Yesterday afternoon, Facebook prompted me with a status update idea. Instead of the usual “What’s on your mind?” that populates the status typing window, this one asked “What was your best Halloween costume?”
My answer: last year’s pirate costume. I’ve had some good costumes over the years. Zombie Cheerleader when I was ten was a personal favorite for many years. I’m still proud of the well-researched Betty Crocker costume I sported as a sophomore in high school, as well as the whimsical Fairy Godmother costume during my senior year.
But last year, I dressed up for the first time in a few years. The last time (prior to the pirate) that I had dressed up, it was for a literary Halloween party, and I was mistaken for Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and no one guessed the actual costume, which was Idgy from Fried Green Tomatoes. I hated my haircut, I hated my costume, and in the morning, I hated my hangover.
But last year. Oh, last year. That was costume greatness. I had fun with make-up, channeling David Bowie to be a highly eye-shadowed pirate. I have a hard time getting down with the “sexy” costumes, but I had lost a little weight and I was excited to play with my costume a bit, show a little thigh, wear a full ballet skirt. I was going to a Halloween party at the dance studio I worked at, The Mambo Room, and I knew my costume would probably be tame compared with the sexy cops and sexy cats that would likely abound.
And my costume was fun. I got to wear my knee-high boots, full ballet skirt, my crazy make-up, and fake tattoos that my friend Andrea drew for me, my favorite being the I ❤ Booty tattoo. And I danced that night without worrying about my feet or the tension in my hands or my broken spin; I just danced and had a blast.
So, Facebook, there’s my answer. But as I settled on my answer, I also had to find it just a bit funny that Facebook offered a prompt in the first place. Most people don’t need help finding a Facebook posting – I’m eating a sandwich, I’m grading papers, I’m avoiding Facebook (liar), etc. We think, we act, we update.
But all this got me thinking about the idea of writing prompts. I give my students prompts regularly, thinking up free writes and essay questions for them to work with, anything to get them thinking and writing. I recently gave my Composition students a midterm essay that consisted of some fun prompts I stole from Tumblr. By far, the best one was this:
If you had to live in a giant bowl of food, what food would you choose? Why? What would this be like? Be sure to use descriptions and narration to explain your life inside that bowl of food.
I got the best answers to this. People wanted to live in a bowl of sweet and sour chicken, a burrito, and probably the best and most fully realized one, a bowl of Lucky Charms. That student went so far as to assign characteristics to the oat pieces, to explain the system of what marshmallows one would bring to what social occasions, and to assign the leprechaun, Lucky, as the lord of that world, the one responsible for holding back milk floods.
A good writing prompt can help a student soar to a new height of creativity, to send him or her riffing off of the words into moments of morning cereal genius. But a bad prompt can be a dead end, a wall they slam into, frustrated and blocked.
I’m thinking a lot about writing prompts this morning because last night, I signed up for NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Post Month. It’s a response to NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, where a person endeavors to write a novel during the month of November.
I’m currently writing a novel, and I can tell you for damn sure, that thing is not going to be finished in a month, and I don’t know that I would want it to be.
But NaBloPoMo, the blogging challenge, is a bit more approachable, a little less intimidating, and achieves what I think blogging and these sorts of challenges seek to do in the first place: they make you write, everyday. They make you a little more conscious of your world, paying attention, mining small moments for greater meaning. They make you look around and collect moments and people and the small epiphanies that snowball into bigger phases of our lives.
So for the next month, I’ll be blogging my booty off, doing a blog post per day. I’ll be joining up with the awesome folks at yeah write to capture the sense of community that comes with a challenge like this. Though yeah write is housing a community grid for the month, NaBloPoMo is actually part of a site called BlogHer, and if you’re interested in joining, and it’s November 1 when you’re reading this post, then you can sign up on their website by following this link.
And along the way, if I get stuck, I suppose I could always taste my own medicine, answer my own writing prompts, and contemplate what my life would be like in a bowl of food.