I was at the post office the other day shipping a package when it occurred to me that I hadn't checked my PO box since shortly before Christmas. Shame on me, but I mentally check out during the holidays. Then once they are over, I pretend they're not and slowly work my way back into the real world—very slowly. To my surprise, there was a package waiting for me from a friend. When I opened it up, this is what I found—a beautifully wrapped gift. So beautifully wrapped in fact, that I almost didn't want to open it. Almost. The gift was wrapped in fabric and tied with a pretty bow. Even the card was decorated inside and out.
But inside was this book, 642 Things to Write About. The giver said she immediately thought of me when she laid eyes on it. Well, I opened it up and it is filled with literally 642 writing prompts like, "Would you rather win the Nobel Prize or be a rock star?", "Thoughts on your favorite pet's personality.", "The person your mother warned you about." "Write a survival guide for a character: Ten things to do in an emergency.", "Keep a list of words you like, for their sound, for their meaning, or just for their goofy spelling. Pick one of those words and use it in a paragraph.", "The first lie you told." Of course I could go on forever...or at least 636 more times. I can't tell you how excited I am! This book is going with me everywhere for those days when inspiration eludes me. (The last part was her inscription to me.)
I was especially inspired by the introduction.
"This book was written in a single day. A single 24-hour period, with no advance notice. Nor was it our idea. An editor-friend of mine rang out of the blue and said, '"Let's do a book called 642 Things to Write About."'
"My gut response was, '"Great, but you don't mean literally 642 things, right? You're using 642 just to represent any big number, so it could be 238 things or 187 things--I mean, 642 things is going to be kind of impossible."'
"'Okay, we could do a different number," she said, then paused. "But I was thinking 642 things. Literally."'
"I was not going to tackle this alone. So the next morning, I e-mailed my office mates at the San Francisco Writers' Grotto. There are thirty-five writers here, a warren maze of small offices and library-like carrels. My thought was that if we came up with more than a hundred writing ideas on the first day, then maybe this project could be real. I thought it would take a month."
"People started e-mailing in ideas, in bunches. We had a hundred within an hour. Five hundred by the end of the day, and the ideas kept flowing overnight. Contributions came in from thirty-five different writers. At lunchtime the following day, I delivered the finished manuscript, in person, to our editor."
"I tell this story because it's a lesson in hidden potential. You never know what might happen. In a single day, if you hit the right nerve, you could have something—maybe. It's the start of something, maybe it's the whole thing. And it doesn't even have to begin with your own idea. You just have to get creative and plunge in."
"You could use these 642 things literally, by picking an exercise and completing it, or you can just let them wash over you to stir up your creativity, to remind you that no, not everything has been written, not every good idea is already taken by someone else. There are an infinite number of things one could write about and so many fresh directions for your story to go."
This was hands down one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year. Wait—643!..."What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?"
And here are a few other things that I thought would inspire you as well.
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