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Writer and teacher Leaf Seligman encourages students to use writing as a way to “deepen connection, make meaning or clarify it.” In this pocket-sized book she asks more than 70 questions intended as invitations to plumb, to look, to listen, and to engage with life. Its tiny stature proves that not only the best gifts but the best ideas can come in small packages.
NYT best-selling author of The Sweet In-Between and The Rapture of Canaan
These prompts are protein for mind and soul.
Director of Education, Pendle Hill
Many of us want to take the leap into the world of writing, discovering meaning through words. A Pocket Book of Prompts calls out wonderful invitations, making it easier to take this leap into meaning, connection, and joy.
author of The Curious Writer
This is a book rich in triggering subjects, doorways that lead to hallways with other doors that you will unlock with words you didn’t expect to write. The prompts are the threshold, and the white spaces uncharted, beckoning.
From the Introduction:
Why a book of prompts? For all the years I’ve taught writing, and used writing as a way to deepen connection, to make meaning or clarify it—and even as a child writing fiction to make sense of what often felt incomprehensible—prompts have initiated the process. Sometimes they have been deliberate and imposed; other times, the universe sends them unbidden. Really, prompts surround us; we inhale them, and often sob or sweat them out, but fail to notice as we do.
The most effective prompts I’ve met are open-ended invitations to plumb, to re-see, or to look, listen, and engage for the first time. Unlike other artistic media, words come from within—and they often need a bit of coaxing to come out.
I’ve used these prompts in a variety of settings: college classrooms, prisons, congregations, programs at local hospitals, writing retreats, and one-to-one sessions. Some elicit a line or two and others lead to pages. Though I use them to encourage writing, they could just as easily become invitations to meditate, dance, sing, paint, or sculpt. Sometimes, college students will declare, “These questions are heavy.” Although some list towards whimsy, all of them attempt to open a window to what matters.
In the first section of this book, I offer one- or two-part questions that allow the taciturn to answer in a line or two while allowing the more ambitious to wax on.
In the second section, I offer more layered queries intended to plumb deeper places that invite fuller written exploration.
In order for any of these prompts to blossom, you need to send your internal critic or editor out for coffee while you write. Think of these prompts like hugs—meant to be experienced, shared, savored, not critiqued, belittled, or compared.
As Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own, “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” Whether we consider ourselves practiced or professional writers, students writing under duress, keepers of a journal, occasional lifters of a pen, or tappers of a keyboard, it’s worth asking as we write, “What’s at stake?” If nothing is, why bother?
The aim of this little volume is to elicit engagement. The earth offers us love letters every moment. Why not reply? I often tell students, “Make everything you write a love letter to the world.” Some missives keen, others exult. Some ponder, grapple, even curse the pain life contains—yet as long as our words express what matters, ultimately every act of writing matters, too.
Leaf Seligman began writing during her Tennessee childhood. She has taught writing in colleges, jails, prisons, and community settings since 1985 and worked as a minister, a jail chaplain, a youth services caseworker, and a restorative justice practitioner. She is the author of From the Midway: Unfolding Stories of Redemption and Belonging, Opening the Window: Sabbath Meditations and A Pocket Book of Prompts. Her current projects include a novel, a memoir, and a series of death row monologues, all attuned to redemption and belonging.