Welcome to the very first instalment of IMPROMPTU, a daily blog of prompts, provocations, and incantations for your writing practice.

I’ve found prompts to be very useful in my own writing. From the prompt comes a little orb of an idea that begins to roll, gathering snow or heat.

Here’s an excerpt from a Wikipedia post I stumbled across for impromptu (noun), as it relates to music:

An impromptu (/ɪmˈprɒmptjuː/, French: [ɛ̃prɔ̃pty], loosely meaning "offhand") is a free-form musical composition with the character of an ex tempore improvisation as if prompted by the spirit of the moment, usually for a solo instrument, such as piano.

Generating material offhand, following the “spirit of the moment” in writing—that’s what this blog is about.

Two years ago, I took a writing workshop with the late great Richard Wagamese, and he talked about the importance of spontaneity and improvisation in writing. One of the exercises we did in the workshop involved Richard pointing randomly at someone, and giving them a word. From that one word, the person had to tell a story on the spot. It was TERRIFYING. But a really important exercise, and an experience that has stuck with me.

Setting an intention for myself to write freely, to say YES, and to follow the spirit of the moment is so important for me. Otherwise I get stuck, I tell myself my ideas are no good, I give up. I know I’m not alone in this.

I tend to use prompts to write poems, but these can be used/interpreted however you choose (obvs, I’m not the boss of you). Some of them will be simple—one line, maybe even one word. Some of them will be more structured. (I personally love word pools, so that’s something you can expect.) Take what works for you—leave what doesn’t.

So, without further ado, here is prompt #1:

In the afterlife, someone asks you about your time on earth. Begin with this line: "What kept me up at night"