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How to Begin: Purple Bra, Prompt as Metaphor, Hiss/Kiss/Howl of Dogs, of the Falling Clouds, (roiling, roiling…), Sarah, by Sean Lovelace


1. Take a man. Take a woman. Add a slammed door, and a heart like flash fiction (yellow diamond, un-scratched match, T-shirt reading BOO HOO, virtuosity, systole, diastole—or series of blows/working verbs: press, thrust, hiss, memorialize, kiss and fly). Add conflict, as in dead dog, as in our dog, Sarah, possibly skittering metaphor, as in the day you walked out the door—the dog leapt, the dog tumbled down the bricks, away—half-drunk, half calling/half cursing my name, Sarah, but fully knowing, fully not-back, fully turned and door-framed like a prophecy, fully here, there, everywhere, gone.

2. Write one page about fugacity. This moment no longer. This one. Add a shadow of cotton panties, a perfect angle, triangle, an edge to this day softening in the memory flaw. Add two shots of tequila before the Jai alai match, and the way we lost currency, or won. (That I can’t remember now should matter.)

3. Take a character, a young man. Create for him an ornamental garden. Now drop a stone onto his head.

4. Take a bath. Take a nap. Take a nap within a bath. Go lie down.

5. [Writing prompts are a peculiar (and persistent) component to the ever-expanding genre of How to Write.]

6. Take an act you didn’t commit. Now confess.

7. Write one page about how you should just kiss, not ask, “Do you want to kiss?” (I am telling you now how to begin a story.)

8. Write one page to tack it all down: gray clasp after unclasp of brain. This is why.

9. Write one page about the purple bra that defines. The shoulder shrug (purple bra spiraling to the floor).

(purple bra dangling from ceiling fan)

(purple bra in the office drawer)

(purple bra in the satellite dish. some type of tangled kite.)

10. Write about the poltergeist of yourself. An aftermath portrait/unlike image/song.  How can you haunt your own living room? Describe the process, step-by-step. Add the day you drank 14 beers and tossed a urinal into the air.

11. [All of this origamiing itself upon the creative artists (and their theoreticians) usual conundrum: Can writing be taught?]

12. Write about what you know.

as night on suburban lawn (always grass as emerald)

as oral as most distant

as days labyrinth, but pretend to know

as I keep waiting to give an authentic speech. Years pass.

as the smell of a particular…

as Nothing. That’s what we know.

13. There goes a highway dog, tongue lolling

14. Take your draft and treat it like a final conversation—lacerate every Bad Faith/clumsy word.

15. Throw a bottle through a window, into a mirror.

16.  Take your draft and make it likeable, make it lean, as in wearing tank top and surfer shorts. Run it right into the ocean, below the horizon of expectation. Let it spill like an entrance, or cough syrup.

17. Take your draft, on its own terms, meaning things fall apart, meaning the flowers are collapsing on themselves, the car is rusting, the throat tightening, the very pages of a book, words of warm air, individual letters etched in tombstones crumbling as we write these words…so what did you expect from love?

18. Take your draft and make it feel, think, decide, experience. Don’t neglect the allure of pinot noir, sympathetic characters, and sex in bathrooms. Add a banana.

19. Take your draft and give it to another writer. A guy named Buck. Buck will say, “The best story is an invisible story.” What the fuck?

Go fling and lose something. (Fling two cups of warm beer, those red Solo cups, and the night of the dance with the hipster girl, the night of nitrous oxide balloons—I believe you ended up sleeping on the ceiling. Lose your lunch, sunglasses, self-esteem.)

Buck is one of those serious people.

Lose Buck.

Lose Buck like salvation. Don’t let the door….

20. [Or, more specifically: Can a writer/text be jump-started?]

21. Take your draft, your desert wind, Sirocco, the rattle and thunk of lungs, of window shutters, hot pop of glass panes,  because the novel is a house or body (the first days, her kind mom offering me beer), the story, a room or ventricle (her photos of men: prom date, college friend at beach, guy she met in Italy), the flash fiction, a window or pulse (drywall scar—table thrown into wall, drunken Halloween), the poem, the genitalia, or the day we made love in the front seat of my father’s Dodge, in the walk-in cooler full of apples (Easy Way Produce, Memphis, TN), in the Peabody library, in the beds of all those embarrassing hotels; for the last time, very last gasp, both of us wondering why—bodies doing this (writer), minds doing that (editor)—both of us crying.

22. I said a slammed door. The sound of sculpted cheekbones, the glint of aroma flesh, senses all wringed out wrong, words, mouth, eyes, chambers and cyclones. Something opens, closes, so sudden.

23. Add a word loop. (day she made our way back/moved my tongue/like numbers in an equation/made our way back)

24. Add a fixed form. (autograph tattoo, or TV show, or lying to self, worse type of lie, considering everyday availability of mirrors)

25. Add a rethinking. (trying to hold it together not even the answer)

26. Add a thought broken-loose, unmoored. Scrambling, scrambling dog.

27. Add buying me bluster, the skeletons of words. The gift of gab. The gift of soft sobs on the page, or some flushed cheek. Enter stage lightning.

(If you float above yourself, how can you be present?)

(Who would you like to call?)

(Writing your own history now. How can that be true?)

28. Add buying me a beer, honey.

29. [Just a little positive/negative jolt, and away we go…maybe.]

30. Add a writer’s block. Another writer’s block. Stack them up; build a fucking Taj Mahal (mausoleum of all our days).

31. Write from the point of view of something low, a microbe, or everything you can do and lose, or an uneaten dinner.

32. You are now a landscape. Go frame your days. Go plot-wise.

33. You are now a long, steamy shower. Go dripping ink.

34. You are now a hot sore. Go run.

35. You are now a dog. There goes a thick pelt, some covering.

36. You are now a glass. Go stain the page.

37. You are now a flaw. Be certain.

38. You are now Chicago. Go winter. Go spellbound fog. Go big hotel and skunky marijuana. Go wonderful claustrophobia. So close together. So pressed like a flower. Go video camera—I still can’t believe.

39. You are now a stunt. Be serious. Break a bone like a semicolon.

40. You are now a bra strap. Go undo yourself, or at least try.

41. You are now a penny. Go spend, or leave behind.

42. You are now__________________(this is where we imagination)

43.  [Like most advice on the written word, prompts work and do not work.]

44. Put a sidekick, say police officer somewhere on the page (enter snowmelt,  violence, and weeping lights).

45. Put a police officer in the rear-vision mirror. Blue sparks red. Feel that, as you slide away the can of beer. That’s how my heart always felt, then.

46. Put a police officer at the door. Compare his hair to wet sand. Give his character a nature, which I mean as broken flowerpot on the table, winter rains, or what he does when someone slaps him in the face.

47. Describe a kitchen. Add knives and something handy to cast and shatter. Add a yoga instructor/mom and the earlier police officer and a woman with skin like an electrifying rumor. You can’t quit looking at her, can you? Add me, and have somebody fling themselves to the floor.

48. Lure the adverb into church.

49. Lure the adverb into jeans. Now cut-off.

50. Lure the adverb into an alleyway. Cradle like a Pabst, nearly make love, and then crunch away in headlock exponential.

51. Take a color, any color. It could be the purple of really dancing, finally letting go. It could be the yellow of reading crumpled receipts, a lover’s purse. The green of feeding French fries to sparrows, that photo kept. Red is all the fake people we lived to avoid, their sanctimonious pleads. (I hope we aren’t one of them.) So now add mathematics. Divide. Subtract. Where are we, are we summed up now?

52. Take a list of objects: envelopes unopened, olive oil, hips rocking, bong in shape of Woody Allen’s head, Missouri in the rain, disposable razor, hardening nipples, day just dawning, unfiltered Camels, fierce and quick, floating in the pool, ribcages pressed, crushed Dexedrine, rapped it down, rubbing legs, glow of limbs, glow of tongue, gas station wine, hot dog stands, nacho stands, stands of pines, vibrators, purple lips, hummingbirds, 4 a.m., symmetrical cleavage, needn’t be nervous, needn’t look away, diet whatever sodas, touch of rum, touch of wet, touch of thong in color of cotton candy, throwing smoke, handstands in cheerleader uniforms, scratchy wool, paper petal skin, wrapped a towel, blonde hairs, brown curls, a dog’s howl, a dog’s black head, a dog’s way of thinking.

53. Select an object from the list.

54. Write about the object, but don’t look at it. Don’t pause. Don’t sit there in a predictable path. Don’t sing to tornadoes, friend. Other predictable don’ts.

(What are you waiting for?)

55. [The majority of prompts are meant as metaphors. “Imagine yourself as a tree…” can be read to mean, Take yourself out of your own narrow experience, drop the ego, stop editing/watching as you create, and so on.]

56. We don’t wait, unless we are crouching (to spring), hidden in the ambush/scribbled crevasse, that space between known and unknown. This is why.

57. We don’t use the word because. We don’t use the word almost or very. We don’t say, “Well, my sister saw you do it” or “I’m just doing this so I can see you better.”

We don’t use but three exclamation marks our whole lives. (Unless during. We use three to four thousand during.)

We go exponential them.

We go exhalation now; we go clear.

We don’t stop a running dog (draft flowing well).

We don’t cry on the page (anything but).

We don’t explain.

58. Take a letter and write it into a bedroom. I prefer a creaky bed. Loud.

59. Take a body part and write it into an unreal world.

60. Take a frigid day and describe its lengthening. Its brilliant coin.

Take a studio apartment.  A futon mattress on the floor. Could we have lain there happy our entire lives? We never did answer. Or did we?

61. There is a doghouse-shaped box of Billie Holiday

62. [Here, I take the device of the prompt and appropriate it for narrative need.]

63. Take a proverb. Add a taste and aroma no one seems to write about: alkaline, salty, like edge of batteries, or the brackish sea. Some type of moaning. Finally, finally, give yourself permission to end this exercise with the words, “And then she awakes.”

64. Take the language of road signs and describe making out atop the water tower.

65. Take a cellphone. Make your ringtone the hiss of seasons changing. The sound of permission and keyboards thinning.

66. Whip out a cellphone. Eavesdrop like a writer. Drop-in like a writer. Steal everything not tied down, or even tied down—wrap yourself in knots of words, nets and tangles of words, barbed wire, glint and pierce and stuck bleeding still. Listen. Hear. Write one page, twelve more, and they must contain these lines of dialogue:

“I can hear you in me.”

“But won’t you need them now?”

“I think I want to, you know, hang out at home.”

“It seems I’m boring you.”

“Do you think this a fun game?”

“Party’s over!”

“I won’t believe a moment lived beautifully was wasted.”

“Prove it then.”

“Look, it’s a habit.”

“Hello? Hello?”

67. Take a repetition, a potential for patterns to emerge, the way our bodies keep doing everything our minds tell us to avoid. Add floating like an octopus off a kitchen floor. Add a character prop, like cough syrup and cheap vodka, like molasses sex, thick and sweet, drifting above ourselves, like calling out to a ship passing by. I think this will be a Tuesday, but that’s up to you.

68. Take white space and make it red.

69. [The white space and listing I feel makes it more disjointed, fragmented, and is integral, since this is the reality I feel/sense everyday in our world.]

70. Fight for it. Break the nose of the sentence. Blow everything up like a semi-colon. Go omniscient on someone’s ass.

71. Go flashback (body numb as if wasn’t there).

72. Go currents struggling; go revealing truth (receiving a blowjob, handjob, or tongue bath, while you watch the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars. Later, you will peel them all away, and think of yourself as childish).

73. Go personal urgency (a need to leap from roofs).

74. [We are split. Begin, middle, end?? Never heard of it, or as one poet says, ‘My life ain’t been no crystal staircase.”]

75. Now start cleaning up: verbs, coffee spills, that pile of letters, words, clichés: dog-tired, sick as a dog, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, let sleeping dogs lie, in the doghouse, and you, wow, you look like somebody just shot your dog.

76. Start on a hagiography (all of this in a phone booth).

77. Start on a Homeric (all of this on a slow train).

78. Start on a passion play (all of this in an elevator).

79. Start on an index card. We’re going to file something here. We’re going to impale everything on the wall. First drafts with cigarette smoke with last of the beer with focus on nouns with a patch of dim yellow lights in the distance, the howls of dogs…They call this juxtaposition. They call this structure.

80. Take all the five senses:

Smell of cooler and blankets.

Taste of taking a deep breath, of standing.

Sound of tight within the body, curled.

Touch of mildly dizzy.

Sight of Sarah. That’s the dilemma for all the writers. Too much reliance on sight.

81. Take a plot. Throw in the sad thrill of laughter. Throw in cancer. Throw in my friend robbed of two dollars, then shot dead. Throw in the day I saw a young man on our roof. Day I smelled latex and onions. Day of reading. Day of email. Day of somebody kidnapped my sister’s rabbit. Day of doing cocaine at the bowling alley, right on the countertop where you select the ball. Day of broken bed, hair undone. Day of revolver. Crackling air. Sirens or dogs. Day of wailing.

82. Take the day of your birth, the year. Go research. What did happen?

83. Take a word range. Make an omelet. Devastate some eggs.

84. Take a bad poem, your weekend, now make it worse.

85. Take a brief moment in time. A scene. Note and describe. Example:

Early spring. Thunderstorms. A squatty motel in Pensacola, Florida, pastel walls, vague paintings of shells, seahorses, a rosy pink ceiling.

“I like the rain,” she says. “Sunlight is depressing in a place like this.” She sits at a desk in the dark room and flips the light on and off, off and on: click, click, click.

Now you write the rest. You finish. I want you to…You need to lie down. Get a clean sheet of paper. As if. Get some help. Describe what you feel right now. Describe a place you love. Think of a title. It should be simple yet complex. I said lie down. Shhhh…Control your tone. Someone is about to find out something rare: what another person truly thinks of them. Outside is a dog scratching at the door. A rain sweeping on the roof. Outside I am walking soon. Let’s say limping. There was a time in my life. Take the pen, the flat keypad. Take this text. Listen: you have no colleagues in this undertaking. Listen: I could be wrong. Listen: Why won’t you lie down?

86. Take an article of clothing (the seven days straight I wore her socks to work).

87. Do you follow all the rules?

88. [As prompt, I hope these do start your engine, or at least get the lights flickering for an instant. If not, that’s OK, too.]

89. Take a photo (digital, naked, her pelvis, ridge of that scar).

90. Write about the time you clattered into an abyss.

91. Take a myth and recreate the myth. (If I fall, I’ll be caught. And we won’t spoil the moments born.)

92. Are you sick, or simply paying attention?

93. Which tone and atmosphere, black or white or evaporate?

94. Which vitamin X?

95. [As I tell my university students, “Write about not being able to write.”]

96. Which medicine cabinet song?

97. Word association: Bottle of gin, Lorcet, revolver, dog, dragged out back in the snow falling darkness, dragged behind the dumpster with gun placed to head; and this seemed to be a solution. Go.

98. Which unlucky bird? Silent still, in all this rain about us. If you could land, would you, and where?

99. Which flea market? Which wagon or Chapstick or melted butter dish?

100. Which god are you?

Take a moment. Grab that methadone, the credit card hidden in the novel, and a all-clear weekend. Calm your spirit.

Take a cold glass and a secret game (Alabama summer we discovered bocce).

Take a breath. Oh…

[Oh, and if any of you stumble across a woman named…]

Take her skin. Aching, rubbing. Feathers of a rare bird. Fragrant silence. Buckle and heave. Wept on my shoulder. Oh…

I am going to lie down for you now.

I am going to lie down.

I am going to circle and circle and circle like a dog. Then lie down. Exhausted as dry mulch (once a flower itself, now.)

100. Take every title of every text you have ever written. Now use them as replacements for every ending line.


“Sarah…More Important Things to Do.”

“Sarah…Naked as She’d Ever Been.”

“Sarah…Ice Facts Cracking Thin.”

“Sarah…Beautifully Inhumane.”

“Sarah…Tight Sparkly Costume.”

“Sarah…Leaping Quickly”

“Sarah…Drifting Apart Anything.”







  • Sean Lovelace is the author of Fog Gorgeous Fog and several award-winning chapbooks. His primarily scholarly focus is flash and hybrid fiction forms and service/community learning. He has won the Crazyhorse prize for fiction, the Rose Metal Short-Short Fiction Contest, and the Bateau Press Keel Award for Flash Fiction. His stories and essays have appeared in many journals, magazines, and anthologies.

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