Word Triggers – Point and Prompt

Irena Tervo

Irena Tervo
SCWW Membership Chair 

Back in March while choosing intensives for the Rock Hill writing workshop, my writer friend Bob Strother (also a member of my chapter, great writer, well published) highly recommended an instructor he’d met while attending the Residential Summer Writing Workshop at Wildacres a few years back.Luke Whisnant. I looked him up and discovered Mr. Whisnant (I mean Luke) teaches at ECU, has published stories, novels and is editor of the Tar River Poetry magazine. Okay, I thought. I trust Bob.

Because I’d already decided I needed the class on social media (could use the help) I was only able to attend Luke’s first intensive, Writing from Prompts.
Yes, writing from prompts. I know what you’re thinking. Believe me, I was skeptical too because the kind of prompting I was familiar with went something like this.
“After a rough day at work you head home and go straight to bed with a headache, mumbling, “I wish I’d wake up tomorrow and be anyone but me,” before dozing off. When you wake up in the morning, your dream has come true, and you resemble something from your worst nightmare ever…”

This might inspire others, but it sends me squirming. Like I’m crawling around in someone else’s head. Someone’s head I don’t want to be in.

Surely Luke’s class will be different, I thought. And it was. After handing out examples of different micro-prose forms, explaining them and  illustrating his own techniques, Luke gave us highlights of his adventures in prompting, which was a month-long exchange with a writer friend. Every day for a month he and his friend sent each other a prompt. Not a long one. Short. Then each would complete a piece based on said prompt, emailing their works back to the other person before midnight of the same day. This went on every day for a month. And then we tried it right there. Luke said, Eclipse. My mind swirled a little. A very little.
On the way home, I thought to myself, I’d really like to try this prompting thing for real. Something about it seemed real, organic, even a wee bit dangerous. I emailed Bob the very next day, and posed the question, would you like to prompt with me?
He said yes! I was elated. And then came my reality check. What had I gotten myself into? What if I couldn’t complete something every single day? Minor pressure.
The next day Bob sent me my first prompt. Scavenger Hunt. What? Go!
A scenario materialized in my head, associating itself in a very obscure way with this prompt. Everything within me said, you can’t write about this. No. Absolutely not. But it got stuck there and I needed something, so finally just to get it out of my head I went with it, and yes, it was completely bizarre, but Bob loved it. More followed. First thing in the morning I’d send Bob a word and he’d send back a different word (or two) and by the end of the day we’d email back our literary masterpiece. Every day there was accomplishment, and I’d go to bed as excited as a little kid before Christmas, wondering, what word tomorrow?
The words served as magic keys, unlocking the sealed boxes in my imagination. Perhaps the stories were there all along, dormantly waiting until granted permission from a deft finger point. Using the handout from Luke’s intensive as a guide, I wrote two-sentence poems,  a six-word story, a list story, an object piece, flash fiction and prose poetry. The content I generated around it was surprising and cathartic, with a new edge, a new voice.
Bob says prompting worked for him because it made him write and it gave him the chance to try out some new forms of writing he wasn’t familiar with. Also, it triggered life experiences to draw from that he hadn’t thought of in a while.Experiences seen in a new light, from a new angle. For me the prompts triggered associations like stitches in a tapestry, they provided a unifying theme. Because of the time deadlines, you couldn’t think about that tomorrow, you had to go within, use what you had inside. Write what you know.

Face Painting? When Bob sent me this prompt I felt a little smile sneaking on my face as my imagination began to display several different options. One of them I probably should have rejected, but instead I went with it. As I stretched my hands over the keyboard I remember thinking, Face Painting? Bob you did not just prompt me that. But oh yes he did.And so I stitched together a short tapestry, one I never could have told without the prompt. Okay, I thought to myself as it unfolded. Here’s face painting. 

With a background in International Marketing, Finance and teaching foreign languages, Irena Tervo now channels her past experience into stories of all kinds. Her YA contemporary novel was awarded Short List for Finalists in the 2014 Novel category and Semi-Finalist in the 2013 Novel-in-Progress category of The Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner –William Wisdom competition. Other recent awards include first prize in the 2014 Hub City/Emrys Creative Writing Contest in the Nonfiction category. Additionally, she has been published in The Birmingham Eccentric/Observer, Edible Upcountry Magazine, The Petrigru Review and is an Editor for The Petrigru Review.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *