Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Following the prompts to the hardware store, the train station, and wherever else they lead

For the last few years I've been part of a writers' group that meets biweekly.  There are five women in the group, and we each try to bring 3-4 pages of writing which we can read aloud and receive constructive feedback on.  I can say without hesitation that this group has made me a better and more productive writer than I would ever have been just working away on my own.

Lately we've been trying to incorporate more writing exercises into our meetings:  we take a prompt (like a word or phrase), set a timer for ten minutes, and just write whatever that prompt brings to mind.  It's interesting, and often  amusing, to see how the same prompt can take all of us in such different directions.  

Sometimes when I do these exercises, I feel that after ten minutes I've only been meandering and barely have a handle on what I'm trying to write about; other times, even though I only manage 200 words or so, the piece somehow feels complete.  Either way, it's nice to have these pieces in my notebook as possible fodder for something longer that I might write another time.

I thought that today, just for interest's sake, I'd share two short pieces that I wrote in recent writers' group exercises.  Note:  they're both unedited, and they're both fictional.


Prompt:  "In the hardware store"

I was in the plumbing aisle, looking at faucet fixtures, when he spoke to me.

"Are those taps on sale?"

I looked at him -- big sweatshirted belly sticking out from his unzipped ski jacket, Tim Hortons toque, scraggly red beard -- and then back at the display of, oh, 2-3 dozen bathroom faucets, any one of which may or may not have been on sale.  "Uh, sorry, I'm not sure."

"I need to replace my mom's faucet," he said.

"Oh yeah?" I said.

"It's been dripping nonstop," he said.

"Might just be a washer," I said.  "Might not have to replace the whole thing."

"Well, the handle falls off too," he said.

"There you go, then," I said.  "Might as well go for a whole new one while you're at it."  I took a box with a Moen 3-hole 4-inch off the shelf and examined the contents.

"That's a nice one," he said.  "Does it got the spray?"

"I think only the kitchen ones have the spray," I said.  "These are for bathrooms."

"Oh, so I need a kitchen one?" he said.

"Is the broken one in the kitchen?" I asked.


"Then -- yeah."

"Are any of the kitchen ones on sale?" he asked.


Prompt:  "Fleeting glimpse"

In Union Station, while she was waiting for the 5:10 train from Toronto to London, Martha saw her brother Brian.  She could have sworn it was him:  a tall, dark-haired man with a beard, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs leather jacket, heading up the stairs toward the taxi stands.  Brian had won that jacket in a fundraising raffle -- they said Darryl Sittler had donated it, but that could've been just talk.  But Brian loved that jacket -- he was such a Leafs fan.  Martha would tease him that it was fortunate July and August were too hot to wear it -- it would give him a chance to get it cleaned.

She looked at the big clock on the wall:  it was 5:00.  She should be heading downstairs to catch her train, but instead she sprinted up the stairway that Brian -- she was so sure it was him -- had gone.  She looked around -- no sign of the blue and white jacket among the  rushing crowds.  She pushed open one of the big doors and looked up and down the sidewalk where the cabs and limos and buses were pulling in and out.  Way, way down to her right she saw a glimpse of blue near a bus.  Stepping around luggage and people, she hurried down the sidewalk and stepped up on the bus, looking at the impassive faces of the passengers.  The man in blue was halfway back.  He didn't have a beard at all and his face was rounded, not angular like Brian's.

"ExCUSE me," a woman said.

Martha stepped off the bus, her eyes full of tears.  She knew Brian was still in the psych hospital -- the schizophrenia had taken its toll on him -- but just for a moment, she'd let herself hope.



  1. Jeannie, these are wonderful. The plumbing aisle got me laughing and the bus scene made me tear up. Nice job.


    1. Thank you Tim -- and thanks for retweeting this! I'm still not totally sure about this Twitter thing (seems like information overload at times, and I use the word "information" loosely!) -- but I really enjoy the sharing aspect.

  2. So good, Jeannie! I'm clapping for you -- what a treat!

    P.S. I once went into labor in the hardware store. :-)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Pam -- you of all people would understand, though, that I've got many other examples of writing-prompt exercises that should never see the light of day!! :-)

  4. Hi Jeannie, I'm trying to clear out my inbox today (yuk), but I just had to stop and tell you that these are lovely, lovely, lovely. I could see the guy in the hardware store and I could feel Martha's pain. Well done! Maureen

    1. Thanks, Maureen! I appreciate your comment as always!


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