quaranTEEN voices Writing Prompt: ‘Memories of Home’
Rebecca Stead has written six novels for young people: First Light, When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy, Goodbye Stranger, Bob (co-written with Wendy Mass) and, most recently, The List of Things That Will Not Change. Her work has received the John Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction, and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award. A lifelong New Yorker, Rebecca attended PS 75 and Stuyvesant High School. She still lives in New York City, a little farther uptown now, with her family and their lazy but beautiful cat.
Writing sometimes feels like swimming in a too-big lake, and it can help to start with something solid in order to “push off” into it.
I’m not talking about a plot idea. I’m talking about some kernel of truth that is 1) specific and 2) personal. I usually end up using something close to home – the folded-up fire hose in the stairwell where we used to hide our spare key, the way I leaned hard against our lobby door to make sure it locked behind me.
Let’s experiment with this idea of finding details close to home that can help us find our way into writing.
First, take a look at this short piece by Lucia Berlin. It’s nothing more than a list of every house she’s lived in, along with a few words about each:
Then try one or both of these experiments:
Make a list of every home you have lived in, much like Lucia Berlin’s list, with just a few words of memory or detail about each. Then pick one memory or detail, focus on it for a few seconds, and write something. Anything: a character’s thoughts or movements, some description, some dialogue, or anything else you feel like writing.
Draw a simple diagram of your home (or a former home, or another place that means something to you) on a piece of paper. Don’t worry about whether it looks good, but it should be big enough to fill the paper. Then write a few words inside each “room” – some detail or spark of memory from that place. Pick one, focus on it for a few seconds, and write something. Anything.
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