendar on the San Diego Writers, Ink home page. Presently there are prompt groups Tuesday at noon, Wednesday at 7 a.m., Thursday at 5:10 p.m. and first and third Sundays at 10 a.m. (I lead the Sunday group and attend the Tuesday group, but don’t let that deter you.) You might also want to check a place like Meetup for other writing groups around town.

Forget it. I want to do it alone. Any suggestions? Sure. Google “writing prompts.” Pick a line from your favorite novel or poem. Three great books filled with prompts and other advice on the writing life are Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand, Judy Reeves’ A Writer’s Book of Days, and John Dufresne’s The Lie That Tells a Truth. (Kowit and Reeves are local writers who often teach for SDWI. Kowit’s book is written for poets, but as a fiction writer I have found it helpful.)

What the heck. Let’s get with it and do a prompt right now. Alright! Imagine without criticism or spell-check. Remember to breathe. Modify this prompt to suit your needs: Write about an exciting (or unbearable) thing that happened during childhood. Go!


T.C. Porter’s work has appeared in ManArchy, Utter, The Speculative Edge and elsewhere. He is still writing his first novel. Find him at tcporter.com.