The power of the word

Words matter immensely. My theory is that they have been traveling alongside us since the dawn of the human race, telling our history. They have inspired writers, been meticulously stated in ink: guilty or not guilty, been used in declarations of war and peace: hate you, love you. They can entertain, inform, and make power-hungry small minds tremble. Through our pens, they pass on the stories of the past, comment on the times in which we live, and leave a mark for tomorrow. If we fail to catch the words as they pass by, they quickly fade away and move on, from writer to writer, always traveling.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
— John Greenleaf Whittier, “Maud Muller”

WordPress Daily Prompts: Theory

Snippets of everyday moments

On the bridge over the highway, some preschool children were waving at the cars passing by underneath. A truck driver spotted them and honked his horn, and the children jumped up and down in delight. I jotted down the story in my notebook.

At the grocery store, my eyes caught a young woman with a long shopping list and a story started to spin in my head on my way to the milk shelves. Notebook time.

From snippets of everyday moments like these, great stories can be born. Maybe the truck driver is transporting red apples from Italy, and maybe the young woman with the long shopping list will buy some for her apple pie. There’s a line running from a family’s apple farm in the south of Europe to a truck driver spending endless hours behind the wheel, honking his horn at a group of children while missing his own, to a woman with a desperate look in her eyes at a Nordic grocery store shopping for a family dinner she’s not capable of making.

Of course, the beauty would be to write the actual stories of the people we meet. Like the one of the man who stood bent in a 45-degree angle over a garbage bin he used as a stand for his beer cans, hacking and hawking and coughing up a slimy glob that landed a couple of feet away from him. He gave me a friendly “Hello” as I walked by. I waved back. I wonder what his story is. He’s in the notebook, too.


Great ideas thrive a great notebook. I have checked out five: Hunting for the perfect notebook

WordPress Daily Prompts: Snippet

My story, my rules

I hold his fate in my hands. I might show him mercy for what I had him do on page 12, but not just yet. Maybe on page 189, maybe never. My story, my rules, right?

Happy endings are best achieved by keeping the right doors locked.
— Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

WordPress Daily Prompts: Mercy

A Writer’s Nest

In the bitter-sweet world of words
I cannot escape because
they were entrusted to me
when my destiny was carved out,

        I sip coffee from mugs
        with city names on them
        while sketchy characters
        on yellow post-its
        put their lives
        in my hands
        and await their destiny.

This is my writing nest
where I rule and
create worlds within worlds of words.

Zol H., 2017

WordPress Daily Prompts: Nest

Writer’s block illustrated

“A dubious writer struggles to come up with a storyline, but finds that his imagination gets out of hand.” That’s the introduction to the six-minute short film “Writer’s Block” by Robby Spark.

A writer finds inspiration everywhere, right? That’s what our guy in the film hopes for. From his café table, he sees a car with a “Pirate Pizza” sign on the door and on he goes with a story about two pirates dueling on the beach. Day and night and day and night and… until he hits the Delete button. Then he is inspired by a couple in love a few tables away and starts afresh with two lovers gazing at each other and enjoying a meal underneath the starry sky. Suddenly they are attacked by ninjas. Delete. In the end, all the characters, the dueling pirates, the couple in love, the ninjas plus a dozen others, end up on the same beach and the chaos is complete.

If you ever wondered how it looks like inside the head of a writer who tries to come up with a storyline, this is it.

WordPress Daily Prompts: Dubious

It’s simmering up there

There’s a story coming, I can feel it. It’s not yet ready to be served, but it keeps simmering in my head, like a good pasta sauce. It will take the time it takes, there’s no rush. The details are not yet clear, but the story seems to involve an elderly defiant-looking man with a cane sitting outside waiting, and a woman approaching him — a little hesitantly. He wears a hat and a black suit with wide legs. She, too, has a hat and is dressed in a coat, a handbag in her hand. The scene doesn’t look very modern, it can be the 1950’s for all I know. It can be the first scene or the last. Or maybe it’s the pre-story for a story that leads up to today.

Why does she hesitate? What’s behind his defiant appearance? What will be the first words they exchange?

I’ll let it simmer for a while.

A story must simmer in its own juice for months or even years before it’s ready to serve.
— Edna Ferber

WordPress Daily Prompts: Simmer

5 a.m.? I don’t think so.

You know those people who get up at 5 a.m. to write for an hour or so? I’m not one of them.

Tried once. Big mistake.

I prefer the midnight hours. As the world slows down and goes quiet, my creative gate is opened wide and I enter.

What hath night to do with sleep?
— John Milton, “Comus”

WordPress Daily Prompts: Prefer

No conflict, no story

While in observation mode, I find myself peeping into other’s shopping carts at the grocery store. Like the cart of the young woman with a shopping list extra long. In my writer’s mind, I imagine that she’ll be hosting a dinner for her in-laws and has prepared an exact list of ingredients for the three courses she plans to serve. Not exactly a Martha Stewart in the kitchen, she has bitten off way more than she can chew, but everything just has to be perfect — she tries so hard in the life as a rookie wife.

Obviously, things cannot run smoothly, otherwise there is no conflict, no story. She knows that her wannabe something brother-in-law will boast about the food in the classy restaurant he claims to frequent. Her mother-in-law will give a lecture on how she would prepare the same dishes. Of course, she never fries mushrooms, she sautées champignons.

So what should our girl with the long shopping list do?

Should we let her fail royally? Or let her think, “Screw them,” and make her drain her credit card and order in from that classy restaurant? The SoB brother-in-law will not even notice, and the bitch-in-law will go on bragging about her own cooking skills and sautéed champignons. Will she — our protagonist, that is — tell them about her little scheme? Gloat inside? Or, even better: Save it for later and throw it in their faces at an appropriate time, when she has built the courage to announce that she has had it with them?

And where the hell is her husband? Maybe we should just have her serve hot dogs or order pizzas.

I groan to myself and pick up a carton of milk.

“The cat sat on the mat” is not a story. “The cat sat on the dog’s mat” is a story.
— John le Carré

WordPress Daily Prompts: Mushroom

Nothing to write about? Write about it.

We’re all been there, staring at an empty screen with absolutely nothing to write about. Maybe we scream, first to the blank screen, then to our mirror image, then from the street corner and the rooftop, from the top of the Eiffel Tower and on to Kilimanjaro, higher and higher, and then back to the freaking screen. It’s like sending letters of distress that are all returned unanswered. Eventually, we run out of places to scream from. Then it’s time for a new approach, like start writing.

When you don’t know what to write about, then write a piece about not knowing what to write about. It might become a meaningful story about a lot of things, as opposed to nothingness that raises nothing more than a shrug.

When words don’t come easy, I make do with silence and find something in nothing.
— Strider Marcus Jones, Poet