The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, January 8, 2019:


If you are to have great happiness, you must make up your mind that you are not going to shrink from risks …

Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech in 1911 (h/t RAB)


The Prompter Room

For Friday, September 30, 2016:


From Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and with Others is this section entitled ‘Sometimes Take a Risk – Use Something for Outrageous Humor or to Break a Taboo’ (page 299):


In the first few years of my workshop in Ireland, we met in a convent, and the participants were nuns.  Taking a lead from my friend and Ursuline Sister Maire O’Donohoe, who invited me there and has a wonderful comic gift, I went each year prepared with something that I hoped would be funny, as well as my usual exercises.  One year I had difficulty finding a good idea and then thought of the new shop in our college town that sold nothing but condoms.  Perfect!  I had a very funny conversation with the young man who was selling them, trying to figure out which would be the best model for an exercise with nuns in Ireland.  In the workshop, I had them all in a brown paper bag, and handed them out solemnly, one to each Sister.  I did tell them ahead of time that this object might arouse humor, anger, or some other emotion.  That would be fine for writing – just write anything that comes, I said.  Sure enough, most of the women wrote very funny pieces after they opened the packages and examined the contents.  One wrote a bitterly angry piece about contraception, and one ignored the exercise entirely and wrote about something else.  But she didn’t give the condom back.

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, November 24, 2015:


“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage

to lose sight of the shore.”

Andre Gide

The first time I went sailing was thrilling.  I was a senior in high school, and my best friend’s family had invited me to join them for a weekend on Pamlico Sound on the North Carolina coast.  My friend and her family were seasoned sailors, and they were patient and encouraging with the willing but nervous neophyte among them.

The waters of the Sound were gentler than the ocean just a few miles away, but they weren’t still in the sometimes-brisk breeze that whipped — it seemed to me, anyway — the sail of the four-person Catamaran.  I trusted my friends implicitly (for one reason, they insisted that everyone, regardless of skill or experience, had to wear a lifejacket), and it wasn’t long at all before I grew comfortable with the motions of the little boat, even to the point where I almost got the hang of when to duck and sway to avoid the sail when the Cat tacked back and forth.

I often think of that weekend and always, even 40+ years later, with great pleasure.  The weather was gorgeous, the waters of the Sound glistened in the bright and hot Carolina sunshine, and the company of my friend and her family was easy and comfortable.

I think of that weekend, too, whenever I’m tempted to stay in my comfort zones.  Before then, the only boat I’d ever been in was the old rowboat on my aunt’s and uncle’s little pond when I was a child, and I was always shaky getting in and out.  I knew, though, that I’d be all right because the pond wasn’t very deep and the shoreline was visible and close.  I wouldn’t be very clean if I fell in — the water was always mucky and muddy — but I’d be safe.

As writers, though, should we always want to stay safe?  If we don’t experiment, if we don’t explore, we won’t grow.  If my writing mentor hadn’t encouraged me to leave the supposed safety of short stories, I never would have embarked on my first novel.  If I didn’t have that sailing weekend to remember, I would have stayed with creative non-fiction and never taken the risk of experimenting with the possibilities of a zombie story (see the page above about taking the zombies out of writing for more about that) or fantasy or a second novel.  I wouldn’t leave the still waters of freestyle poetry for the once-distant shores of sonnets or haiku, or to puzzle out other various forms of poetry.  I wouldn’t have started this Website and blog.

An unattributed meme on Facebooks notes that ‘A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.’  What writing comfort zone do you need to set sail from?  What distant shores await you?

There are sun-glistened waters out there for you to find.  How can I help you find them?  It truly is thrilling out there!