Update: Not Exaclty NaNoWriMo

I have to say I’m having a blast with my Not Exactly NaNoWriMo challenge. On November 1st I set out to write a brand new story idea every day for 30 days. So, every morning this month I’m spending about 30 minutes freewriting something brand new.

I’m working from verbal and visual prompts, notes for nascent ideas stashed in my journal. I also have a list of phrases that have caught my ear. Things that sound like great titles, but that I have no story for – yet. Ray Bradbury did something like this with lists.

After I finish writing my new thing, I’m free to revisit the previous day(s) work and further develop it. I’ve started to read over the earlier ones. I’m putting new thoughts in my journal, playing with the ideas and themes, working up outlines, so that I can draft the middles and ends and turn these fragments into stories. I’m aiming to keep most of these in the flash to short story range. I don’t know how the revision process will plug into what I’m doing, but I’m determined not to worry about it this month.

I’m also taking this opportunity to learn a little more about Scrivener. I set up a Scrivener project with 30 folders, one for each day. Each folder has the writing from my initial session, any relevant pictures and a place for random ideas and fragments of an outline. 

I now have 14 story starts (I have a 0 story that I did on October 31). Each entry is about a thousand words. I’ve listed them below along with the prompts, and for some, a little snippet of what I’ve written. Some are working titles, other titles I think I’ll keep.


0 The Window
From a combination of this picture of a woman and a child and an article about a memorial gate (see 12 below) that I got by clicking on Random Article in Wikipedia. I often use two or three disparate things to prompt my writing. This often helps me tap into the unexpected. Usually this works as stated. This time these two elements remained separate, and when I reread this one, I decided to excise the bits about the gate and use it as a prompt for day 12.

1 Frank Breech & Footling
This is a title that I’ve had floating around in my journal.

2 The Comfort of Busses
I’ve been riding the bus to work a lot lately.

3 The Sleeping City
A prompt from Storymatic: A runaway, a tourist, “where is everyone”?

4 The Thief and the Vintner
A prompt from Chaotic Shiny: A bottle, a thief, and a minor god.

5 The Reverse Pygmalion
From undeveloped idea from my journal.

6 A Time Travel Story
From notes copied into my journal from some article on the internet:

“Nothing is flat and solid. Everything is full of gaps and holes, crevases, wrinkles and voids. This is true of the physical world and true of time too, you just have to go VERY small.”

 7 The Angel in the Kitchen 
The prompt, from the Brainstormer app, was: Fish out of water/angelic/construction zone) Here’s a sample:

“Do you have a housemate?”
“No. Are you looking?”
“No. No. It’s just – I have an angel living with me. He wasn’t there when they showed me the house but –
“Ah.” He nodded, understanding. “Well, it won’t last forever.” Then he laughed at his own joke. “The roommate situation,” he clarified.
They’re refurbishing the barracks.”
“Angels live in barracks?”

8 A Bride for the Marsh

From a picture of a young Palestinian groom with his bride. I’ve finally started using Pinterest mostly to collect visual material (including story prompts) for writing. Click on the sidebar to follow my pins. Here’s another sample:

“A lilting giggle drifted out from behind the fine silk fabric that covered her, accompanied by a sharp movement of her head that he thought must mean no. The sound reminded him of water when it rushes through a narrow place, busy and contented at the same time.”

9 I’ve Got To Go
From the io9 Concept Art Prompt. These are posted every Saturday on io9, and writers are encouraged to post their stories in the comments. This is still a fragment, so I didn’t post it. The picture is a great start, now I’ll work to write a story that stands without the visual.

10 In Time
The working title for an epistolary time travel story.

11 The Trumpet and the Ticket Taker
This is actually an old fragment. In the spirit of clearing the boards I have a couple story fragments that I plan to dump into this project. I pasted in what I had, then expanded on it with 30 minutes of freewriting. Here’s a bit:

The vulture hop-stepped to the raft, extended his wings and jumped on. The dull ache in my head was spreading through the rest of my body. I scrubbed my eyes to try to get my head on straight. When I looked back, a man in black jeans and a black tee-shirt stood on the raft, hands clasped behind his back. He was bald and ruddy, and watched me with a carney’s neutral expression that says, I know I look scary, but you really want to ride this ride.

12 The Wandering Gate
This one was an image that I’d written into story 0 that I split off into its own separate story. These two stories will be quite different from each other, I think.

13 Six Shades of True
This excellent title and my prompt was from today’s Daily Writing Tips post about the origins and connotations of the word true.

14 Time Delay
From an idea I’ve had floating around for a while about robots and humans working together to mine a distant moon, maybe Titan.

That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to another two weeks of taking the daily plunge.

Writing From Visual Prompts

What’s the story behind this picture?
Caroline Gordon reads in bed. 

Human beings are highly visual, me especially. I was an art major first, before switching to English. I love both visual and verbal expression, and I love especially the intersection between the two. It’s that impossibility, that exploration of the liminal space between any non-verbal experience and verbal expression, that is so exciting. An image is its own thing and there is something elemental about it, inarticulate, something that can never be translated, something that the image will always keep for itself. I think that is what is so powerful about images, I always feel like I’m looking at a secret. When I write from a visual prompt, I may make a guess at the secret, but the story I generate will reveal a different secret, one that tracks back to the image via my own imagination.

The web is full of visual prompts. Just type “Visual Writing Prompts” into a Google image search and you’ll come up with plenty. Peruse Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram for ideas. Create your own Tumblr or Pinterest account to store your favorites. Create your own visual library with Instagram. You can collect images as prompts or to go with a story you’re developing.

There’s a collection of abandoned places posted on Buzzfeed.

Not an alien ship landing but the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party

Or the Children From Around the World photographed with their Toys on Bored Panda.

Arafa & Aisha – Bububu, Zanzibar by Gabriele Galimberti


I could go on, but you get the idea.

When you look at images, look beyond the narrative on the surface for the details that you don’t see at first. How does the image make you feel? Does it make you think of something that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the content of the image? Follow those rabbit holes straight to Wonderland.

If you’re looking for something offline, consider The Last Pictures. It’s a book created from this project to shoot some art into space. It’s a fascinating collection of images. And they’re already in orbit. The creators call it an art installation but it seems more like a message in a bottle or a time capsule. Whatever you call it, the pictures are fascinating both individually and as a collection for what they say about how we curate our own experience as human beings on earth. According to the photographer:

“What I want out of art is things that help us see who we are now. And the best I can hope for is that this project will give us a way that we can actually look at ourselves.”     ~Trevor Paglen


That’s the best I can hope for when I write too!