Writing Prompts, Conversation Starters, and Good Screen Livin'

In today's screen culture where the written word in all its new and various forms has become a prevalent mode of communication, people are starting to realize that those that can write well are more likely to be heard. Not just folks that make their living by the pen, but ostensibly everybody that communicates via the screen; smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, or smart TV -- it makes no difference, we're all writers now.

If that's a scary thought and you're still breaking out in hives every time you write a text or are suffering panic attacks at the thought of writing an email, one way to get ahead of the game is to use some of the same tools professional writers use. These tools can not only improve your writing ability, they can improve your thinking ability as well; to see connections, discover metaphors, draw analogies - all of the things writers rely on to entertain, inform, enlighten and just plain communicate.

Writers and poets often use "prompts" to loosen up the grey matter. Here's one from a new book I just discovered entitled The Daily Poet by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano: " Write a poem that begins after the rain it all looked different. Make sure your poem contains specific details about the landscape, the glistening, the spring flowers and perhaps the mood of the speaker."

Okay, so you're not a poet. Neither am I. But what if we wanted to tell a friend, family member, lover, or the general public (not at all unusual these days) about a change in our life, or just generally how we view something differently now, after the rain. Such a prompt could really get our creative juices flowing.

The Daily Poet is, as advertised, a prompt for each day of the year, many of them related to historic events from that day, to make them easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Since the dates are not tied to the days of the week, you could use The Daily Poet year after year and track how your writing evolves. Or you can just crack open the book, pick one out at have at it. They're all equally thought provoking.

But wait! This isn't just about writing or screen living! Have you ever been on a first, or second, or third date and been at a complete loss for things to talk about? How about those uncomfortable moments around the family dinner table when all you can elicit from the kids are grunts and groans? What if you sprung this on them:

"What do you hate? I'm not particularly fond of guavas, synthetic fabrics or costume jewelry. Fashion a poem from a list of things you would rather not eat, drink, wear, hear or see...".

I'm not suggesting you sit down to dinner with The Daily Poet or whip it out on a date and "fashion a poem," but with a little forethought and perhaps an app on your phone (yes, of course there's an app! In fact there are several. Just search on Writing Prompts) you can stimulate all sorts of lively conversation without having to write a single word.

Interacting with the world through a keyboard and a pointing device is the new first world normal -- people spend more than two thirds of their waking hours on screen, and they're not all on Skype, Facetime or other real time two way video communications systems. Unless you're dictating to your communications device with some voice-to-text interface, chances are you're writing and reading more than you are talking or listening.

Which I guess is another way of saying there's never been a better time to brush up on your writing skills. Compilations of writing prompts like The Daily Poet and writing prompt apps can make it fun to practice your writing and, in those awkward moments when you might have to talk, they might even give you something to say!


Jeb Stewart Harrison is the author of the novel Hack and soon to be released American Corporate. He is the proprietor of Adventures in Limboland and will write, paint, sing or play anything for money or a reasonable facsimile thereof.