Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Was the Year That I...

For years now, I've been using sentence stems to encourage scrapbookers to write--and I call these "journaling prompts." On the face of it, a journaling prompt is a simple idea. It's a sentence intentionally left unfinished so that the reader will "fill in the blank." In interviewing, the prompt would be called an "open ended question."

I'm now posting journaling prompts almost daily on Twitter. Go to and sign up to "follow me" if you'd like to see the prompts as I create them. My goal is to encourage my "followers" to write more words, more often, on more topics.

If you are a scrapbooker, you can use these prompts to suggest layout ideas and journaling. But you don't have to be a scrapbooker to find value in journaling prompts. If you are an author, you might let the prompts suggest a scene to you. Or you might answer a prompt from the Point of View of different characters in order to know them a little better.

If you are someone who'd like to be more diligent in your personal journaling, a prompt can help you explore new ideas. If you are a teacher, you can use the prompts as classroom assignments to get your students writing.

I suggest you aim for a minimum of at least ten short responses to any given journaling prompt. This will force you to go past the superficial and to tap into new reservoirs of creativity. To get to twenty responses, you'll need to push yourself, but the break-through is worthwhile. It's here that you find answers that both surprise and reveal. Once you've jotted down the answers quickly, pause and reflect. Which answer holds the most interesting potential? Which one was the least expected? Which one makes you uncomfortable? Which one begs an explanation? For a bit more of a challenge, choose one answer and elaborate on it.

Here's an example of a journaling prompt in action: "2008 was the year that I..."

1. Said "goodbye" to my son as he entered college as a freshman.
2. Became a "grand-aunt" when Skyler was born.
3. Underwent major surgery.
4. Learned that anesthesiologists lie to patients about getting sick after surgery.
5. Felt my sisters' love when they flew here to care for me.
6. Fell in love with GPS.
7. Learned to Twitter.
8. Spent hours on Facebook reconnecting with old friends.
9. Joined the ranks of published mystery authors.
10. Got Jeff Deaver's cell phone number.
11. Realized how many "frenemies" I have.
12. Realized how many friends I have who live all over the world.
13. Drove from Eastern Tennessee to the middle of Kansas by myself and wondered if I was nuts.
14. Listened to wolves howling at a santuary.
15. Gained respect for how "in shape" I used to be after I became "out of shape" following surgery.
16. Held my first Virtual Book Signing.
17. Spent weekends in bookstores handselling Paper, Scissors, Death
18. Finished Book #3 in the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery series.
19. Mastered saying "Scrap-N-Craft" rather than the alternatives.
20. Decided cashmere is absolutely fabulous.
21. Got involved in the political process.
22. Swore off being an officer in any professional group ever again.
23. Thrilled to good reviews (after holding my breath as I read them).
24. Gave my first humorous keynote in years.
25. Fell in love with my husband all over again.

Why not try the prompt yourself and see where it leads you?

Happy New Year!


Queue_t said...

Thanks J- I am following your prompts on twitter. I love your list and will try to follow suit- I don't always make time for me activities.

Camille Minichino said...

Love the prompt idea, Joanna. I use something similar in my writing classes. To get students to focus on their mysteries for example, I use: "At first, I thought nothing wrong, but ..." or "All was quiet, until ... "

It works also for memoir writing:" I thought my father was a quiet man, until I found ..." or something worse, of course!

I do the same with sights and sounds -- write 50 words that describe your trip to a cemetery. the 50th word will be the best!

Maggie Brown said...

Right before finals I read an article in the USA Today about the book of six word memoirs. I read the article to my class and for a change, they assigned me homework. I had to try and write my six word memoir. It really was a lot of fun and I was amazed at how once I started, the activity became far more "projective" than I had intended. I think I will take your prompt and see what happens. Thanks for sharing such a great idea.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Wow, what great ideas all!

QT, I desperately need to carve out more "me" time.

Camille, I love the 50 words idea. I often challenge myself to come up with descriptions. And focusing the mystery? Outstanding!

Maggie, your six word memoirs have me thinking...hmmmm....I feel a new post taking birth!