Weekly Writing: Guest prompt by author Wendy Call

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: On Writing, Writing prompts

I am thrilled to present this week’s writing prompt by Wendy Call, whose writing exercises are among the most challenging and thought-provoking I’ve encountered.

First, a little introduction: Wendy is a writer, editor, and teacher of creative writing, and has been a writer-in-residence at myriad universities and organizations throughout the country, including the  American Antiquarian Society, Harborview Medical Center, Hedgebrook, New College of Florida, and Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. This fall, she will be Distinguished Visting Writer at Cornell College.

Wendy is the co-editor, with Mark Kramer, of Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, and she is the author of the forthcoming book No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy, which Sandra Cisneros has praised as “fascinating” and “beautifully written” (you can read an excerpt here). Visit Wendy online at www.WendyCall.com, and be sure to check out her blog: Many Words for Welcome.

Here’s Wendy’s prompt — enjoy!

For this writing exercise you will need 10 blank index cards (or small pieces of paper).

Step 1:

On each of the first five cards, write ONE thing you (or your main character) was obsessed with before the age of ten. (You know, Matchbox cars, ponies, the red-haired kid down the street, whether your mother meant it when she said she might trade you in for a different model…) Anything goes. The weirder the better.

Step 2:

On each of the second five cards, write one thing you (or your main character) has been obsessed with in the last five years. (What?  You’re still thinking about that red-haired kid?) Dig deep. Write down the things you hate to admit you think about (and think about so much).

Step 3:

Set each stack of cards in front of you, face down. Then, turn over one card from each stack, so you are looking at a childhood obsession and a current (or recent) obsession. Write about the relationship between those two things. Go for fifteen minutes. If you run out of steam, choose another pair.


Wendy also has some excellent resources for those of you seeking out new prompts:

I love writing prompts. Pretty much everything I’ve ever published has begun as a writing prompt and/or a freewriting exercise. Here are a few of my favorite books for writing prompts:

1)   Naming the World And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2008), is a fantastic anthology of prompts for the prose writer.

2)   Anne Bernays’ and Pamela Painter’s What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (Harper Collins, 1995) is my absolute favorite – even though I’m not a fiction writer.

3)   I must admit that some of the exercises in Brian Kiteley’s two books, 3 AM Epiphany and 4 AM Breakthrough: Uncommon / Unconventional Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books (2005 and 2009), rather baffle me, but most of them work extremely well.

4)  And my failsafe book of writing prompts if whatever book of poetry I happen to pull from my shelf. I open to a random page, write down the first two lines I see, and go from there.


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