Thursday Writing Prompt No. 102

Sculpture outside the Baltimore War Memorial Building.

Sculpture of a sea horse and eagle by Edmond R. Amateis, located outside the Baltimore War Memorial Building. Photo by Karen S. Garvin.

This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about poetry and the memories of war. This year, 2014, marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, also known as the Great War. Trench warfare and the use of gas are the historical aspects of WWI that you’re most likely to see featured on television shows and in movies, but some great poetry was written during the confrontation. Some of the authors were Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Alfred Joyce Kilmer, Vera Brittain, John McCrae, Rudyard Kipling, Katharine Tynan, and Alan Seeger.

Your task this week is to combine history and poetry. Go to the First World War Poetry Digital Archive or First World War: Prose and Poetry and spend some time viewing the collections. Pick two authors and read one poem from each writer. To get a much better feel for their work, view any images of the actual manuscripts. Your task is to notice the language used in the poems and how the authors told their story. There’s no writing involved this week unless you’re moved by what you read and want to try your own hand at war poems. This isn’t a post about politics, but about the wider scope of war and human experience. If you do make an attempt to write something, try to see beyond the political squabbling and into the greater truths of human nature.

The photo accompanying this post building is the Baltimore War Memorial Building, which was completed in 1925. It serves as a memorial to Maryland veterans of all wars and has an interesting history of its own.

Cindy Kelly, Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City. With photographs by Edwin Harlan Remsberg. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2011.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 101

fake beach postcard

This imaginary Shell Beach postcard is really North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
But with a bit of Photoshop magic, it makes a cool retro postcard.

Welcome to this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt. Since I finished my thesis in April I’ve been having a bit of trouble settling down to work on long-term projects. But it’s barely been a month since I’ve finished school, and I’ve been in school since 2003, finishing my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. I guess taking a month off to dawdle about and do mostly nothing is okay, although I can’t help but feel I should be producing something of value.

And now, on to the prompt. Refer to my “postcard” above. This picture was actually taken in North Carolina, at the Outer Banks. I used Photoshop to do a bit of editing and applied Topaz filters to give the image an old-fashioned look. Your task is to use the postcard image as the basis for writing prompt. The scenario starts like this: you check your mailbox and find this postcard among your letters. It’s from a friend or relative that you have not seen in many years. What is the message on the postcard? And how do you reply to it?

It might be interesting to write a short story in the form of letters. This technique has been used in literature and can work quite well, so your first step is to write the postcard’s message. It should be short — probably about 150 words.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 100


It’s here! Welcome to the one-hundredth Thursday Writing Prompt! Today’s prompt is about those words we love to hate: adjectives. Hang around any writer’s group long enough and you’ll hear people tell you not to use adjectives. But it makes no sense to throw perfectly good words away.

The problem isn’t adjectives themselves, but that the more common ones (which tend to end in -ly) can make your writing weak. A sentence like “The sweater was ugly” tells us what the viewer thought about the sweater but it doesn’t describe the sweater well enough that you can picture it in your mind’s eye. That might be fine if the sweater is not an important part of your story, but if you want it to make more of an impression on the reader then something like “The white sweater was stained brown along the cuffs with a a sticky goo” would be more powerful.

But take a look: I’ve just replaced the adjective “ugly” with more adjectives, so I haven’t done away with them at all. “White,” “brown,” and “sticky” are all adjectives (color words can be nouns or adjectives). What I have done is replace an overused adjective with stronger ones that are more descriptive. Your task this week is to take something you’ve written and scour it for weak adjectives and rewrite your sentences with stronger ones. Your writing will be better and your readers will “see” what you want them to see. Enjoy!

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 99

This weekend I’m going to head out to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I’ve crocheted since I was a child, although I didn’t do much in the way of handicrafts for many years. In the past few years I’ve developed an interest in kumihimo braiding, and last year I bought a 10″ rigid heddle loom and made exactly one scarf. I’ve also dabbled a bit with hand spinning, but I think I’ve only made about a foot of yarn so far. However, in the interest of trying different fibers, I have a cotton seedling on my windowsill. I hope to harvest enough cotton to spin enough thread to make a potholder or mug rug. That’s probably ambitious, though.

Thinking about the sheep and wool festival made me think of some really silly animal puns, ewe know? So that’s this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt. Your task is to come up with sentences that incorporate animal names in place of common English words. These exercises have no point except to loosen your writerly inhibitions and have some fun with language, but they may end up sparking an idea for a story. Aim for a dozen silly sentences and don’t worry if they don’t make much sense. Enjoy!

Longest Week in the History of the Universe


My stomach. Waiting for a grade.

This is the longest week in the history of the universe. Previously I had believed that it was the last week of elementary school before summer vacation, or the last week before Christmas or my birthday. But how wrong I was! Waiting for feedback on my final draft of my master’s thesis is tough. Each day seems to span an eon of geologic time. Set adrift from assignments, I can’t decide whether to read, write, bake cookies, crochet, tie knots, go for a run, or stick pins in a styrofoam ball (seriously, I’m doing some craft stuff).

To be fair, it’s only been four days since the assignment was due but I have to resist the temptation to check in on the virtual classroom every hour to see if there’s news yet. There are only two questions I have. The first one is, Can I call myself a historian now? And second, what do I do next?


cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms at the Washington National Arboretum.

I’ve been busy for the past two months working on my thesis draft. I thought everything was going along fine until I realized that Word was counting my footnotes and I actually had about 3500 words less that I thought I’d written. So that was a bit of a letdown. I’d hoped to get the bulk of the writing done and have several days for editing, but as it turned out I was writing even on the last day.

The draft was due last Sunday night and now I’m waiting for feedback so I can do whatever editing and/or rewriting is necessary. Then the final project is due on April 13. I think these past few days of waiting have been harder than the actual writing process. Plus, I haven’t had so much free time in ages and I’ve spent most of the past few days worrying about what it is that I’m supposed to do that I’m forgetting.

Finishing the master’s degree is going to be a great feeling but there’s also going to be a hole in my day. I’ll be finding a way to fill in that “spare” time with writing and research. The classes may officially end but I’m just too interested in what I’m studying to shelve it and not continue learning.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 98


Will spring never get here? Honestly, I like snow, but I’m really done with the sub-freezing weather this year and snow in the metropolitan area is not something to enjoy. It just makes traffic worse. And look at these poor little crocus flowers! I think the crocus came up last year in February. This year they only just managed to bloom after St. Patrick’s Day and they were rewarded by being covered up in snow.

This week’s writing prompt is a grab-bag of five items that you must use in a story. Here’s the scenario: you’re looking around in your garage for your snow shovel, which you just used a few days ago, so you know it’s in here somewhere. In the process of scouring the garage for the missing tool, you find these items:

  • a broken action-figure doll sans clothing
  • a chewed red plastic dog food bowl
  • three keys on a leather key fob
  • a baseball glove
  • an antique carpenter’s square

Come up with the scenario for a story that uses all of these items that isn’t a short story about a flea market or yard sale! The genre can be whatever you choose. Enjoy!