The Prompter Room

For Friday, December 14, 2018:


The Tao Te Ching is partly in prose, partly in verse; but as we define poetry now, not by rhyme and meter but as a patterned intensity of language, the whole thing is poetry. I wanted to catch that poetry, its terse, strange beauty. Most translations have caught meanings in their net, but prosily, letting the beauty slip through. And in poetry, beauty is no ornament; it is the meaning. It is the truth.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A BOOK ABOUT THE WAY AND THE POWER OF THE WAY, on the legacy of Lao Tzu’s TAO TE CHING



The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, February 27, 2018:


Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer’s own life. This has been the case with me. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect.


The Prompter Room

For Friday, December 8, 2017:


Word-work is sublime … because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life.

We die.  That may be the meaning of life.  But we do language.  That may be the measure of our lives.

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, December 7, 1993

The Prompter Room

For Friday, March 17, 2017:

In loving memory of Anne Marie Marra and Helen O’Leary, both of whom had more than a little of the Irish in them, and who left us much too soon.


Memoir is not about perfect accuracy of the remembered event; it’s more about finding perspective and making meaning of that particular slice of one’s life.  The struggle for emotional truth is central to memoir.

Maureen Murdock

The Prompter Room

For Friday, November 25, 2016:


Creative people, as I see them, are distinguished by the fact that they can live with anxiety, even though a high price may be paid in terms of insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness for the gift of the ‘divine madness,’ to borrow the term used by the classical Greeks.  They do not run away from non-being, but by encountering and wrestling with it, force it to produce being.  They knock on silence for an answering music; they pursue meaninglessness until they can force it to mean.


Note: This book is one of my creative ‘bibles,’ and I recommend it for anyone who has even just one creative bone in your body.  My own copy is so dog-eared, densely underlined, and full of margin notes, it’s probably time to get a new one (so I can at least add new notes), so I know how important this book is for the creative journey.  It is a true treasure.

The Prompter Room

t For Wednesday, December 30, 2015:


“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl

“At the still point, there the dance is.”

T. S. Eliot, “The Four Quartets”

Viktor Frankl founded the school of therapy known as ‘logotherapy’ after he survived three years at Auschwitz during WW II.  His best-known book is Man’s Search for Meaning.

During his time in the concentration camp, Frankl discovered that even one small positive comment a day helped many camp internees endure and survive the brutalities under which they suffered.  While there was obviously no reason to dance, Frankl’s positive words gave some meaning to their lives, something for them to hold on to in the face of unspeakable evil and horrors.

Eventually others joined Frankl in this daily practice and found that not only did they help others, they were helping themselves as well.

That’s the history in a tiny nutshell — I recommend exploring his life and example, and reading his book for a more in-depth understanding of Frankl’s vital importance — but it might serve as fodder for us as writers.

And on a much more mundane level, I want to suggest, on behalf of our characters, that we writers need to comprehend the difference between ‘response’ and ‘reaction.’  So many people say or write ‘reaction’ when what they mean is ‘response,’ or vice-versa.

Our response is that space, that moment in time when we stop and consider how we, or our characters, decide to act – or not – to some kind of stimulus, good or bad.  Response requires some kind of decision-making.  Think ‘knee jerk,’ however, and you get ‘reaction,’ that which we do without thinking – such as when someone cuts us off while driving, say, and our hand goes up in a rude gesture and ugly words come out of our mouth.

It might be a good exercise to give a character a stimulus and then explore his or her response and reaction to the same stimulus.  Which fits the character and/or situation best?  How does each turn the story or develop the character?

Another piece of wisdom from Frankl is one I hold close to my heart: “What is to give light must first endure burning.”  That can be a metaphor for so many things – especially given Frankl’s experience – but we can also remember, or have our character(s) remember, that candle flames, once lighted, will frequently dance in a breeze or a breath of air.

Or that still, quiet point of just the right words that give meaning to life, either in reality or for our characters.