Tag Archives: writer’s block

Writing Prompt: Make up your own holiday

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Make up your own holiday” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)


After the near miss, the year was three days longer. You’d think that not getting hit by a huge asteroid would be the most important outcome of The Scare. At first it was.

Only in the aftermath of something terrible do you see the little ripples and effects. Your birthday wasn’t your birthday. The fourth of July wasn’t The Fourth of July. And it wasn’t just the solar calendar. The asteroid pulled the moon farther out, which changed the lunar calendar. A lot of holidays run on the lunar calendar—Easter, Yom Kippur, Chinese New Year. Each group of people had to decide whether to switch to the new calendar or approximate the old one. Sects were formed, conflicts occurred. The surf was different. Some forms of life live like a clock with the tides, and random species we tend not to think about starting dying in droves. The days were a little longer too.

I was the first one to start it. I looked at the new calendar, I looked at the old calendar, and I said, I don’t care. I’m going to make up my own holiday. It happened roughly once a year, but when I said it would. It didn’t have to answer to anyone but me. I called it Time Dilation Day. We dressed up like Einstein. There were substances that influenced how a person perceives the passage of time. And we didn’t worry. It was a day outside the rigidities of calendars—solar, lunar, or whatever.

That was ten years ago. I’m afraid now that I started a cult. I don’t get to say when Time Dilation Day happens anymore. There’s another asteroid passing near the Earth in a couple of years. It’s not supposed to be close enough. But maybe I can change that. I don’t want it to hit, just another near miss would be swell. Once you control the passage of time, you don’t give it up.


Writing prompt: Abduct an extraterrestrial

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Abduct an extraterrestrial” (This list is an awesome source of completely silly prompts. March 20th is Extraterrestrial Abductions Day, and after a member of our writing group misinterpreted this as humans abducting ETs, we went with that. It seemed more interesting.)


The light from underground was reddish. The instruments confirmed that it extended into the infrared.

“They’re down there,” Mason hissed. “The aliens!”

For the historical reader, I should explain that the presence of aliens wasn’t the novelty here, but the collection of this particular species for the St. Louis Zoo. At this point, we hadn’t understood that the Iotans travelled along subharmonic strings. We only knew at this point that they couldn’t seem to escape from caves or other underground places once they got there. We’d managed to capture two of them in this trap we’d set. A pity, it took at least three to breed.

“I can see that,” I told Mason. He was really more of a technician than an exobiologist. For him, the victory was that his trap had worked. I was an exobiologist. I needed to figure out how to get them to the zoo without them de-materializing—an annoying habit. Further, I had to figure out what Iotans ate and breathed and whether their excretions would dissolve the typical metal enclosures.

The Iotans realized now their predicament. The two of them wailed high and frankly unpleasantly. We didn’t know if they had language or if they could travel as they did simply as part of their unusual biology. I wish now that we’d known what a headache this pair would be for us. After we accidentally killed the Iotans, tough times came in the exobiologist community. I got sent to work at the facility on Mars—a humiliation. But that’s a different story.

The red light flashed white and the wailing squealed higher then abruptly stopped. There were no more signs on the instruments, no more sounds, no more anything. We cautiously crept forward. The cavern was twice as big as it had been and we saw no Iotans anywhere.

“Where are they?” Mason asked.

“How should I know?” I exploded. We were exhausted when we reached the surface, and I noted the failure in my records.

Writing prompt: Tell a fairy tale

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Tell a fairy tale” (This list is an awesome source of completely silly prompts.)


“Daddy, what’s your favorite fairy tale?”

Karl thought for a bit. “You know, I don’t remember. It’s been a long time since I was little.”

Inga frowned. “I want a fairy tale. What am I going to do if you can’t remember any?” She sat up in bed. After seven was his precious quiet time. He needed to get Inga to sleep.

“I’ll make one up, how’s that?” Inga looked skeptical. “One just for you, a special one.” Flattery began to melt the skepticism.

“Once upon a time there was a scientist,” Karl began.

“There weren’t scientists in fairy tales.”

Karl held up an admonishing finger. “That’s only because they weren’t invented yet when the old ones were written. Just think of a scientist as a wizard, but with more numbers.

“The scientist worked many hours toiling with magical substances and arcane laws. He worked on lubrication systems for automotive engines.”

“Daddy, this better be going somewhere.” He needed to find the balance between interesting enough to engage Inga, but not so interesting as to keep her up.

“His world was full of discipline and certainty and steady income. One day, though, the scientist woke up in a different world. There were no cars and no lights and no tvs. He looked out his window and saw pigs and horses and a dragon flying through the sky.”

“A dragon?” Inga squealed. Karl cursed himself. Too exciting!

“Yes, a dragon. And the scientist was worried because his skills weren’t going to translate well to the employment prospects of this world. He would have to learn how he got there, and how to return.”

Writing prompt: the newt and the cat

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“The newt and the cat” (This prompt inspired by my highly predatious cat, Erg, who happened upon a very unlucky blue-tailed skink in the house. I helped the skink to escape, more or less intact, but Erg was inconsolable.)

I collapsed onto the chair inside the door. Summer was here, and wow, I was sweaty. I looked over and noticed that the door of the cage was open.

“Oh no oh no oh no,” I muttered to myself and I bolted upright. I wasn’t supposed to have brought the newt home in the first place, but I’d gotten attached to it. I wanted to see how a super intelligent newt would react to a new environment, and maybe I had become a little too emotionally invested.

I heard a clatter from the dining room.

Jaws stood, body absolutely taut, staring between two stacks of books.

“Bad kitty!” I shouted. Newton looked up at me, both terrified and accusing. In that moment, Jaws decided to lunge, and the stacks of books collapsed into chaos. Newton shot out from the pile and behind a pile of papers. I chased after Jaws, but under the furniture I was no match in speed for him or Newton.

Jaws pounced again, and Newton darted to another stack of debris. For once, I was thankful for my shabby bachelor digs and cleaning regimen. I went and got the compressed air, Jaws’ arch nemesis. I sprayed and him and he ballooned into a fluff of fur, but he would not abandon the hunt, and evaded any attempts I made to contain him.

I would be finding out just how smart my modified newt had become.

Writing prompt: The dream weaver

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“the dream weaver”

I slipped the electrodes onto the ports behind my ears and at my hairline, shuddering slightly at the slight tingling. I leaned back into the bean bag chair and set the timer to 30 minutes. No, it was already 2 AM. I dialed it back to 20 minutes. I had six hours and desperately needed to come up with an idea and fully develop it in that time. I positioned myself so that nothing would go numb or fall awkwardly, and I pressed the remote control and I entered the dream weaver.

The first thing I always dream about is heights, damn them. Each time I have to cross a bottomless canyon or climb a tree or something like that. I can’t decide if my fear is growing stronger or weaker with these constant reminders. I need an idea. I remember the words of my instructor, to try to visualize the landscape. I see the glow on the horizon of idea. I walk in that direction.

Once I read a story about a woman who went mad using a dream weaver—she had to face the things that frightened her most, and when she couldn’t, she simply shorted out. I sometimes wonder if it was true. Maybe it was something that someone thought up using a weaver. On a distant hill, I see a man with a strange intensity to his eyes. He holds a knife. I suppress unease, and I walk toward him; this is the focal point for today. They can’t all be comfortable.

Writing prompt with edit: preparing for a long trip

Time: 7 minutes. I then set it aside for about 30 minutes, and then edited the piece for ten minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“preparing for a long trip”

The first run: 7 minutes.

Dale looked at the empty suitcase. It wasn’t the one that would accompany him on his journey, but it was the same size. That suitcase was in a sterile environment, and everything that would eventually go into it would have to be sterilized as well. He would have to be scrubbed and cleaned up as well. But looking at this empty suitcase, not even the one that he would take, lent an air of finality. Whatever in the world that was his from now on would fit in this small space. Any memory, and hobby, any cherished treasure would go into this space or he would never see it again. This said nothing about all the people that wouldn’t fit into the box.

Lily panted in the doorway. She seemed to sense her master’s discomfort, but feared suitcases and other boxes for reasons Dale still couldn’t fully explain. Lily would be going to his sister. She might send letters with Lily’s picture, but one can’t do much with the picture of a dog. The picture of a dog can’t startle you with its wet cold nose, or rest its rest in your lap when the day was nearly too much. He couldn’t look at her, and he couldn’t look at the suitcase. After a few years, the letters would grow sparser as the separation from Earth grew. If Lily was even alive by then.

He tried to tell himself what an opportunity lie ahead. But it was hard not to feel the weight of all the opportunities closing behind him. Many a master lost a beloved pet. But where he was going, there would never be a Lily ever again. Soft fur brushed against the back of his bare leg. Lily whimpered. It was time to go for a walk, but Dale fancied some deeper sensibility.

The edit: 10 minutes. I tried to eliminate unnecessary text while still preserving Dale’s emotions. I removed scifi-ish stuff that didn’t seem to contribute to that end, regarding the suitcase, and tried to give more time to Lily and Dale, which to me ended up being the best part of my first run.

Dale looked at the empty suitcase. It had an air of finality. This space would encompass his life until this point. Any memory, and hobby, any cherished treasure would go into this space or he would never see it again.

Lily panted in the doorway, unable to come closer due to a fear of suitcases and other boxes that Dale still couldn’t fully explain. Lily would be going to his sister, Eva. Eva might send letters with Lily’s picture, but one can’t do much with the picture of a dog. The picture of a dog can’t startle you with its wet cold nose, or rest its rest in your lap when the day was nearly too much. After a few years, the letters would grow sparser as the separation from Earth grew. If Lily was even alive by then.

Dale could not deny his excitement for his future, the opportunity of a lifetime. But it was hard not to feel the weight of the opportunities closing behind him. Where he was going, there would never be a Lily ever again, never a new puppy, never an old companion. His eyes burned.

Soft fur brushed against the back of his bare leg. Lily whimpered, her eyes uneasily fixed upon the suitcase, but determined to be near him. It was time to go for a walk, but Dale fancied some deeper sensibility. He grabbed two tennis balls. One he put into the suitcase; hopefully the decontamination process wouldn’t destroy the scent of dog drool. The other he kept in his hand as he and Lily walked toward the door.

Writing prompt: Modified pollen

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Modified pollen” (quote at bottom by Alfred Tennyson, in ‘The Lotos Eaters’)

The hazard flower came to our county five years ago. Another invasive species, blown in on winds from the south and trucks. No one knows how exactly it came to exist, going on twenty years ago now. Terrorism? Science gone bad? A chance cross-pollination?

Pollen season started yesterday, so often course we are all indoors, with the windows closed and the filtration systems on. The count is still well below two inside, so all is well. It looks so beautiful out, and I am trapped inside with canned air. The season only lasts about a week.

In the last year or two, I’ve wondered… what would it be like? The ‘Lotos Eaters,’ as they call those exposed, seem serene and at peace. Damage to the emotional center of the brain, the doctors say, not so different from a lobotomy. But they seem at peace, and right now, I do not feel at peace. I watch the yellow dust drift, and know that until the hazard crews come and hose it all off, I will remain inside. Once an injured cat lay in my yard during pollen season, and I simply watched, unable to help, but unable not to care.

It’s 75 out, a beautiful day. A lovely day to take a walk.

“Thro’ every hollow cave and alley lone
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.”

Writing prompt: An impending storm

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“An impending storm”

Enka jabbed at the thin soil with her trowel. If the flimsy little sprouts took to this thin soil, it would be a miracle. She knew that this work was essential, but understanding its importance didn’t make it any more enjoyable. Sometimes Sasha sang when she worked, low and slow, like a dirge. That matched more with how Enka felt about the work.

Around her, people paused in the work. “The tower,” they said. Enka looked up, and indeed, there was a light in the tower. She and the others watched the light, eager to know how severe the coming storm would be. The sky was clear and purple now, but Enka knew not to trust it. She’d heard stories of how confusing the sudden weather was to the Founders. People who lived with radars and satellites and never had to rely on their instincts. Not that instincts did much in the sudden and violent weather on this planet.

Two long blinks. A bad storm was coming. She helped the others pull tarps over the delicate seedlings. Then they would have to find shelter. Sometimes she wondered what the storms must be like for the towerkeepers, so high in the air during such violence, unable to run. A few months ago, one to the north collapsed, taking its keeper and several homes with it. Enka was glad that her own home was not in the shadow of the tower.

A little part of her longed to be up in the tower. Every time the storms came, she hid, and she saw the beautiful violence afterwards. It must be enthralling to stand within. The others had already fled home. Did she really have to be in the tower to stay and watch the storm?

Writing prompt: the woods burst into flame

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“The woods burst into flame”


The sky seemed to darken in an instant. Heavy clouds swirled, and lightning flashed. Only a moment ago, it had been a perfect summer day. Around Nadya and Vanya, the woods burst into flames.

“How?” Vanya cried.

Nadya grabbed Vanya’s hand and ran. Vanya had such a habit wanting to know the why of things, and as the flames licked around the great trees, the why was not currently important. Nadya saved her curiosity for the relevant time.

Flames seemed to repel them on all sides. Above, dark clouds still swirled. Flocks of bird and animals also fled the uncanny fire too, and so the air and trees were full of frightened motion. Nadya and Vanya were encircled by flames. There was nowhere to run.

Vanya sat on the ground and began to cry. “It’s so hot, I just want to go home.” He was only six, and even in her frustration with her brother, her heart ached for him. As the big sister, it was her job to provide safety, but she too was tempted to collapse onto the ground and give in. It seemed inevitable at this point.

“Vanya, come with me,” Nadya said, a sudden idea in her mind. It might not save them, but it was something. “Climb this tree with me.”

“But—” Vanya tears paused as confusion took over, “Papa says we must never climb those trees. That children who do are never seen again, or fall to their death.”

“Vanya, look around,” Nadya said, suddenly manic with the idea, “we could use a miraculous disappearance. I don’t know where we’d go, but it couldn’t be worse than here.”

Nadya and her brother climbed the tree. The texture was odd under hand, untreelike. When they neared the top, she heard a sound. It was the piercing cry of an enormous bird. Nadya was so startled she almost fell as the six-foot bird emerged from the storm clouds. One bird grabbed Nadya, and the other grabbed Vanya. The two birds flew high into the sky, and the children looked down onto the burning forest. Nadya hoped that the birds were kindly disposed to children.

Writing prompt: using an illustration as inspiration

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

I wrote this prompt while looking at the image below, which I made for my worldbuilding exercises, discussed here.


Enh and Della sat at the table, staring out the window rather than at each other. Enh hadn’t seen Della in fifteen years, not since that terrible night. And now they sat in a beautiful café, staring out at the sea rather than talking. Out of the blue, Della had contacted her two days before. She still hadn’t explained why, and Enh was growing uncomfortable. In the distance, a sailboat skating gracefully by. Enh wished she were there. Anywhere but here.

“It’s good to see you again, Enh,” Della mumbled again. Enh just nodded this time. Della’s voice, so distinctive, was unchanged, and she mumbled just like she had so many years ago. She paused for a long time. “Don’t you have anything to say to me?”

Enh sighed. “You contacted me. And you still haven’t told me why yet. I didn’t come here to reminisce. I came here because to asked me to, and I’d prefer you get to the point.”

Della’s eye’s narrowed. When she was young, she might have cried, but evidently she was past that. “You always make everything hard. Fine, I’ll just say it. I found out that Intira might be alive.”

Enh dropped her fork. Visions of that night came unbidden. The night they found the bike on the beach, but not Intira. Intira’s angry note, condemning all their undermining, how they had never really been friends. A man who’d seen her running into the ocean. Her clothes, found a month later on the coast.

(As it happens, the end of this prompt became inspired by another illustration, see below.)