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Writing Prompts for Stay-At-Home Writers: Nick Jaina

Nick Jaina’s memoir Get It While You Can was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award. His first novel, Hitomi, about a piano player who just wants to find some quiet time to write about the grandeur in a single speck of dust, but gets pulled on an adventure across the country, was recently published.

Nick shares prompts and other thoughts about writing in his newsletter, and here’s a recent prompt he shared:

Place Plus Time: Any story documents a change in something, even if it’s a world changing around someone who refuses to change. Here is one simple way of writing about change: Write about a place at two different time periods. Your backyard in the morning and your backyard night. Kansas 60 million years ago and Kansas now. Her classroom before the incident and after. Really lean into the qualities of the specific time period that make it distinct from the other. 

I gave this prompt a couple years ago at a workshop I was teaching in the tiny town of Questa, New Mexico. I decided to write about Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in the fall and in the spring. I knew that my story would be about a journey that began in the fall, and maybe the resolution could be in the spring, and so it would be useful to have the setting show that change. Pieces of what I wrote that day ended up in my novel, Hitomi.

Here is a section from page 31: “We walked through Prospect Park. The leaves were starting to tremble and let go for the season. It was as thought the Pantone swatch factory exploded and shot out colored cards of cardamom and verdigris. The swans in the lake were biting each other.” And then at the end of the book, page 321: “The cherry trees of Prospect Park had something important to say and they weren’t going to wait much longer. Even as crumbled piles of dirty snow lingered on the ground, the trees all around were ready to start the show. They were going to skip the previews and go right to opening night.” 

If you ever feel like there is too much to say and you can’t possibly say it all, you can always go back to focusing on change. Focus on a place, show how it changes. There will be time to write all the other stuff.


Tune in Friday for a prompt from Justin Taylor. Let us know how you’re doing, and how your writing is going, and let us know if you have a prompt to share! Email Susan Moore, Director of Programs for Writers, at susan@literary-arts.org.

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