After Page One
A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire…
Once as Graham Nash was leaving on tour, a friend presented him with an offhand challenge. He said, “You’ve got half an hour, why don’t you write a song before you go?” The result of this little dare was “Just A Song Before I Go,” which would become one of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s most successful hits.
I love these kinds of stories. The way inspiration can feel like a game or maybe even a dare, something you might play with your kids, or even with yourself, to pass a few spare minutes of downtime. Or consider Mary Shelley, cooped up with Percy Shelly and his friends on a rainy, miserable summer day when Lord Byron suggests to his assembled guests, “Why don’t we each write a ghost story?”
Frankenstein didn’t come from an assignment, it was inspired by a game. And what could be more fun?
A few summers ago, I was asked to teach a creative writing class called “Just Prompts.” It seemed, at first, joyfully easy. The whole world is a prompt! But after I ran through my usual favorites, I was a bit stumped. My world seemed so repetitive. So cliché. Meals, kids, classes, meals, kids, classes. But by making a game of trying to turn everything I could see from my desk into a something I could write about, I found I was willing to take a bit more risk with my ideas. I was more inclined to come up with something, even if it wasn’t perfect, in order to keep the game going. With this in mind, the trampoline in the yard became a prompt about bouncing. The fading pink flowers on my weigela bushes became a prompt about short, but brilliant life. The house became a prompt about the echoes of families past. The tall trees, so many of which had fallen during the previous winter’s storms, became a prompt about a changing sky.
After my daughter’s elementary school science fair, she taught me something else about prompts. While I’d been focusing on the outcomes—the results of the experiments—she’d noticed the materials, so when I asked her what she’d learned from the exhibits, she said, “Well, it’s either a potato or it’s not a potato.”
I laughed (oh, the humor of a fourth grader!) but she had hit on an obvious truth. Potatoes had become clocks, conductors, plants, rafts. And how amazing! How had something so simple, so obviously lumpy, dreary, and dull, turned into so many other things?
I realized that in some ways the science fair—and perhaps all experimentation—is really a sort of game to take the things that seem obvious and see them differently. Once you learn to do so, the possibilities are endless. If we challenge ourselves to turn the things that seem so common, so everyday—the carpools, the dishtowels, the juice boxes, the soccer balls—into a game, the prize might just be something wonderful and unexpected.
Join our After Page One series. We’re looking for 300 to 500-word guest posts that motivate, inspire, and encourage other mama-writers, and we’d love to feature YOUR thoughts about getting started, getting back to a writing project, integrating writing with motherhood, reading, or having a positive attitude. The list is endless, but here are some questions that might help you get started. We’ll publish a short bio so readers can learn more about you and your projects. Read more about submissions to the blog here.