A Call to Arms

It’s a curse. A bloodsucking curse, robbing our stories with the thirst of those Twilight vampires, eating away our passion and making our writing numb with—
OK, OK, well maybe not exactly a curse, but a catastrophic little problem inherent to our craft: writer’s block. I fidget; I stare at the screen. I’m 90,000 words into my first novel, and I’m drained. My protagonist, wily though he may often be, just walked into the room and yawned, then sat down on a couch and stared at a wall.
Suddenly I’m not feeling The Words, no matter how much tea I dump into my good-luck Sherlock Holmes mug. A shred of sun hangs in the sky, falling across my protagonist’s lifeless face. A spider watches from the ceiling: Do something already. But then he goes on his way without a single sagely word.
All of us writers need a little help sometimes, whether it’s to break block, to get back in a groove, to feel part of a community, to flex the muscle that lets us do this strange thing we do, or to merely inspire, really pour some gasoline on The Words—the ones that makes our characters do the unpredictable, the right things for the right stories right now.
(My protagonist has settled down on the couch. No … get up! We’re in the home stretch now. Get up!)
So meet Promptly: A writing prompt-driven community that aims to do all of the above by shelling out prompts to get your pen moving and keep it that way.
Here’s how it works: I’ll post on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week, offering flash-fiction prompts, activities, writing-grub-for-thought and maybe even some Q&As—in addition to some positive reinforcement. Prompts can be had Dine In or Carry Out. If you write and post up to 500 words from your responses in the comments section of the blog here—which is the ideal path, so other writers can absorb and play off your inspiration—I (if we haven’t met before, I work as the managing editor at Writer’s Digest magazine) and a guest WD judge will pick a favorite post every month for some around-the-office writing swag. Think books, magazines and so on, and expect an array of prompts—from traditional ones to reverse-style prompts and even photo prompts.
(My protagonist looks up, wipes some drool and checks his head for a fever … Yes! A start.)
Thus, I challenge you to dive into our kick-off event. Check out the next post to get involved, and to flex your writing muscles and feel The Words. I’ll be right there beside you.
(My protagonist picks up the phone and dials a random phone number, and a very bad man answers. Now we’re talking …)
    Let’s see what happens.

    Yours in writing,


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10 thoughts on “A Call to Arms

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  3. Zachary Petit

    Hey, Walt: Rev the cylinders! Thanks for giving it a go, and here’s to hoping the block stays exiled away where it belongs…

    And the same goes for you, Monica. I’m similar in my work—manic when busy, and prone to subsequent dry spells. I try to set a minimum word count, no matter what, so that even if I’m not feeling it, I’m still writing. I may shudder a bit when I sort through it later, but I feel better knowing I’ve got something to sort through. Ha! The Sherlock Holmes mug: I picked it up in England, taking it to the souvenir counter with the sheepish dread typically reserved for underage kids attempting to purchase a lighter to set off their fireworks. After ferrying it back to the U.S. wrapped in protective clothes galore, it now serves as my trusty, beloved, nerdy writing sidekick.

  4. Monica Martin

    You have a Sherlock Holmes mug? That’s adorable!
    Hopefully this will pull me out of the muck of writer’s block. Sometimes I’ll have a breakthrough and be able to work on a number of projects over a few days, sometimes even a few weeks, then I crash and burn. I like upping my productivity, so this should be fun.

  5. Walt Wojtanik

    I too, thank you. I had suffered miserably for three years with a block that had me defeated. I ventured into Robert Lee’s PA site and have re-fired all cylinders but one. I think you have the last one revving. I’ll give this site a go, Promptly!

  6. Zachary Petit

    Hey Willow,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I come from the newspaper universe, too, and the terms "fiction," "writer" and "author" seem to be daunting beasts for those of us sheepishly emerging from the "day-laborers of the literary world" pool.

    I tend to wage (admittedly hilarious, melodramatic) mental battles over things like that—looks of dismay creeping over my face at the supermarket or library—but when I sit down to write, I get that rush, and no classifications matter when the words are coming, no matter their quality. In fact, very little does, and I think that’s a testament to the power of the game.

    I’m glad you couldn’t resist the prompts. I’ll be watching and hoping that you keep writing here.

    Happy almost-Friday!


  7. Willow Morningsky

    ….hmmmm. Maybe I should feel out of place, but strangely, I feel content. I can write. I know I can write. Anything I have ever written has brought response that has been affirming. I once sat down at an empty desk in an empty room and created a features section for a weekly paper we put out for the next several years, ‘The Jackson County Times’, in Ashland, OR, way back in the olden days. I have interviewed, photographed, and written articles, but I have never considered myself an author.

    I have written a slough of poems over the years. When I am in pain, I write it out and find resolution that way. But I have never considered that I could make up a story out of nowhere, and construct it properly. I have the education and am familiar with all the rules. I have just never had stories crunched up in my head, waiting for the freedom of being put into print….except for several series of children’s stories I have been working on for umpteen years.

    Someone stuck a link to Promptly in my email box. I came only to read. Never considering writing. But. There, at the end of the page, was an empty box just waiting for some content. And I already had a prompt. I have never been able to resist the lure and invitation of an empty piece of paper. So I thought I’d just sit and type and see what happened. Oh my gosh, I now have written two little sagas. And it is so much fun.

    Thank you, Zach,
    Willow Morningsky

  8. Zachary Petit

    Hey Shirley,

    I never knew quite what to make of the mini paper clip man. I remember being in the middle of some school paper during our first encounter, and he popped up, chipper and unexpected, and burst the bubble of my solace. After working up the nerve to jump back into my document on Tree Frogs, I sent him packing fast, and have been nervously eying the bottom-right of my screen ever since.

    I feel I judged him too soon.

  9. Shirley Plummer

    A Call to Arms, Legs, and other Useful Parts
    The description of your ‘little’ problem awakens the memory that a couple of years ago I too had a little (though not the same) problem. I found myself carrying on a conversation with the little paper clip man in my Word Program. His responses were quite wonderful; he bulged his eyes, turned his head, asked what it was that I wanted him to do, and a number of other tricks. But the one that I liked best of all: he crumbled into a little heap of metal parts, quickly reconstituted them into a motorcycle, hopped on, and sped off the page.
    He didn’t actually do anything to solve my problem; but, he certainly made me feel jollier than before our exchanges.
    I stopped, even before packing him—and the rest of the 18,000 pounds that I moved from one coast to the other— for fear that, if observed, someone would be putting me on a list for space in a loony bin. I hope he is alright; he is still in storage.


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