“What-if?” Journal Prompts

journal prompts

Journal prompts to fire up your imagination.

What if you won the lottery? What if you woke up in someone else’s body? What if you could fly?

What if you could open your imagination to a whole new world of writing ideas?

Today’s journal prompts encourage you to wonder. Some of them are based on reality. Others ask you to step outside the realm of possibility (or likelihood) and leave the world as we know it behind.

Journal Writing

Journal writing is excellent for birthing new ideas and fleshing them out. Journal prompts help by giving you a launching pad — a place to start your writing session. Read More

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Symbols and Symbolism

symbolism in fiction

Symbolism and symbolism in fiction writing.

Today’s post comes from my book 101 Creative Writing Exercises. This is from “Chapter 5: Fiction.” Let’s take a look at symbolism in fiction.

Symbols and Symbolism

In Alice and Wonderland, a white rabbit appears, and Alice follows him down the rabbit hole that leads to Wonderland. The white rabbit is a herald — a character archetype that signifies the first challenge or the call to adventure. This is the change in the main character’s life that marks the beginning of the story. Read More

New Book: What’s the Story? Building Blocks for Fiction Writing

storytellingWhen I first got interested in fiction writing, I scoured bookstores for a simple, straightforward primer on storytelling. I wanted something that explained the various components of a story, and I found lots of excellent books — some on plotting, others on characters — but I never did find that primer I was looking for.

So I decided to write it.

About the Book

What’s the Story? Building Blocks for Fiction Writing is the first book in a series called The Storyteller’s Toolbox. Here’s the lowdown:

What’s a story? Is it character? Plot? Conflict? Change? Why do some stories fall flat with audiences while others sweep the globe, captivating people in every corner of the world? Read More

Grammar Rules: Split Infinitives

grammar rules split infinitives

What are the grammar rules surrounding split infinitives?

It’s important that we, as writers, know the tools of our trade. Part of our job is to understand the mechanics of language, which includes grammar rules. Yet many writers find themselves asking…

What are split infinitives?

It’s a term that grammarians and linguists throw around a lot, yet few people, including writers, seem to know what it means.

According to Wikipedia:

A split infinitive or cleft infinitive is an English-language grammatical construction in which a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, comes between the marker to and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb.

So, what’s an infinitive? What’s a bare infinitive? Understanding these terms will help us figure out what split infinitives are.




An infinitive, or bare infinitive is a simple form of a verb. Examples include write, go, talk, sit, and understand.

When a participle, such as to, appears before an infinitive, it is then referred to as a full infinitive. Examples include to write, to go, to talk, to sit, and to understand.

So, how do we get split infinitives?

Infinitives become split infinitives when another word is inserted between the participle (also called a marker) and the bare infinitive:

We want to truly understand English grammar.

In the example above, the participle is to and the bare infinitive is understand. The full infinitive to understand is split by the adverb truly.

That’s simple enough. So what’s the fuss?

As split infinitives became more popular in the 19th century, some grammatical authorities sought to introduce a prescriptive rule against them. The construction is still the subject of disagreement among native English speakers as to whether refraining from split infinitives is grammatically correct or good style.

In 1926, Henry Fowler wrote, “No other grammatical issue has so divided English speakers since the split infinitive was declared to be a solecism in the 19c: raise the subject of English usage in any conversation today and it is sure to be mentioned.” (source: Wikipedia)

Today, however, most linguists agree that split infinitives are acceptable.

Grammar Rules, Style, and Split Infinitives

While the grammar rules regarding split infinitives are being debated, style dictates that we write our sentences to be clear and consistent. Let’s take another look at our example sentence, but let’s move the adverb so our infinitive is no longer split:

We truly want to understand English grammar.

Note that this sentence sounds clearer, but we’ve changed the meaning. In the original example sentence, the adverb truly modified the phrase to understand. Here, it modifies want. When splitting infinitives, we need to make sure the word doing the splitting is modifying the right words in the sentence.

Let’s rewrite the sentence while keeping the meaning intact:

We want to master English grammar.

Here, the split infinitive to truly understand is replaced with stronger, more precise wording. Instead of truly understanding English grammar, we want to master it! This sentence is far clearer than the original. It has more punch, it doesn’t include a (somewhat questionable) split infinitive, and it communicates the exact same idea.

Split infinitives can sound awkward or clumsy when there’s a simpler, clearer way to construct the sentence.

The Final Frontier

One of the most famous of all split infinitives occurs in the opening sequence of Star Trek:

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” – Captain James T. Kirk

If you can find the participle (marker), the bare infinitive (simple form of the verb), and the adverb (which is causing the split) in the excerpt above, then you’re up to speed on split infinitives. Could it be rewritten without the split infinitive? Would it sound better or worse?

Now you know all about split infinitives. You know:

  • What split infinitives are
  • How to identify split infinitives
  • Split infinitives are acceptable, but
  • Split infinitives can make a piece of writing awkward, so
  • Use split infinitives with care

Do you better understand split infinitives? Have anything to add? Do you have any questions about these or other grammar rules? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Five Writing Tips for Kicking Writer’s Block and Getting Inspired

writing tips

Writing tips to invigorate you when you’re feeling uninspired.

Every writer has been there: staring at a blank screen, waiting for the words to arrive. But they don’t. The words just won’t come. They will, soon. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Time’s passing and the words still don’t come. Maybe they never will.

You sit there feeling frustrated and uninspired.

What’s a writer to do? Well for starters, you can use the writing tips below. Fighting writer’s block is easier than it seems. But sitting there staring at the blank page will only build tension and continue to hinder your creativity by reinforcing the blockage that you’re experiencing. The trick to combating writer’s block is to remove yourself from your writing for a short time and get that creative energy flowing again. Fifteen to thirty minutes ought to do it.

Writing Tips for Blocking Writer’s Block




In some ways, these aren’t writing tips at all, because the most important way to fight writer’s block is to move your body, which will bring on relaxation and relieve tension. Or do something that gets your mind completely off whatever you’re working on by mentally diving into something different for a while. Close your notebook and put it away, or stand up and walk away from your computer.

Here are five writing tips for non-writing activities that you can do:

  1. Exercise. Take your dog for a short walk, or go through some simple stretches or yoga poses. Moving the body gets blood flowing and when blood flows to the brain, you become more productive and more receptive to your inner muse.
  2. Chores. This is a great time to do the dishes. Fold the load of laundry that’s been sitting on the couch for a couple of days. It’s not spring cleaning, just a little daily maintenance that will get your body moving and your mind focused.
  3. People. We all have phone calls to make, emails to send, and letters to open. Okay, maybe there aren’t many letters to open, just bills and junk mail. But you can take this time to get in touch with friends and family. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you hang up the phone or click send and suddenly you know exactly what you want to write. Bonus Tip: get in touch with people who are writers and start sharing writing tips with each other!
  4. Animals. Take some time to toss around the mouse toy for your cat. How long has it been since you gave your dog a good brushing? Spending quality time with pets has been scientifically proven to have health and relaxation benefits for both you and them, and you’ll find that it does wonders for your writing as well!
  5. Meditate. Meditation serves many purposes. It helps us focus, clears our minds, and promotes relaxation while minimizing stress. Even a brief ten- or fifteen-minute meditation will ease the burden of writer’s block and inspiration will come to you in no time!

Good luck and let me know if any of these writing tips help you ward off writer’s block by leaving a comment!

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

Breaking Grammar Rules in Poetry Writing

grammar rules poetry writing

Do you break grammar rules in poetry writing?

Accomplished writers respect the rules of grammar the way an acrobat respects the tightrope — grammar might be intimidating and complicated, but we need it in order to perform.

Yet sometimes, an acrobat takes her foot off the tightrope. She does a flip or some other trick of physical prowess that seems to defy the laws of gravity and exceed the potential of the human body.

Grammar rules lend structure and clarity to our writing and gives us common ground rules that we can use to communicate clearly and effectively, just like the tightrope gives the acrobat a foundation upon which to walk.

So when does a writer take her foot off the rules of grammar so she can perform spectacular tricks?

Good Grammar in Poetry Writing

I’m often asked by writers and poets how they should handle grammar, capitalization, and punctuation in poetry. When it comes to grammar rules, is poetry writing the exception?

Many poets demonstrate grammatical expertise, neatly parking periods and commas in their designated spaces and paying homage to proper capitalization.

Consider the following poem and how it follows the rules of grammar. Note that in poetry writing, the traditional rule is that the first letter of each line is capitalized regardless of whether or not it starts a new sentence.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
By Adrienne Rich 

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

Writing Poetry Without Grammar Rules

Poets don’t always follow the rules, which is why poetry is attractive to writers who are especially creative, rebellious, and enjoy coloring outside the lines.

Grammar rules, particularly spelling and punctuation, are nothing more than a creative tool for poets who choose to dismiss the rules altogether or use the them to decorate and add aesthetic elements to a poem.

Many poets have skirted grammar with great success. Many more have failed. E.E. Cummings is well known for giving grammar the proverbial finger, but he takes his anarchy one step further and actually alters basic sentence structure, and manages to do so quite effectively.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
By ee cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Cummings has dismissed capital letters altogether and he uses punctuation seemingly at random. Yet the poem works. Imagine it with the proper grammar rules applied and you’ll quickly realize that his way is more effective for this piece and what he’s trying to accomplish with language.

Poetry Writing – Where Rules and Creativity Cooperate or Collide

As the poetry canon grows beyond measure, poets increasingly reach for creative devices to make their work stand out.

Toying with grammar rules is one such device, but it is not something that can be approached carelessly. If you choose to forgo the rules because you don’t know them rather than as a creative technique, your lack of knowledge will show and the poem will present as amateurish. Of course, that’s true for all types of writing: learn the rules, and only after you have learned them, go ahead and break them.

I salute anyone who breaks the rules in the interest of art and great poetry writing just as much as I admire poets who craft meter and verse within the confines of grammar. So for this language-loving poet, either way is the right way. Walk the tight rope or jump from it and see if you can fly.

What are your thoughts on applying grammar rules to poetry writing? Are you a stickler for good grammar, even in your creative or experimental work, or do you like to bend and break the rules? Share your thoughts in the comments.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Creative Writing: Reflective Journaling

reflective journaling

Reflective journaling cultivates personal awareness.

Technically, a journal is a chronological log. Many professionals keep journals, including scientists and ship captains. Their journals are strictly for tracking their professional progress.

A writer’s journal can hold many things: thoughts, ideas, stories, poems, and notes. It can hold dreams and doodles, visions and meditations. Anything that pertains to your creative writing ideas and aspirations can find a home inside your journal.

Today let’s explore an intimate style of journal writing, one in which we write about our own lives: reflective journaling.

Creative Writing Gets Personal

Some personal journals are diaries. A diary is merely an account of one’s daily activities and experiences. In a diary, we record what we did each day.

A reflective journal is similar to a diary in that we document our experiences. However, reflective journaling goes deeper than diary writing; it strives to gain greater understanding of our experiences rather than simply document them.

Reflective journaling is a form of creative writing that allow us to practice self-reflection, self-exploration, and self-improvement, and through reflective journaling, we gain greater awareness through observation, contemplation, and writing. By chronicling and then examining various aspects of our lives, we become more self-aware.

Reflective Journaling

We all have stories to tell. With reflective journaling, you write about your own life, but you’re not locked into daily chronicles that outline your activities or what you had for dinner. You might write about something that happened when you were a small child. You might even write about something that happened to someone else — something you witnessed or have thoughts about that you’d like to explore. Instead of recounting events, you might write exclusively about your inner experiences (thoughts and feelings). Reflective journaling often reveals tests we have endured and lessons we have learned.

The Art of Recalibration (by Kristin Donovan, who is a sisterly spirit but no relation) is a perfect example of reflective journaling in which stories about our lives are interwoven with our ideas about life itself.

Reflective journaling has other practical applications, too. Other forms of creative writing, such as poems and stories, can evolve from reflective journaling. And by striving to better understand ourselves, we may gain greater insight to others, which is highly valuable for fiction writers who need to create complex and realistic characters. The more deeply you understand people and the human condition, the more relatable your characters will be.

Do You Keep a Journal?

I guess I’m a journal slob because my journal has a little bit of everything in it: drawings, personal stories, rants, and reflections. It’s mostly full of free-writes and poetry. I realize that a lot of writers don’t bother with journals at all; they want to focus on the work they intend to publish. But I think journaling is healthy and contributes to a writer’s overall, ongoing growth.

I once read a comment on a blog by a writer who said she didn’t keep a journal because she couldn’t be bothered with writing down the events of each day; I found it curious that she had such a limited view of what a journal could hold. A journal doesn’t have to be any one thing. It can be a diary, but it can also be a place where we write down our ideas, plans, and observations. It can hold thoughts and feelings, but it can also be a place where we doodle and sketch stories and poems.

I’m curious about your journal. Do you keep one? What do you write in it? Is your journal private or public? Is it a spiral-bound notebook or a hardcover sketchbook? Does journaling inspire or inform your other creative writing projects? Have you ever tried reflective journaling? Tell us about your experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

Improving Your Writing Through Poetry

improving your writing

Improving your writing with poetry.

In the world of writing, one form stands out as different from all the rest: poetry.

Poetry is not bound by the constraints of sentence and paragraph structure, context, or even grammar.

In the magical world of poetry, you can throw all the rules out the window and create a piece of art, something that is entirely unique.

That doesn’t mean writing poetry is creatively easy. It can be much more difficult to make a poem than it is to write an essay or piece of fiction. There’s so much creative space, and without any limitations whatsoever, it can be overwhelming.

Yet poetry brings a great bounty of writerly skills and tools, and many of these will spill over into other writing forms, sprinkling them with just a little of the magic that is poetry. And while poetry might not be your favorite form of writing, reading poetry, poetry exercises, and poetry writing are fun and creative methods for improving your writing in any other form or genre.




Improving Your Writing

What is it about poetry that makes your writing better?

Mindful Imagery

While other creative writing forms may use vivid imagery to create pictures in the reader’s mind, no other form comes close to what can be achieved with imagery in poetry writing.

Most writing forms attempt to explain something — a scene, a situation, an idea, a set of instructions, an experience. Poetry doesn’t bother to explain. It shows. It paints a picture and pulls you into it.

In a poetry workshop, you will hear this over and over: show, don’t tell. When you master the art of showing readers an idea through imagery, you can easily apply the concept to your other writing, creating work that comes alive in a reader’s mind.

Language, Word Choice, and Vocabulary

A poet’s vocabulary is paramount. Of course, language is essential to all types of writing, but in poetry, words must be selected carefully in order to generate a visceral response from the reader. In fiction, readers connect emotionally with characters and their plights. We get to know the characters, understand them, and we come to relate to them or even think of them as friends (or enemies).

Characters rarely appear in poetry, so instead of using the emotional connection forged between people, a writer must grab the reader’s heart by appealing to their senses, using words and images that make readers feel. This is achieved by learning how to use language that evokes emotions without telling readers what they should be feeling.

The meaning of each word in a poem must be weighed carefully. Connotations can mean the difference between a poem with depth and a poem that feels flat.

Finally, every single word must be necessary to the poem. Therefore, poetry teaches writers how to be economical with language.

Musicality

A poet must be constantly aware of meter and rhythm. Poems and song lyrics are often compared, confused, and intermingled, and with good reason. Both poetry and music must pay attention to cadence and melody.

Think about how you feel when you hear a particular piece of music. You tap your feet, shake your hips, bang your head. Our bodies respond physically to music.

Through poetry writing comes a natural ability to marry musicality with language. When this musicality is brought to other forms of writing, readers feel it in their bones and muscles. They will have a physical reaction.

The Practice and Study of Poetry Results in Better Writing

Writing is about connecting with readers. And poetry writing helps you develop skills for connecting with readers mentally (language), emotionally (images), and physically (rhythm). Many young and new writers are impatient with poetry. They were forced to read archaic poems in school and came away with a bad taste for poetry. But poetry is like music; there’s something for everyone. Look around a little and you’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you.

If you’re interested in exploring poetry and using it to improve your writing, start by checking out these accessible resources:

  • Poem of the Day (podcast): Packed with classic and contemporary poems, each piece is only a minute or two in length. Save the ones you like and listen to them over and over again. Tip: you can subscribe via iTunes.
  • IndieFeed: Performance Poetry (podcast): Today’s poets are cutting the edge with poetry that speaks to the 21st century. From humor to heartbreak, these poets write out loud. Most pieces are under ten minutes, and the podcast updates a few times each week.
  • Poetry Foundation: Once you whet your appetite, dig in and find out what’s going on in the world of poetry. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to the craft of poetry and includes lots of great poems, poets, and other poetry related resources.

Improving your writing through the practice and study of poetry forces you to whip out your magnifying glass and look at your writing up close. Whether you apply poetic concepts to fiction, blogging, or article writing, your engagement with poetry will help you produce better writing.

If your writing is good today, it can be great tomorrow.

Have you ever dabbled in poetry and noticed how it affected your fiction or creative nonfiction? Have you tried improving your writing through poetry? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Writing Tips for Better Productivity

writing tips for productivity

Increase your productivity with these writing tips.

It’s not easy to find time to write.

Even professional writers get caught up in paperwork and marketing and have to scramble to get the actual work of writing done.

But with careful planning and better time management, we can all learn how to carve out a little more time for writing.

Here are seven writing tips that will help you make or find more time to write, even if you have a packed schedule.

Writing Tips for Better Productivity

Try a few of these tried-and-true writing tips and productivity techniques and see which ones work for you:




  1. Make it a point to write first thing every morning. Most people feel refreshed after a good night’s rest (and a hot cup of coffee!), so there’s no better time to get creative than in the a.m. If you can get some writing done before you hop in the shower, you’ll already have made a great start for the day!
  2. Schedule writing sessions. If you have an over-packed schedule and your life is dictated by the notes on your calendar, then pen-in your writing time! Even if you can only squeeze in twenty minutes per day, you’ll see a dramatic increase in your output!
  3. Give yourself a break. Squeezing writing time into breaks and lunches at work can help you increase your daily word count. Even a ten-minute writing binge could mean a huge breakthrough in your plot or that perfect bit of dialogue you’ve been looking for. Because some of our best writing ideas come when we’re enmeshed in other activities, mini writing breaks scattered throughout the day can move your project along in small but significant steps.
  4. You can do it in the car. Don’t use pen and paper here, folks. Many cell phones are equipped with recording capabilities, and there are freestanding recording devices as well as apps for your smart phone or other mobile device. Use driving time to record your thoughts and you can transcribe them later. Bonus writing tip: Don’t have a recording device? Call yourself and leave a voice mail!
  5. Sacrifice. Sometimes in life we have to make choices. Give up one of your TV shows and use that time for a weekly writing session. Reconsider accepting every single party invitation, and ask yourself if extra-curricular activities like playing on a community softball league are more important than getting your writing done.
  6. Ask for help. If you have too much on your plate and simply cannot find time to write, try delegating other tasks to friends, co-workers, and family members. This will free up time in your schedule that you can devote to writing.
  7. Turn off the internet. Need I say more?

Do you have any writing tips or tricks of your own that might help others find more time to write? Please share them in the comments.

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

Story Starters: Ten Fiction Writing Prompts

fiction writing prompts

Give these fiction writing prompts a try.

Fiction writing prompts are a great way to stimulate creativity when you’re in the mood to do a little writing but need some fresh story ideas.

Prompts and other creative writing exercises can trigger your imagination. Sometimes, prompts and exercises help you come up with new ideas for projects you’re already working on, and other times, they give you ideas for projects you haven’t started yet. They’re also a great source of motivation.

10 Fiction Writing Prompts

The fiction writing prompts below are story starters. Try starting the first sentence of a new piece with one of the prompts and run with it, or write a story that includes one of the prompts somewhere in the text. As an alternative, use the prompts to generate story ideas and plan a story around a prompt (you don’t have to include the actual prompt anywhere in the story). You can even use one of the prompts as the final sentence in a story and use your imagination to fill in what happens leading up to it.

Feel free to alter any of the prompts to your liking. Use one or use them all. Have fun.




  1. She rolled over and felt her body push up against something hard.
  2. My wife disappeared on August 28, 1998.
  3. Sonny jumped up against the chain-link fence, wagging his tail furiously.
  4. Mom says it happens to all girls, but I think she’s just trying to make me feel normal.
  5. I’ve been to nine planets in twelve years and it’s starting to show.
  6. They say Old Weezie’s been reading palms out of her run-down shack for a hundred years or more.
  7. Acronyms give me a headache in general, but PBRT gives me a migraine.
  8. Ashley stared at the fruit, so lost in amazement that she didn’t think to comment on its size.
  9. Every day the sun comes up and every night it goes down again.
  10. When the elven guard put out a call to action, their plea went unheard and what followed was sheer terror.

Bonus challenge: Write a story that includes each and every one of the ten prompts above. That would be quite a feat!

Looking for more fiction writing prompts and story starters? Some of today’s fiction prompts appear in 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, available in paperback and ebook.

Creative Writing Prompts