Summer writing prompts

I’ve been enjoying reading Abilgail Thomas’ book, Thinking About Memoir. It offers many succinct and thought provoking observations as well as a boat load of compelling writing prompts, and all in a slim 108 pages. One reviewer writes this perfect assessment: “If [you] aren’t afraid to dig deep, zero in on details, write an honest account, make a habit out of writing, and learn to invent our own structure, this book is a gold mine.”

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book, plus enough writing prompts to get your summer going.


Sometimes it’s what you’re not saying that gives a piece its shape.

I’m old enough now to know that the past is every bit as unpredictable as the future, and that memory is not a reliable record of anything, and truth is not absolute.

Writing memoir is a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are.

  • Take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages of three word sentences – not two, not four, but three words long. You discover there’s nowhere to hide in three-word sentences. You discover you can’t include everything, but half of writing is deciding what to leave out. When you’re done, run your mind over everything the way a safecracker sandpapers his fingers to feel the clicks. If there is one sentence that hums, or gives off sparks, you’ve hit the jackpot. Write another two pages starting right there.
  • Write two pages on how you learned to dance.
  • Write two pages about what [or who] got left behind.
  • A woman wrote about her first husband’s death, which happened twenty years ago. He was helping somebody load a truck, a favor for somebody he barely knew, and sustained a [fatal] brain injury. She was wearing flip-flops, shorts, and a T-shirt at the hospital and remembers thinking how these were the wrong clothes to be wearing at the moment he was taken off of life support. She had never written about his death before. Focusing on what she was wearing gave her the necessary distance. A side door. A side door helps with telling a story you’ve been staring too directly in the eye. Write two pages of a difficult story via a side door.
  • Write two pages involving a flashlight.
  • Write two pages on feeling homesick.

If you enjoyed these, be sure to check out the book for many, many more.

Try these writing exercises too

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