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31 invitations from the muse: Prompts and games

You could think of this post as a hallway lined with doors, 31 of them, to push open when you want to want to enter a new space in your writing.

It's a month's worth of writing prompts—lines, games, images. The visual prompts give me particular delight. They're the work of two of my favorite creative people, David Glynn and Lynell George. David's are the color photos, Lynell's the black-and-white.

I hope you lean into them, and all of the entrances you find below, and discover something that surprises you. 

LM under chiffon look_6732GLYNN

The muse says: Start here

1. What's scribbled in light on her body? What has she just released?

Opening lines and phrases

2. Everything I’m about to tell you is a lie.

3. Forgetting is the fourth stage of memory, the fifth stage….

4. Window, cigarette hole, sky—

5. When I held it in my hands, it….

6. Nothing survived but the ….


7. The chairs.

8. Something cracked.

9. The Comforter, the Mind’s Promise, the Beautiful Order of Thistles…. (found in Mary Ruefle's "Madness, Rack, and Honey.")

10. This is what he would bury:

11. They had no words for ____ so they ____…..

12. It looked like a ____ when it finally landed....


13. The questions.


Instructions for poems and other pieces:

14. Place a sheet of white paper under the vase of flowers to capture the scatter of pollen. Read the words inscribed there.

15. Find a seat in a crowded place and let conversations flow past you like wind. Write down the secrets you hear or imagine.

16. Scry through the belly of a glass of cold white wine. Write what appears in the glass.

17. Ask a question and flip through a book, stopping the pages with your finger and finding your answer in the words beneath it. Write the question, and the answer.

18. Type a section of something you’ve written into the “Electronic Poetry Kit.” Make poems by rearranging the words. Make a list of missing words you long for, words you don’t want to live without. Use them to make lines.


19.  Something delicate, or dying.


Stolen titles awaiting new bodies

20. Dark Wild Dream

21. Becoming Animal

22. Bitters

23. A Ruin That Isn’t  a Ruin



24. A fact. A mood.

25. Seven Days of Falling

26. A Photograph of a Plate Glass Window

27.  A Walk in Victoria’s Secret

28. Woman With a Yellow Scarf

20. The Book of Questions

30.  A Guide to Forgetting



31. The light, the globe.

That's enough for a month, if you took on one a day.

Bonus: A trove of amazing toys and prompts you may not know about—for all the days after.

(See more of Lynell's work at Find more of David's at

Stone soup: The act of crafting something from 'nothing'

I’ve been writing a lot lately in my guise of “person who writes for other people,” and my brain is packed with details from their projects. Once, not that long ago, I might’ve made that my reason for not working on writing of my own. No brain space. That expression often feels literal, as though the mundane has displaced the mythic—or anything vaguely interesting—from the imaginal realm. Daily, though, I’ve been rescued by the seemingly rote, even mechanical, practice of choosing one thing in my environment to study closely, pore to pore, then writing down what I see. It can be a 10-minute practice, done anywhere, and I suggest it to you repeatedly because it’s such a simple way to restock your well of images, and connect your inner and outer worlds.

You’re standing at the back door, gazing into the twilight after the kids have gone to bed. Pick one shape out of the gathering darkness—the swing set, the hose coiled against the cement base of a wall—and start there, with the colors draining away, imagination pulling you to the messy wet spirals pressed onto the concrete, the sculptured brass curves of the nozzle that's dripping onto the grass.

Stored in a touch or a scent, doorways to endless stories

In such moments, you might be memorizing the world, its scents and shapes, what breezes across the skin. The moment is full enough, immediate enough, rich enough to bring you back to your body, to the page.



Being present to what moves through you might pull you to another set of sensory images, a scene from the past, perhaps. That’s what happened to me today. I was—mechanically—choosing something to write about. How about that potted plant! It sounds unpromising, I know, but I lost myself in the unfurling corolla of leaves and in the loose soil I rolled between my fingertips.

My feet and fingers suddenly remembered the powdery dirt beneath the tall, scraggly pines of a canyon where my father took us once for a picnic. How smooth, almost slick that dirt was, even with its tiny pebbles. We dug our toes in, the way other kids might play in mud. I looked up from my feet and could see my father’s friend, in his now dusty black leather shoes and rumpled “office clothes,” curled on a blanket on the hillside above us, sleeping. An exhausted greyhound. He’d been up for days with my father—nowhere in the picture—trying to squeeze a few dollars out of a losing gambling streak.

All of that was there for me in the dirt.  What might sense memory hold for you?

A vehicle for conjuring & exploring the universe of a story

A client of mine began using her writing practice to travel through her mother’s kitchen, taking her own as a starting point. Pulling open a cupboard, she remembered her mother’s appliances, lined up like mechanical soldiers, a simple image that could be a doorway into character and a cascade of memories.

Ten minutes of writing, of seeing, of letting the body experience this moment and the mind connect it with the sense memory of other moments—ten minutes can be vast.

Even on the busiest, craziest, full-to-the-gills day, you have ten minutes, beautiful writer person. Today, open a cupboard, lift a cup, trace the edge of a leaf, run your hand over the carpet. The moment, this moment, is full of details, starting points, entryways. From “nothing,” a universe can bloom. Observe just one thing. Experience it with all your senses. Write. 

(Doorway image by runran, via Flickr.)