Wandering My Way to a Writing Prompt
+ one for you to use this week
Welcome to new readers of Writing in Company! I’m glad you are here, even as I wonder how some of you got here. Seriously, how? Every week Substack, the internet, and some algorithm of connection send a few new folks wandering this way.
I’ve realized my process for these weekly writing prompts often comes from the same weird and wonderful wandering. Since I love the occasional peek behind another writer’s process, I’m sharing mine for this week’s prompt. (Feel free to skip down to the break if you just want the prompt.)
this writer’s process, at least this week
It started with a curriculum piece I’m
desperately trying to finishworking on for one of my faith-based publishing contracts. The topic I’m exploring this week is Witness—what it means, where we see it in scripture, in history, today, and how we can practice it ourselves. This curriculum, and my personal proclivity, is pretty progressive. So to witness is not so much about converting other people, but more about bearing witness to one’s own experience of faith. As my deadline has come and gonebeen extended, the writing I should be doing on it has assumed a low hum of pressure underneath all my other tasks. I’m always stressingthinking about what topic is up next.
In my email inbox this morning was a video from my denomination’s foundation, with a story and video about a congregation in Colorado. They have repurposed their old manse-turned-rental property into a home for a family of Afghan refugees. I got a little choked up watching it, and added it to my curriculum notes with the idea that bearing witness is something a whole community of faith does, not just individuals.
Wondering what other videos the foundation might have, I clicked on their YouTube channel. Halfway down the page was a video with the subtitle “Witness to the Reformation.” Witness! Maybe there is something there I can use, I thought. In the video I learned that the word Protestant comes from the Latin protestari, meaning to "declare publicly, testify”, which gives it a decidedly positive spin, over a negative one focused solely on protest. Into my notes that went.
Then I realized it was Tuesday and the hum of a Substack deadline joined the chorus of curriculum deadlines, and I wondered if maybe there was a writing prompt handy in all of that.
Googledresearched witness poem and ended up on the Poets.org compilation of Poems of Witness and Remembrance. I read through the first, then clicked next to scan another poem, waiting for one to resonate. The fourth one I clicked on is a poem I’ve wanted to share for months, either here or in a workshop, but never found the right time—until now!
Actually, I almost didn’t share it today. Maybe it’s not the right season, I thought. Should I write something about Lent? This one has a warm weather vibe and half the country is digging out from under snow, should I wait? Should I wait until I have something insightful to say about what and who this painful and beautiful poem is really about? I wandered down several other
internet rabbit trailsavenues of thought and even drafted a few other prompt ideas before circling back to this one. Annie Dillard said not to save your good idea for a better time, but to give it away now.
So here’s the poem prompt—with thanks to the concept of witness, the Presbyterian Foundation, Google, the website of the American Academy of Poets, Annie Dillard, the pressure of deadlines, the weird wanderings of my mind, and especially to the poet Ross Gay. And to you, for reading, and writing.
a writing prompt
Start with whatever jumps out at you—a word, a phrase, an image, an idea—and let it take you wandering on the page. Bear witness to your own experience of the poem, the prompt, or whatever else takes hold of you as you write.
This one deserves a beat—a breath or two—before jumping into its witness.
A Small Needful Fact
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
—by Ross Gay
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“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” ― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I love your train of thought writing. And because I know you, I can hear it perfectly.
Do not hoard what seems good for a later place. This is what spoke to me. I am currently working on a project for that very reason. My drawers and closets of full of little treasures from 76 years of living. They are in drawers in little boxes, many labeled so I won't forget their significance. Many are insignificant things I haven't been able to part with. My project? Gather them all together from their hiding places and glue them on to a lamp base I bought for that purpose. For the rest of my life, they can be out of their hiding places for me to enjoy and reminisce--pin for 1957 merit award, favorite earrings from 1990, Hubby's Michigan bell pins, My Weight watchers pins, so I can point out to friends I once was actually AT a goal weight, old watch parts that once belonged to my grandfather--a jeweleryand watch maker, earrings that belonged to my mother who has been gone for 43 years, a mini care bear and troll, a daughter's favorite...well that is some of it. They are no longer special for a dresser drawer--they get to shine in the light of the lamp for as long as I live.