Queen of Cups has ended its one year run this month as an alternative mini lit mag delivered weekly to subscribers’ inboxes. Over the past year, QOC has featured 53 writers, 53 original writing prompts, 53 tarot cards and around 100 tarot readings! 100 because nearly every issue included a general reading as well as a reading specifically for writers and artists. Check out the last issue featuring poet Courtney LeBlanc and The Empress. The full year of back issues is archived and available for viewing. Thank you to all subscribers and occasional readers alike. It’s been a surprising journey from quirky idea to fruition and such a learning experience.
One feature of my mini lit mag Queen of Cups is a weekly writing prompt. Sometimes I base the prompt on the week’s tarot card, other times I’m inspired by the featured writer, or I come up with something out of left field. As a poet, I’ve found prompts invaluable in generating new material. Here are four of my favorite from Queen of Cups back issues, all are accessible to poets and prose writers alike.
1. Write a piece that takes place in a structure, dwelling, or shelter. Think of Shirley Jackson who suffered from agoraphobia and wrote ghost stories and psychological thrillers where houses are not only haunted but become malevolent main characters imprisoning their inhabitants. Conversely, look to Rumer Godden who wrote at least five novels with the word ‘House’ appearing in the title. Godden’s dwellings also rise to character status but are more benevolent, becoming meaningful because of the accrual of inhabitants over the course of history. Like a beloved and ancient oak, Godden’s houses take on personalities of their own and tend to stand both within the passage of time and beyond it. Houses symbolize safety, nurture, and personal and family identity, but can also work in the opposite direction and quickly convey danger, imprisonment, and stultification. Your job is to write something with a physical structure in it, see where it takes you and what your structure reveals to you through the writing of your piece.
2. Write a piece titled “Grief Hallucinations” which incorporates the sentence: “You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.” (Epictetus)
3. The tradition of lachrymatory dates to Greek and Roman times, but was popular around the Civil War. Wives and sweethearts would collect their tears in small vials, called lachrymatories, in hopes of showing their returning soldiers how much they were missed. Lachrymatory was a common ritual in the elaborate Victorian mourning process which also included: ‘deep mourning’, ‘half mourning’, and, my favorite, ‘slighting the mourning’ the moment when scratchy crepe dress trimming could be removed. Mourning in dress was observed right down to the smallest detail: I own a small box of antique stick pins with black heads labelled ‘Mourning Pins’. Women collected tears shed over death into lachrymatory and would leave the uncorked vials on loved ones’ graves; uncorked so the tears would evaporate over time. Write a poem or prose piece where lachrymatory (or ritualistic mourning) appear.
4. Write a micro essay/story (about 500 words), or a prose poem about consciously throwing something special away, or about getting rid of something in a bizarre or unique way.
I don’t know if all you writers out there are aware of this, but the blogosphere is rife with suggestions for saving us from distraction, keeping us focused and productive at our desks. Apparently, we’re a distractible lot and we need top ten lists with practical advice such as: write by hand, turn off your cell phone, and listen to white noise, in order to get anything done. If you’re feeling contrary, a little stir crazy from all the cold and snow, and would rather distract yourself and waste precious writing time, I’m here to help. My top seven distractions!
7. Rearrange something. Best Bets: desk drawers, bookshelves, junk drawer, art supplies, stack of bedside books, closet, refrigerator (but that’s no fun at all), houseplant corner, or if you’re in a really bad way, an entire room, including furniture (the arrangement of my study changes every month).
6. Read distractedly. Best Bets: vintage dictionaries, encyclopedias, guides to things like shells and fungi, and other large reference books. True distracted reading involves opening a book at random, reading a paragraph at most, and moving on to another book. The entire activity shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes or you’re not really distracted enough. And, the goal isn’t to retain information or come up with a great idea; this is essentially intended to be a restless intellectual activity which bears no fruit. Save your good intentions for another day! My favorite reference distractions are old medical dictionaries with copious descriptions and vintage magazines.
5. Begin a self-healing regimen right now and get really obsessive and preachy about it. Best Bets: a cleanse followed by a raw food diet, yin yoga, meditation, book a weekend at a monastery, listen to hypnosis CDs by Glen Harrold, learn Japanese face massage, commit to run a half-marathon or walk the Appalachian Trail, better yet, the Camino de Santiago.
4. Blogs, Pinterest. If you’re feeling particularly uncreative why not make yourself feel worse by looking at photos and reading details of other people’s unnatural, manic creativity. Best Bets: this, this, and this. And my favorite crafty blog.
3. Obsessively check stats, websites where your work, interview or review was supposed to be posted two months ago, or google your professional persona and book titles just to see if anything great happened the last time you were distracted from this task by some writing project.
2. Rip books apart to make cut and paste poetry, flash fiction or erasure. It may not technically be ‘writing’ but you can fool yourself and have some fun.
1. Watch the cat sleep, no, study your cat in repose (if you don’t have a cat I’ve included a photo of mine for your consideration). Cats have mastered the art of doing absolutely nothing and from what I can see, feeling not a bit of shame over it. If you’ve performed this directive correctly you’ll wake quietly an hour later in a soft nest of blankets looking not unlike my cat Meeps. But where Meeps wakes kneading the blankets, his dreams filled with blood and puncture wounds….. hey that’s not so bad….