Writing prompts are popular, particularly on WordPress. I occasionally see posts of other writers that originate from a single word or a simple phrase. It’s something I’ve always known I should try… yet I haven’t taken the plunge.
The core principle behind using a writing prompt is to ‘stretch.’ A muscle is better able to perform once you’ve done some light stretching. Beyond that, if you have a muscle that’s begun to atrophy, gradual stretching and rebuilding that muscle is necessary for proper use once again. See the parallel here?
I’ve been thinking about writing prompts for the last two weeks, but not in the traditional sense. Music is a powerful tool for me (as I assume it is for most writers). It can bring a scene to life or inspire me to try something new. If it’s such a great tool… why not try and use it as a writing prompt?
So that’s what I’m going to do.
I’ve not written any fiction on this site, but I’m long past the point where I should have. I enjoy sharing as I have, but the skill that I want to hone most of all is the ability to invoke emotion in my reader. I want to write stories that resonate not just on an intellectual level, but that bring to life the pain, joy, and hope that a character might feel.
Finally, (yes, I’m aware I’m delaying) I have to admit that this is a vulnerable thing I’m going to do. I rarely share any fiction that I’ve written with… anyone, so to write something and then share it with the internet? That’s a scary thing and invokes a lot of the fear of failure and perfection with which I often struggle. Here goes nothing…
I will listen to the song once, eyes closed, and clear my mind. I focus on the feeling it invokes, and then on how I might see it manifest, the scene in which it might fit. Then I’ll listen to it again and write. I’ll listen on repeat as long as I am writing
The Tragedy of the Commons by Slow Meadow
I strongly encourage you to listen while you read. Here is the link to the Bandcamp version of the song, and the Youtube version.
This is NOT sponsored.
A cold wind rattled the windows of the too-quiet home. Snow pelted the panes, a constant reminder of biting, bracing cold.
Save for the wind, all was still, quiet. The cold of the night was held at bay by a low fire in the hearth and a single candle. Shadows danced along the wall as the flames flickered.
He looked at his hands, worn and cracked from years of hard use. Hands that had once created were now marred by worn callouses and deep crevaces. He was proud of what they’d created. His hands began to shake as his thoughts slid unbidden toward what was always there, lurking just on the edge of consciousness.
Covering his eyes, he allowed himself a moment. The pain was sharp, even more so on nights like these. Winter had always been a time of quiet joy – reading by the firelight, the gentle clicking of needles, comforting music. Most of all, it was her favorite season.
His shoulders shook as he remembered. The memories were warm and soft, bathed in light. They made him ache with longing, made his breath catch and his eyes burn. He knew the longing would never leave him, and he wasn’t sure he wanted it to.
The fire crackled softly, the only sound in the stillness of the night. A faint creaking sound brought a fresh pang of grief as he looked up, the rocking chair besides the hearth settling after a particularly strong gust from the window had caused it to shift. He’d made that chair, and it had brought her such joy. Whenever he’d made her anything, it had brought her joy. That awe and joy had always pushed him to greater heights.
The needle and fabric sitting untouched almost caused him to look around, expecting her to sweep by and settle back into the chair. She didn’t, of course.
He stood slowly, his knees protesting loudly at the rough treatment. He put out the remains of the fire and picked up the cande, making his way down the hall of the small home. He passed old photos in tarnished frames, small wooden carvings lovingly placed on display, floral wallpaper well past its prime.
Floorboards creaked beneath his shambling step. The wood was worn from years and years of use. Every step was punctuated by another memory – careless laughter, half-hearted cursing because he’d forgotten to put the lid down again, the same greeting called time and time again for decades.
He stopped before the open door and peered inside. The bed was rumpled and messy. He could never bring himself to make it in the morning. He imagined he could still make out her outline, curled in more of the blanket than was strictly necessary. She had always gone to bed first.
The ache returned, stronger than it ever had before. He couldn’t do it. He just stared at the bed. Had it really been a year?
His eyes burned as tears flowed freely down the creases in his cheeks – creases formed from years of smiling. His joy was gone, and in its place a hollow, empty ache.
He slid to his knees heedless of the pain that it caused. He knelt there and he wept.
A moment or an eternity passed, until he felt something brush his cheek. He opened his eyes and looked to the side. There she stood, her blonde hair unruly, her eyes a piercing grey, a sad smile on her face. He blinked in surpise, in shock.
Then he remembered.
The girl wrapped her tiny arms around his neck and pressed herself close, burying her head in his shoulder. He looked up and saw his daughter standing in the doorway, a look of sympathy and aching on her own face. She knelt before him and he wrapped his arms around both his precious daughter and grandaughter.
The ache was still there, but he knew he didn’t bear the burden alone.
Phew, I did it. I hope you enjoy it, but more importantly I hope that you could feel what I felt while I wrote it, how the song and the story were one in the same.
If you happen to do the same thing and use this song as writing prompt, drop a link in the comments. I’d love to read what you wrote!
Photo by Stéphane Juban on Unsplash