Our Favorite Writing Prompts

It’s that time of year when the weather is changing, the world is being quarantined and folks are looking for new sources of inspiration and solace. Check out some of Inklette’s favorite writing prompts below to spark your creativity!



PROMPT 1

You’re sitting across the table from a character from your current work in progress. How do you start the conversation? What do you talk about? Are they talkative or reticent, joyous or subdued? Do they answer questions freely? What do they ask you? What do they notice about the world?


PROMPT 2
(Best done in a walkable place)

Pick a number between 1 and 10. Start walking, and when you reach an intersection, flip a coin. Heads, you go right; tails, you go left. Do this for as many times as the number you picked in the beginning. Write a short story set in the location that you end up in.


PROMPT 3

Choose an object near you or in front of you. Do each of these for five minutes: Ask questions to the object. Describe the object in as much detail as possible. Write the origin story of the object. Write a first-person narrative from the point of view of the object. Draw associations with the object– what else does it look like, what does it remind you of, what does it make you think– and talk about it without naming the object, using metaphors or similes. 


PROMPT 4 

Make a list of topics you would never write about, followed by a list of words you would never use. Then, write a poem on one of those topics and use as many of those words as you can.


PROMPT 5

Choose any letter from A-Z. Write the first stanza without using the letter you chose. Now choose a second letter. Write the second stanza without using the second letter as well as the first letter you chose. Keep going for 5-6 stanzas in the same way.



Editor’s Note

Dear readers,

The ninth issue of Inklette comes at the right albeit tragic time. In my own country of India, songs, poetry and history is being revived by students and protestors on the streets. I always used to believe that literature and art is my private source of hope. However, it’s now become a public source of hope, of revival and of transformation. Publishing and putting out literature and art for the world to see, therefore, seems important, seems almost as positive as lending a balm so wounds can heal.

I would like to thank all our submitters, contributors and editors who submitted their work to us. Each issue of Inklette breathes different, breathes new, and with each issue, our expectations of what strikes us as unexpected, change. Our fortnightly blog shall continue as usual, thanks to the selfless cooperation of so many writers, artists and organizations. We shall also be accepting staff applications soon for the positions of prose editor and visual arts editor.

With this, I end this short editor’s note. We look forward to many submissions that rip us apart and bring us to the light in new ways. We look forward to individuals who shall be joining our team soon. And more importantly, we hope you heal as you read.

Love and peace,

Devanshi Khetarpal

 

Interview with Ryan Black

Naomi Day: Your poems invoke many numbers: dates, measurements of time and space, etc. Does this represent anything personal for you? Is this intentional? 

Ryan Black: I don’t know if it represents anything personal other than my want of documenting the histories of these spaces. And by histories I mean the constructed histories, both personal and public. And there’s so much I’ll get wrong, so I can at least get the numbers right. Mostly.


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Death of a Nativist by Ryan Black (Poetry Society of America, 2016). Click here to learn more and purchase a copy.


ND: You track time in fascinating ways in your poems. You do it with different speakers, points of view, different times, etc. Does this reflect how you experience time yourself or is it the way you process in writing? Do your poems come out in this fashion or is the timed structure set up later, during the editing process?

RB: You’re right. Time is, perhaps, the recurring preoccupation of the book. It loops. It overlaps. It runs ahead and trails behind. It’s an experience of time as a kind of simultaneity, a past that “is not even past,” as Faulkner says, or something like that. I think of many of the poems as reckonings with history and place. If Queens is a model of where our nation is heading demographically, which has been long been argued, then an honest interrogation of its past feels paramount to me. Honesty has never been our national inheritance.

Joanna Cleary: Your poems drastically differ in form, from couplets in “Skip to My Lou” to less traditional aesthetic styles in “Why Bother” and “Not Once.” Do you have a poetic style that most resonates with you? How do you go about determining the way in which a poem should be written?

RB: The book’s longer poems are mostly written in tercets. I feel most comfortable in that form. I think tercets allow for the weaving of time I mentioned earlier. Or at least it feels that way to me. They look back as they move forward. They’re discursive, open to digressions. And they braid time like a fabric. A textile.

The couplets in “Skip To My Lou”were the form I found for a sequence of ballads spaced throughout the book. Each poem in the sequence takes for its title a different traditional American song. I was interested in how the folk tradition, with its narratives of misogyny, racial strife, class struggle, and sudden, inexplicable violence, might be adapted to contextualize hyperbolic and fetishized representations of Queens within an America steeped in sensationalism. The material for these poems is stories of petty crime (the hustler in “Skip To My Lou”), or murder (the racial violence of “Stagger Lee,” the misogyny of “Ommie Wise” and “In the Pines,”) or failed responses to natural disaster (the disrepair of post-Hurricane Sandy in “Home By the Sea”). If we pay attention to consistencies in the representation of urban spaces, we might recognize these as rhetorical spaces, that is: spaces made by rather than creating modes of representation.

Forgive me. I didn’t answer your question about the couplets. I’m not sure why couplets other than that tercets weren’t quite right.



JC: Regardless of the extent to which your poems are autobiographical, you write about extremely vivid characters, such as Bobby in “Not Once.” Who are your muses?

RB: Bobby is a muse, for sure. The people I would see everyday as a kid living in South Queens. The places in New York City I’ve known intimately. And trains. Elevated trains. The J train is the elevated muse of “Not Once.” It’s my favorite train in the city.

ND: You mentioned constructed histories and interrogations of the past, and many of your poems explore those themes by looking at what’s already happened. Do you ever write forward, with an eye to envisioning what the future might look like based on these past experiences, or do you find the honest exploration of bygone events more impactful?

RB: I would love to write poems that envision potential futures. I would love to write speculative poems like Cathy Park Hong or Eve Ewing. I’m just not there yet. I’m still mining the past for truthful ways to talk about the now. The closest I’ve come to writing “what the future might look like” is the final poem in the book, “A Gun to the Heart of the City,” which imagines an alternative past, one in which a planned protest—a protest that never actually occurred—of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens did in fact happen. A stall-in that disrupted opening day, forcing the city to confront its continued racist practices.


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The Tenant of Fire by Ryan Black (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019). Click here to learn more and purchase a copy.


ND: Your poems often have an unidentified “we”. Is this intended to pull the reader into actively occupying the space you’ve set up, or do you have a specific “we” in mind — or is it something else entirely?

RB: I think I often have a specific “we” in mind, or a “you,” at least. Many of the poems come out of an epistolary tradition. The intimacy and logic of letter writing seemed right for the kind of work I wanted to do in the book. I worry about writing out of a “we”, of speaking for someone else. I certainly don’t want to adopt an Olympian tone, but sometimes “we” just felt necessary.


157777871438027382.pngRYAN BLACK is the author of The Tenant of Fire (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), winner of the 2018 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and Death of a Nativist, selected by Linda Gregerson for a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. He has published previously in AGNI, Blackbird, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly, and elsewhere, and has received fellowships and scholarships from the Adirondack Center for Writing, The Millay Colony for the Arts, PLAYA, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Queens Council on the Arts, and the T. S. Eliot House. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Queens College of the City University of New York.

 

What We Love(d) and Want(ed) More of as Young Writers

The young writers’ community is an ever-growing one and while great resources, networks and programs for young writers do exist, they are not always accessible to everyone. As a magazine run primarily by young writers, we decided to ask Inklette’s staff members what they love(d) and want(ed) more of as young writers and for young writers. 


What We Love(d) As Young Writers

For me, my experience at Iowa was the best experience I had as a young writer. I felt that the schedule of our workshop was conducive to exploring the city and culture of Iowa City. We had some writing jam sessions in the morning and workshops or seminars that would end in the afternoon, leaving us a great deal of time to write, eat and explore or attend readings in Iowa City bookstores and the University of Iowa campus. But apart from that, the readings were very different from the ones I have encountered in other workshops. There were more translated works, more works by writers and writing published by small, independent publishers.

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

I also attended the Iowa Young Writers Workshop, and was captivated by the space and the feeling that there were real people who did what I wanted to do in real life, as opposed to on the side of whatever they did to make real money. I also loved the professors, family members, friends, and occasional random strangers who validated what I was doing with my free time. I find writing as a full-time profession is often looked down upon by others, so having folks around who constantly said “Yes, you are absolutely allowed to spend all your free time creating these wonderful imaginary worlds” did wonders for my passion for creative spaces. Additionally, spaces like PANK magazine that welcomes submissions from folks no matter their age range or backgrounds helped me understand that I didn’t have to have the credentials I saw so many others with — I just had to have my passion for writing!

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

I completely agree with Devanshi’s and Naomi’s description of Iowa, so I won’t add much more to that, but I was lucky enough to also participate in the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in the same summer. In Adroit, I loved the close one-on-one relationship I had with my mentor, the support of all my fellow mentees, and the flexibility of the program. Between traveling and attending other conventions, I was relieved to know the community at Adroit was never more than a text or email away. Throughout the entire month of the program, I thoroughly enjoyed the specially curated reading list and writing prompts my mentor had organized, but I also distinctly remember loving the final project: creating a final portfolio of your work and sharing with another mentee! In reading the collection of another’s work, I felt I had truly understood not only his work, but who he, as a person, stood for. Now, more than anything, I am so so grateful for this little writing community that still keeps in touch.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

When I was around 12-13 and had just developed an interest in creative writing, I spent a lot of time reading and posting on Cicada Magazine’s The Slam, an online forum where readers could post their own work. Not only did I have an outlet for my developing prose and poetry, but I was also able to make several long-distance creative friendships. While I never met any of these fellow young writers in person, I still think of them often and am immensely grateful for the love and trust we had when sharing work with each other. 

-Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

I loved attending writing programs when I was in high school. The summer before my junior year I was accepted into the Missouri Scholars Academy, and while its not strictly writing centered, the classes that I took were. Being around people who were writing and creating because they loved it and not because it was assigned in a classroom was so refreshing and wonderful, and I was so inspired while I was there. I also rediscovered my love of poetry as an added bonus! 

The following summer I attended the Young Women’s Writers Workshop at Smith College and had an incredible time. I made so many friends and discovered so many incredible female writers that I would never have some across in one of my classes in high school, even in the creative writing and advanced placement english classes I had been taking since my freshman year. I very much doubt that I would have gone on to create my own arts centered major in college if I hadn’t had the privilege of surrounding myself with other creative spirits so early on. 

-Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

What We Want(ed) More Of As Young Writers

I wish there were more workshops, programs, avenues for literary translations and learning of regional languages and local dialects, and literatures written in those languages and dialects. My education was a product of colonialism and encouraged a more colonial attitude towards regional languages, dialects and even Hindi. I wish we could break apart and disintegrate the hegemony and glorification of the kind of literacy and literature that privileges colonialism and the process of colonizing today.

-Devanshi Khetarpal , Editor-in-Chief 

I wish there had been more community around the genres I was interested in writing: I did a lot of fantasy writing (think farms with talking wolves and cities with magic stones) but never shared them because I didn’t think young people wrote fantasy like that. Having a greater sense of community and space to share and receive feedback would have helped my sense of belonging.

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

Having always suffered from a drastic drop in creative productivity once the school year hit, I think I would want something that could hold me more accountable. I’m not exactly sure what that would look like, but certainly, I think a long-term program during the school year would help. In other words, I’m hoping the stress of a series of deadlines would encourage me to break through any writer’s block.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

I wish there were more online workshops. It’s expensive and not practical to travel. Most people can’t take large chunks of time off from school or work, and others (like me who is 40 years old) have children who depend on us for care. Even when a retreat or workshop offers daycare options, that only works if one’s child(ren) are not school-age. When I was in high school, I would have loved to have taken a creative writing course or belonged to a creative writing club. Some high schools offer such courses, but mine did not, even years later when I returned to teach at the school. 

-Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff and read their bios, visit our Masthead page by clicking here.

Best Books We Ever Received As Gifts

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate (if any), November and December are often filled with gift-shopping trip after gift-shopping trip. While we all like that special feeling we get when we give someone a gift they adore, it’s no secret that spending hours at the mall is exhausting, time-consuming, and, quite frankly, expensive. However, the Inklette team has compiled a list of the best books we’ve ever received as gifts to remind everybody what the holiday shopping season is about (and, if you’re unsure what gift to get your book-loving friend/family member/significant other, look no further).


The Hat-Stand Union by Caroline Bird

 

51xPRiL2IeL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Those who know me know that I like obscure contemporary poetry (how much people are willing to let me ramble on about it is a different story). My parents gave me this volume of poetry by British poet and playwright Caroline Bird for Christmas when I was about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to become seriously interested in creative writing. Reading poems that covered a bizarre range of topics — from King Arthur to Chekov to suburban life — helped me understand that I had the agency to write about what I found inspiring, rather than what people told me to write about. Even now, in my final year of my undergraduate, I still have The Hat-Stand Union on my shelf and pull it out from time to time when I need inspiration. 

— Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

9780345804327_lI received this novel as a gift from one of my aunts in college, and it’s travelled with me as I’ve moved from one coast to the other, and back again. It was my first introduction to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is a brilliant Black writer living in NYC, and who is also one of my earliest inspirations for the style of writing life I want to achieve. The novel itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. It’s a fascinating depiction that turns the real-life Underground Railroad into a collection of underground trains, safe houses, and secret routes. It’s one of those books that I’ll always have on my bookshelf, and which consistently reminds me to return to Whitehead’s other works to see what other challenges he has in store.

— Naomi Day, Blog Editor

The Professor and The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

 

9780099521341.jpgThis book was gifted to me by Trivarna Hariharan, the former editor-in-chief of Inklette Magazine. I had never heard of Ogawa’s work before and hadn’t read prose that felt so light, so porous. I think Ogawa’s work best reminds me of the kind of cinematic language of Ritesh Batra’s films such as The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019). But this book, in particular, read like that thin line between myth and realism even though the materiality of its story felt like a weight, even a burden at times I had to accept, learn how to carry. Since then, I have read Ogawa’s other works but somehow The Housekeeper and The Professor is one I keep coming back to, because it also incorporates and disguises behind the porosity and poetics of literary language a stunning mathematical language as well as logic, and if you read the book you’ll perfectly understand the role these two levels and anatomies of language play. 

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

9780316133999_l (1).jpgI believe my sister gave me this book a few years ago (for Christmas or my birthday I can’t remember, they both fall in December so they tend to blur together. Both my sister and I are avid readers, so we often gift each other books, but this particular book was definitely one of my favorites.Though it took a while for me to actually open the book, once I began reading it I devoured it. The book is magical, poetic, and wonderfully poetic (I have several notes on my phone filled with pulled quotes from the novels that I use to inspire me, and I used an excerpt from the first book for an erasure assignment I was given in college). The author’s gift for world-building made me eager to get the next books in the trilogy and finish them just as quickly, and I can’t wait until I’ve forgotten enough of the series to reread it—Taylor truly knows how to wield a plot twist, and I can’t wait to experience the shock and delight of piecing the tale together all over again. 

— Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

 

9780486834368_l.jpgAlthough I’ve given lots of books as gifts, I’ve never been gifted a book (other than the ones I personally requested from my parents when I was a kid). Maybe people just don’t know what to gift me because they don’t know what’s already in my collection; I don’t know. My brother, though, frequently gifts books to my 6-year-old daughter. So far, one of her favorites has been The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I avoided reading it when I was a kid because I hated the movie. I read it to my daughter, and we both loved it. My brother is a research scientist, so he often sends her science-y books. Another fun one he gifted her was The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, trans. By Michael Henry Heim). Although I think my daughter needs to age a bit before she can truly appreciate it, I loved The Number Devil.

— Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems by Eunice de Souza

 

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Until the third year of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my poetry reading was either limited to canon, or to snippets and fragments I had read online. Reading Eunice de Souza’s work was formative for me as a poet and as a literature student not only because of the cultural similarities or her engagements with feminism, but because she spoke of the everyday with an almost unfounded sense of ease. There was this comfort in her navigation of language I hadn’t read before, which is what made her work all the more appealing – that poetry could be soft, simple, and yet impactful. 

 

— Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff, please visit the Masthead page here.

NaNoWriMo: Planning and Execution

November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a time of year when writers following the conventional rules challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or at least 1,666 words per day. Others use this month to set time-based intentions (e.g. write 1 hour a day for 30 days). Two members of the Inklette team are doing NaNoWriMo this year. Here we’ve shared a little bit about our preparation processes, and what the month looks like for us.


Naomi Day, Blog Editor

This year I’m doing NaNoWriMo with a friend based on the West Coast. Since we are both relatively susceptible to burnout and didn’t spend enough time preparing our projects, we’ve decided to do a time-based (rather than word-based) month. Every day we both spend at least one full hour writing, and then text the other person a summary of how we spent that time. Since I didn’t have the time to properly prep what I was going to be working on, I spent the first day planning out what projects I’ll be working on. I will be spending the rest of the month alternating between planning the outline of a novel I’ve spent the last four years writing and rewriting, and working on a series of short stories set in a shared world. The buddy system helps keep me accountable and gets me excited to share my work with someone who cares about me independent of my productivity, and the hour system allows me enough time to get immersed in a project but isn’t so long it feels unattainable to do daily. I figure I can always take that time away from scrolling Instagram if it starts to feel like I can’t find it elsewhere!

Thus far the challenge has been in finding inspiration when I am between projects. I tend to write when a line pops into my head, or I overhear a bit of dialog that I decide to put in a short story. I have never challenged myself to write regularly when I am not working on a project. So I’ve been pushing myself to find alternate ways to get to the inspiration that keeps me writing for hours at a time. For example, when I have a vague idea what I want to write about but I’m not sure where to start, I pick up a notepad and hand write a conversation between myself and the character I am interested in. Writing by hand is important because the slower pace helps me think through my words more freely, and the conversational style helps me uncover interesting details about my characters that may give me a clue as to where to begin their stories.


Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

I’ve always wanted to do Nanowrimo, but balancing the act of writing over 1,500 words a day along with an already heavy load of creative writing homework mandated by my classes always proved to be too much. Having graduated in May, I have a lot less motivation to write, so I figured this might be a good year to give Nanowrimo a go. 

The first thing I did was make a bevy of different folders and document so that I could keep my ideas organized. My story idea involves several different groups of people all from the same family, so it’s vital that I keep them separate. After that I divided the characters I know I’ll need into main, secondary and tertiary characters so I know how much detail I need to go into for them (in an ideal world my tertiary characters would be as detailed as my main characters mais c’est la vie).

Strangely enough, I didn’t have a beginning, middle or end plotted out when I started writing. That aligns with my general writing strategy, if you can call it that: I’ll get an idea for a character or plot point, usually in the middle of the night, and the story starts from there. Because this story has a lot of different main characters who won’t necessarily interact with each other (think “This is Us” but everything is happening on the same timeline), I could have started anywhere. And in theory, at least in these early stages, I can change the ordering of the story components so long as I don’t, for example, put a major holiday in one, rendering the ordering stationary.


To learn more about our staff and read their bios, visit our Masthead page here

In Honor of Black Speculative Fiction & In Response to Naomi Day

BY SAVANNAH SUMMERLIN

In honor of October being Black Speculative Fiction Month and in response to the lovely and informative piece written by Naomi, another Inklette Blog Editor, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing black speculative fiction. Naomi’s piece featured a writing prompt, steps one and two being to write down something that is interesting about the world around me and consider the rules that govern it and the way that exists. The next step is to write an alternate history for whatever I’ve chosen that gives the same end result regarding its use and purpose, but in a different way. I consider myself to be a bit technologically inept, so I decided to reimagine how cell phones and texting came to be:

It’s easy to understand why adults constantly complain about millenials and the cell phones we seem to be unable to live without, but only if you know the history of how their lives were before. It’s not just cell phones that they hate; they despise the very idea of technology made for communication, because they know of a time when it didn’t exist, and didn’t need to. Though they may not have been there to experience it themselves, the stories that have been passed down in their DNA for generations, along with a loathing for the technology today’s age cannot function without.  

Long before the invention of the telephone, humans needed only their minds to communicate, even across long distances. Survival of the fittest truly was the law of the land, and it didn’t take long for humanity as a whole to realize they’d be much better off if they had better communication methods. Humans first discovered they had the gift of telepathy in a small town in South America. Two sisters, Jana and Lucia, swore up and down that they could hear each other’s thoughts at night when they slept, but no one believed them. The pair quickly tired of being ridiculed, so they took it upon themselves to prove their talent. 

For weeks neither Jana or Lucia spoke a word aloud. They spent countless hours each day in silent meditation until finally their father Daniel had had enough of their behavior. He took Lucia by the shoulders and shook her fiercely, demanding she stop her foolishness and speak to him. Lucia chose to communicate in a different manner, and sent her response straight into her father’s mind. It only took a few seconds for Daniel to go from shocked to curious and proud of his daughter’s feat, eager to learn himself. By the next afternoon, the news had spread all over the town, and because Jana and Lucia were excellent teachers, it didn’t take long for many to master the art of telepathy. 

Urged by their desire to spread their gift, Jana and Lucia left their home as soon as their expertise was no longer necessary. They travelled all over South and North America to help anyone who would listen. Lucky for them—and humanity as a whole—they encountered more people eager to learn than not, and in only a few years time, telepathy became the norm. As new generations were born and were taught the craft, humans learned how to send their thoughts further and further than ever before. 

Then along came the Industrial Revolution, and with it trouble for humanity. 

Men and women found themselves bogged down by the stresses of the day, unable to easily communicate with one another across dinner tables and office spaces, let alone send their thoughts to far away relatives. They began to panic; was this the end to life as they knew it? What would society become? They still had their oral language of course—the first humans to learn telepathy had been sure to caution that they mustn’t lose their ability to speak should something happen to their mental gift, and oh, how right they had been—but what of quick long distance communication? How would they survive in a snail-mail run world?

Enter Alexander Graham Bell. Graham Bell invented a middle man to ease the stress telepathy was putting on the humans: instead of sending their thoughts directly to one another, they would use a device to help transmit the signal of their thoughts. Once he’d completed his invention, Graham Bell gave the honor of testing it to a descendant of Jana and Lucia, Deeana. Deeana was already located far from her husband Thomas because of work, and the strain of keeping in touch with him was draining on both their relationship and her mental health. When Deeana picked up a telephone for the first time and heard Thomas on the other end, as clear is if he had sent his thoughts to her from the other side of their shared bed, she nearly wept with relief. Deeana’s seal of approval of the telephone all but guaranteed its success, and soon telepathy was a thing of the past.


SAVANNAH SUMMERLIN is a recent graduate of NYU Gallatin where she made her own major entitled “The Intersection of Arts and Activism.” Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds; no, she doesn’t have any idea what she wants to do with it. In her free time, Savannah enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and binge-watching Netflix original series.