I’m gifting you a Personal Essay Prompt a day for the first seven days of 2019. I’ll be listing them here. Enjoy & let me know how it goes! Happy 2019!
January 1st: Write a list of at least three stories that haunt you, that you revisit again and again in your memory &/or stories. Try to include at least one that brings you joy. Pick one from the list. Write for at least ten minutes with that story in mind. Focus on imagery and your senses. What do you remember seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing? How does it feel in your body?
January 2nd: In the movie Precious, the protagonist Clareece “Precious” Jones says about her teacher Ms. Rain: “Some folks has a lot of things around them that shines for other peoples. I think that maybe some of them was in tunnels. And in that tunnel, the only light they had, was inside of them. And then long after they escape that tunnel, they still be shining for everybody else. That’s Ms. Rain to me.” Did you have a Ms. Rain in your life? A teacher or mentor who believed in you, fought for you and pushed you? Who was that person? Write the story of how they saved or helped you. Be sure to show the relationship not just tell it. What did they save you from? Why did you need saving?
January 3rd: Draw the floor plan of a place from your childhood. It can be your bedroom or your backyard, the playground you played in, your best friend’s kitchen, the block you grew up on. Just keep it focused & include as many details as possible: What colors stick out? What do you smell, hear, etc? As your draw, memories will come flooding in. Make notes so you remember then keep drawing. When you’re done, you’ll have a list of memories. Pick one. Preferably the one that’s most charged. Write the memory. Use your senses and imagery. Show scenes. Consider why this memory is so ripe with emotion? Who is there? What influence have these people had on your life, then and now?
January 4th: Who are the people who show up consistently in your writing? Write a list of at least three. Pick one. Now write a list of memories with that person. Remember the person’s humanity. Try to think about their positive and negative traits. Show their complexities. Now write about the relationship. Why does this person come up so often in your work? What was/is their influence on you? Is your relationship antagonistic or loving? Show this.
January 5th: Write a list of your favorite dishes, that you make yourself or were made for you: a soup your mom made you when you were sick as a kid, your aunt’s baked chicken, your grandma’s rice pudding, the beef neck bone soup you taught yourself how to make, that pizza you had at Pinocchio’s in Harvard Square way back when. List at least three. Now choose one. Write about the time(s) you’ve had this meal. Be as descriptive as possible: who was there, when was this, what do you smell, taste, etc. How do you feel as you’re remembering and writing? How does it feel in your body? Why do these memories provoke that reaction?
January 6th: Who have been the great romantic loves of your life? List them. Write on how you met, what you remember most about each relationship, why they didn’t work and/or fell apart. What did these great loves have in common? How were they different? What did you learn from each one? How did you grow? What cycles did you repeat? Who or what can you trace that back to?
January 7th: Do you have regrets or things you would do differently were you given the chance? List a few of them. They can be regrets about love or decisions about education, career, friendship, etc. Pick one from your list. Write on what you would do differently. Consider what you did, how it manifested in your life, what good and bad came of the decision. Do you think you would be who you are and where you are today had you done some things differently? Would it be worth it to go back and make that change? What can you do today to bring you closer to that person you wish you were now had you done behaved differently?
A personal essay prompt a week in 2019
List 3 ages. Eg: 5, 15, 25
List 3 emotions. Eg: joy, rage, shame.
Pick one emotion..
Close your eyes: Where do you feel the emotion in your body? Eg: I feel rage in my jaw.
Set a timer and write for 3 minutes on a memory of this emotion at the ages you chose. If you picked joy and the ages 5, 15, & 25, you will write for 3 minutes on feeling joy at the age of 5, 3 minutes on feeling joy at 15, & 3 minutes on feeling joy at 25.
Reread what you’ve written. Is there a thread or common theme in the memories, besides the emotion? Write on that for 3 minutes.