I took advantage of a number of free-writing sessions during this year's Mindcamp. Every morning I got up with a small, but dedicated group of die-hards - Tom, Norm, Kaz, Cam, Maria and others - and responded to prompts from Tim Hurson, the facilitator of the session. I also took Anik April's evening class, the night of the power outage, one week ago.
Prompts are simply words, phrases or ideas that help kickstart a poem, short story or memory.
By way of example, "Oh my God..." inspired the following:
The wind was pulsing, pounding, pushing.
"Oh my God," I said to my brother. "We'd better get the hell out of here."
We were in the middle of an open field inspecting a gas well that was giving us trouble. The problem had kept us occupied for two full hours, absorbing our thoughts and commanding our full attention. That a large storm was gathering and threatening was completely lost on us.
"Do we make a run for it? he asked.
"I don't think we have time," I said.
The wind had formed a funnel and was just beyond where our vehicle was parked. We might make it there, but the funnel's trajectory would have it arriving about the same time as us.
I looked around to assess where our best options were. There were few, possibly none.
"Just drop the hell down by this foundation."
"What?" screamed my brother.
"Just drop the hell down," I screamed back.
I have no idea how "Oh my God" catalyzed this particular vignette, but it did; that's the thing with prompts: you never know where they will lead.
I have a friend who recently suffered a stroke. It struck me that it might be great therapy for this person (and great fun for me) to do an ongoing prompt exchange. In other words, one person offers a prompt to the other. That person does some free-writing around that suggestion then shares the work with the other, followed by a prompt for them to explore. This exchange would go back and forth until the end of the recovery.
I think it would be an interesting exchange to chronicle and share. I can imagine a sense of anticipation about what the prompt inspired and what prompt might be coming next.
The great thing about this prompt exchange is that it does not need to happen on a fixed schedule. It happens when the two parties participating have the time and/or the energy, inclination and inspiration to write.