Writing Prompts 101+

We have completed 100 days of the challenge meant to last 31. Many in the group continue to grow and change as writers. Others join the number in the 500 word challenge group. Turning the page to another hundred we write on.

Day 101: Goals

We’ve got a lot of new people. And the folks who’ve been around for a while are growing. So today, let’s talk about writing goals. What are you hoping to achieve through the habit of writing daily? Starting a blog? Honing your craft? Publication of articles or a book? Getting important stories documented for your kids?

Today, write about why you write and what, specifically, you want to accomplish. How will you measure progress and success?

And if you have been at it for a while, revisit the goals you set at the beginning of the challenge.

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Day 102: I Wish
(Thanks Stella Myers)

Finish this sentence, and then go on… “I wish…”

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Day 103: Be Careful What You Wish For
(Thanks to Debbie Simorte for the idea and Stella Myers for suggesting it be a prompt.)

Yesterday, we spent some time wishing. Some of us wished for fun stuff, others for meaningful stuff. And some of us wished for certain things to stop.

Me? I wished I could eat nothing but potato chips for the rest of time.

OK, not really. But sometimes we do make wishes that really would be a bit of a mess. So today, just imagine. Imagine the disaster if *all* wishes came true.

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Day 104: Keep On Rockin’

It’s Monday (except for you over-achiever West Coast types who snag the prompt early…), so let’s put a little bit of pep in your step.

Music has been inspiring writers for generations. Maybe a song inspired you to write a story, or perhaps you have a certain playlist you always write to.

Maybe there’s a melody that pops into your mind when you hear a certain phrase. Maybe you can’t forget the song that was playing during your first kiss. Or maybe you wrote a song for a girl and it turned out…not the way you expected (or wanted) it to. The possibilities are endless.

So today, write about music.

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Day 105: Sweet Dreams

Have you ever had one of those dreams that was so vivid, it felt real? Or one that was so interesting you just wanted to stay asleep to find out what happened next? Or one that made complete sense while it was happening, but when you woke up you asked your brain, “Whaaaaat?”

Today, write about a dream. Include as much detail as you can remember (or make up). Put us right there in your head with you.

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Day 106: I Got 99 Problems…

The world is filled with problems; some are minor, but some are big. Real.

This might be a little tough, especially for those of us who like to solve things and find lessons and wrap things up in pretty bows at the end.

Pick a problem in the world, and write about it — but do not solve it. Don’t find the silver lining, or the morality tale. Instead, get deep with it. Drill into the complexity of its cause. Empathize with the instigators. Feel the pain of those affected by it.

Seek to understand.

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Day 107: Innovative Solutions

Yesterday you spent some time getting really deep into a problem — understanding it beyond what you see on the surface. Did it change how you viewed the problem? Did it change how you’d approach finding a solution?

Today, write about solutions, but don’t choose the obvious one. Don’t choose the solution where you’re the one in power. Think hard about new understanding and insight you got yesterday. Find a solution that treats the instigators with compassion and empowers those affected.

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Day 108: Celebrate Surprises

We’ve been celebrating a lot around here, but that’s because we have a lot to celebrate!

We just welcomed our 2,000th member here at My 500 Words. What started as one guy trying to get a little motivation to work toward a deadline has turned into an amazing community of writers encouraging each other.

Surprises catch us off guard (that’s why they’re surprises, right?), but sometimes they are worthy of celebration. Maybe, like Jeff Goins, you started something that grew into something you never expected. Or maybe an unexpected person popped into your life and turned it upside down in the best way. Or perhaps you pulled off a massive surprise party.

Today, let’s write about surprises worth celebrating.

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Day 109: True Confessions

OK, I don’t mean for anyone to confess to criminal activity or anything heavy, but we all have little habits or guilty pleasures that we indulge in from time to time. The things we hide on top of the refrigerator behind the breadbox.

Chocolate. Front row concert tickets. A Sunday afternoon nap.

Put us there. Let us taste the chocolate and feel it melting between your fingertips while you sit on top of the dryer so the kids don’t see you eating it. Show us the sweat-stained scarf you pulled from Bono’s mic stand (although I’d rather not smell that one). Let us feel the soft, warm blanket and the gap between the cushions of the couch.

Today, you can fess up. This is a safe place. We won’t tell…maybe.

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Day 110: Holidays

For the Christians among us, today is Easter. People of Jewish faith are remembering the Passover. The Bahá’i are celebrating Ridván.

No matter what your faith background or your current beliefs, everyone has traditions. Some celebrate or honor people, some are a little less serious (Festivus for the Restofus….).

Today, share one of your traditions.

PS: The Airing of Grievances will begin promptly at 2PM around the Festivus Pole in my kitchen. All are welcome.

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Day 111: Spring Cleaning

For a lot of us, the world is starting to warm up. The days are getting longer and we’re probably spending more time outside. It’s the time of year when I open the windows and air things out.

Today, talk about one of your unique spring rituals.

And for you folks in the Southern Hemisphere, what do you do as the cold is threatening to set in?

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Day 112: Childhood Stories Revisited
(Thanks, Heather Tuba)

Children’s stories are filled with delight and wonder. Imagination. Fear and joy. And when we re-read them as adults, we can recapture a little bit of that wonder.

Today, write a children’s story modeled after your favorite childhood book.

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Day 113: All the World’s a Stage

Theater and film can take us away completely — immerse us in a whole new world. Whether it’s a new hope in a galaxy far, far away or the dark shadows around the corner, we love to watch stories acted out.

Today, write a script.

(and tell us your favorite movie, too…my netflix queue is getting low!)

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Day 114: Technology Bites (or The Geeks Will Rule The World)

You are connected. You’re on the grid. You might not be ruled by technology, but it certainly plays a role in your life. I know this because you’re on Facebook right now. So don’t lie to me and say you’re not!

But just because you’re on here doesn’t mean that technology makes sense to you. And the more we rely on technology, the harder it is when things go awry.

Today, write about technology. What about it do you love? What frustrates the *&%( out of you? What would you invent if you could? Let’s talk tech, y’all!

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Day 115: Life Lessons
(Thanks Arlen Miller, Anne Gollias Peterson, and Roslynn Pryor)

What is one life lesson you learned as a child that has been with you ever since? Or the flip side — write about something you were taught that you can’t forget fast enough, that you’re trying to unlearn.

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Day 116: Death
(Thanks, Laura Scott)

This one is hard, but many of us have had to face it. In fact, today, I found out the son of a friend was killed in a biking accident yesterday. I’ve spent most of the afternoon trying to wrap my head around my heart.

I want to tuck this feeling into a little box and place it high on a closet shelf. Behind Grandma’s china and that bowl I got as a wedding gift. But one of the most important things I can do as a writer is to tap into universal emotion. To help myself by helping my readers feel more deeply. To move them.

So today, I will be digging into the pain and fear. I’ll be writing about sudden loss.

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Day 117: Fiction
(Thanks, Kat Campbell-Davies)

Some of us are writing fiction. And some of us aren’t. But even for non-fiction, it’s helpful to practice techniques like setting a scene, developing characters, and writing realistic dialogue. And it’s even more helpful to practice doing those things efficiently. (At least it is for me…)

So, in 500 words or less, set a fictional scene, create a conversation between two characters, or imagine a character, and show (not just tell) something about her intention.

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Day 118: Clutter

When I was a kid, my parents called my room “The Pit.” No one could wade through the lagoon of laundry. And the family of chipmunks living in the corner of my closet were so sad when I graduated and moved out.

But now, as a homeowner myself, I can’t stand clutter. And I find when my writing space gets cluttered, my message does, too.

What about you? Today, write about clutter. Does it comfort you? Or does it kill your creativity?

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Day 119: Sentimental Journey

In keeping with yesterday’s clutter theme, let’s talk about what to do with it all.

I’m sentimental about stuff, and I kinda hate throwing things away. This is clear when you step into my attic.

It also bleeds over into my writing. I’m willing to edit ruthlessly, but I have a “slop project” in Scrivener where I keep all the random little words and phrases (and whole chapters) I’ve edited out of various work.

I may never use any of it. But I know the minute I hit delete, I’ll want to. So I keep it. And I keep adding to it.

What can’t you throw away?

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Day 120: Games People Play

Call me slow, but we’ve just recently instituted game night at our house (our kids are 18 and 19), and it’s fun to see grumpy, surly teenagers loosen up and get silly.

Some people take games seriously (NBA, anyone?), and some play just for the fun of it. Some games take deep thought, and others pure brawn.

Do you remember going to a big-league baseball game with your dad, or how you suited up for every game just to sit the bench. Or maybe you’ve made up an impossible game like Quiddich. Whatever your perspective, today, write about games.

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Day 121: Solitude

Sometimes, we just need a break, even from the people we love. Time alone to clear our heads and reset our priorities. But sometimes, being alone can become a black hole.

Does alone time bring you life or bring you down? Today, write about being by yourself.

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Day 122: Freedom

If you had one day to do whatever you wanted, with whomever you wanted, what would you do?

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Day 123: Action

It’s easy to want something. To dream about it. To pine for it. To imagine having it. For years, I wanted to be a writer. And trust me, it was a lot easier to dream about it than to actually do it. BUT…doing it is FAR more awesome. And I wouldn’t be a writer without taking some action and making some plans.

Maybe you prefer to set goals or build habits or whatever (building the habit is why you’re here, right?), but whatever it is, you have to be doing more than just thinking about it. And something helped you make that shift.

Today, write about what moved you from wanting it to doing it.

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Day 124: Free write

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Day 125: Let-Downs

I’m sorry. I missed yesterday’s prompt. I hope you still wrote 500 words (you do still have 122 other prompts to choose from, and you’re certainly not limited to just those).

So today, I’ll wallow in guilt and misery for letting you down (not really), and you can talk about a real let-down. Maybe it’s something vulnerable from your past. Or maybe it’s the time you went to a concert and the lead singer had laryngitis. Whatever it is, show the reader what you felt. Put us right there in the moment with you.

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Day 126: Dessert

I love food. But I never grew up eating dessert. Every now and then, sure. For special occasions. But not as an everyday occurrence. Now, this would be fine, except my husband has a sweet tooth.

Today, write about your favorite dessert. Let us smell it, taste it, feel the texture. And tell us what it means to you. Your favorite memory associated with it, or maybe a dream of being able to eat it somewhere special.

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Day 127: Boys and Girls

I grew up with all brothers. And as a family with not a lot of extra cash lying around, if we could do it ourselves, we did. So I kept up with the boys. I grew up doing all sorts of things that “girls didn’t do.” And I still do. Today, I fixed the air conditioning in my husband’s car.

Gender roles — and our compliance with or rejection of them — run deep. People have opinions and feel strongly, (so be respectful).

Do you think boys will be boys? Do you believe in sugar and spice and everything nice? Today, write about boys and girls.

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Day 128: The Unexpected

Life throws lots of plot twists at us. Sometimes they’re terrific surprises, and sometimes, well, not so much.

Today, write the unexpected.

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Day 129: Whatcha Readin?

Good writers are usually also great readers. In fact, I probably fell in love with reading before I could spell Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

What’s your favorite book of all time? Your most out-of-control book purchase? The one book you’d save if your house was burning down…Today, write about reading.

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Day 130: Quality Beats Quantity

In a group dedicated to hitting a certain word count each day, that is a pretty weird title right? Writing free and hitting a minimum count every day is an important first step in writing, but it’s not the end. All good writing is in the editing. And editing your own work is HARD.

So try this. Find your favorite book — or maybe just the one closest to you. Skim through it and pick ten great quotes. Inspiring thoughts, or fresh ideas. (By the way, don’t pick artsy quotes here or you’ll get frustrated)

Then trim them down to the ideal tweet length of 110-115 characters each. Share a few and then write about how it went. Was it hard? Did you find ways to trim the ideas down to the essence?

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Day 131: Mothers’ Day

Some of us had great moms. Some of us, not so much. Mothers’ Day is hard for many people for many reasons.

Today, if you want to write about your mother, or about being a mother — good or tough — then go for it. But if you’re hesitating (or if you’re just looking for a challenge), try a different angle.

If you are an amazing mom, imagine what it could have been if circumstances were different. If your mom was rotten — or not there — imagine if she had been different. If things had been different. If dreams came true.

Whatever your circumstance, write about the opposite side this Mothers’ Day.

(And for those of us using our 500 to process hard stuff…go easy on our tender hearts, ok?)

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Day 132: Time

Many of us have heard the phrase “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” But do you think of your time as a treasure?

Most of us stay busy all day. Whether it’s work, kids, service, or other commitments, we dedicate a lot of our time to others. So the time you’re able to carve out to write — it’s special. It’s a sign of value. I applaud you for every minute you’re able to carve out of a busy life for something important.

Today write about your time. Where does it go? Does it reflect what’s really important to you?

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Day 133: Questions

Questions. Do you love them or hate them? Are you the lawyer who asks only when you know the answer, or are you the investigative journalist who just wants to learn or uncover the truth?

Today, write about questions.

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Day 134: Bad

We all want to do the best we can at pretty much anything we try. But we learn the most from making mistakes. From screwing up. From being pretty awful. And it relieves the pressure of perfectionism, too.

Today, write about the worst thing you’ve ever written, Or…write the worst thing you’ve ever written. Then take a look at it and explain why it’s bad. (I bet you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve learned since you started!)

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Day 135: Tenderness

Whether the word makes you think of Otis Redding or General Public, or a sleeping baby or a deep bruise, we’re all tender somewhere.

Today, don’t wrap it up in courage or strength, or as a pretty silver-lined bow with unicorns on top. Be real. Be raw. Write about tenderness.

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Day 136: You Have Permission

Jeff posted a short piece yesterday about waiting for permission to publish your book…or do anything else really. And I realized I’ve lived in this world long enough to take this idea for granted. But not everyone has tasted this freedom.

Many of us heard “You can be anything you want to be” when we were growing up, but as we got older, the world threw gatekeepers in our way. You can only be a singer if you pass the auditions. You can only be an astronaut if you can hold down your lunch in zero-gravity. You can only be President of the United States if you can talk over half the population into electing you (and you have a few million dollars in your pocket).

You can only be an author if you get an agent and a book deal.

Hogwash.

Sure there are things that require certain qualifications. I don’t really want a surgeon that didn’t go to med school. But writing is a craft from the heart. And there’s no one standing between you and getting your words into the world. You don’t need permission from anyone. Not an agent, not an editor, not a New York publisher.

Today, write about who or what you believe is standing between you and your goals as a writer. And then take charge. Tell them to get the heck out of your way. Now, go. Let’s do this.

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Day 137: Date Night

Whether it’s a first date or the 400th, there’s something special about going out with someone special. Sometimes it’s magical. Sometimes things go horribly awry.

Today, write about a date.

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Day 138: Have some fun.

We’ve gotten bad and raw and tender and all sorts of stuff this week. So today, let loose.

Think of the silliest thing you can, and write about it.

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Day 139: Workin’ Hard

Not many of us manage to make it all the way through life without working a day. Whether you work in an office, in the field, or in the home, you probably work pretty hard.

So, write about work. Maybe it’s your work. Maybe it’s a dream job involving eating donuts and riding unicorns. Write a job description, or imagine interviewing a candidate who says the most awkward things. Make it informative, or unexpected, or just plain entertaining. Whatever you choose, work hard to share something special.

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Day 140: Treats

If you could eat any food you wanted with no repercussions, what would it be?

Describe it. The scent of it drifting through the kitchen. The feel of it on your tongue. Make us hungry….

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Day 141: Imposters

We all know them — those people who pretend to be someone or something they’re not? And if we’re really honest, we’ve probably played that game at some point, too.

So today, write about slipping into someone else’s skin.

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Day 142: Obstacles

They say the key to a good story is a main character who wants something more than anything in the world, and an insurmountable obstacle in the way.

Life sometimes feels the same. (That means we’re all living a good story, right?)

Today write about obstacles. What’s standing between you and whatever it is you want more than anything else? Where is it strong? Where are the chinks in its armor? How can you, as the main character, overcome or transcend the obstacle?

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Day 143: Dialogue

What people say (and what they leave unsaid) says a lot.

Today, write a scene using *only* dialogue. No description, no setup, no telling us what color the carpet is or how it smells like an ashtray. Let the characters do the heavy lifting.

And no “he said,” “she said” dialogue tags — we should be able to tell who’s talking from what they say and how they say it.

(And you non-fiction people…don’t be all “Oh, I don’t write fiction.” Try it anyway. Role-play a scene at the office, or the grocery store, or between two people from the Bible. People are everywhere. And it’s not just the made-up ones that talk.)

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Day 144: Critique and Feedback

Learning to critique someone else’s work is a fast-track to being a better writer; it’s easier to see structural issues and to tighten language for a piece that’s not yours. And learning to take constructive feedback — to separate your being from your work — is a critical step in turning pro.

The rule around here is *no critique unless asked* and that’s still the rule. We have a lot of people here who are just getting started and who need encouragement. But for those of us looking to take our writing up a level, today is feedback day.

Post a piece and ask for feedback. And then offer critiques on at least two other pieces.

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Day 145: What are you listening to?

I picked up a couple new albums for my trip this weekend. I love checking out new artists — digging into lyrics and analyzing chord structures, swimming in riffs and runs. But I also like to rest in the familiar classics, my mind free to run or rest without thinking too hard.

What are you listening to this week? Why? Write about it.

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Day 146: Memorial Day

Today (Monday) is Memorial Day in the US. It’s set aside to honor the men and women who have died in service to their country.

Do you have family or ancestors who have given their lives for something important? Are you a pacifist, opposed to violence? Is this just a marker for the first weekend of summer for you? Or is today just another Monday at work?

What does this mean to you?

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Day 147: Who’s the Boss?

Authority. What a loaded word, right? Some of us have some real issues with being told what to do. Others crave rules and structure.

Today, write about authority. Who’s an authority in your life? What does that feel like? And how does the authority feel about it?

(By the way, this doesn’t have to be heavy. I could write a piece about potato chips and their authority in my life — how they demand to be eaten and how powerless I am under their spell…)

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Day 148: You and Me and We

I’m a fiction writer at heart, but a copywriter by trade. So I spend more time than is fun researching minute details about effective writing.

We’ve touched on effective vs. good writing and about getting to the point, both hallmarks of copywriting. I recently watched a video about effective call to action buttons (exciting, eh) that got me thinking about a third hallmark.

The video said people click on action buttons twice as often when they’re written in the first person (e.g.: “Start my 30-day trial” vs. “Start your 30-day trial”).

You might yawn (I did). But as writers/bloggers, this is just as important as it is to marketers. If we want our writing to resonate with our readers, we need to be really intentional about creating the space for them to exist inside our pieces. To chat with them, rather than preach at them. And to be intentional about when we use “I,” “we,” and “you.”

Today, write a shorter-than-usual piece about something important — preach it. Then rewrite it to bring the reader into the conversation more intimately.

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Day 149: Fitting In

Jeff posted advice on his blog recently: “Fitting in is overrated.” He mused on the illusions of money, power, and fame, and he urged us to embrace the things that make us unique.

What do you think? Write about fitting in vs. being unique. Does it always work? How could it backfire?

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Day 150: Free Day

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Day 151: You can’t take it with you
(Thanks, Iris Meyers…and have a GREAT trip!!)

Or maybe you can.

If you got word that your neighborhood was being evacuated (pick a reason: wildfires, hurricane, zombie apocalypse…) what would you take with you? What would you leave behind? Why?

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Day 152: What’s that?

My daughter is learning to drive (pray for me).

On a recent drive, we encountered an obstacle. Ahead of the car, in the middle of the lane, was a large object. Instead of changing lanes to go around it, she aims right at it and asks “What’s that?”

“Curiosity killed the cat.” It’s not a cliche by accident. Sometimes, our curiosity trumps our safety. Our desire to know overpowers our need to do the right thing. Sometimes our protective instincts aren’t quite well-enough-practiced or honed.

Write about curiosity.

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Day 153: Raw

One of the first lessons we learn as we start to take ourselves seriously as writers is to hold nothing back. To write raw and save the review and editing, the judgement, for later.

This is much harder to put into practice. It’s easy to get safe and to find meaning and lessons in the past and tie things up in pretty bows. What’s hard is to write in the messy middle. To flay our hearts open and bleed on the page.

Today, write something raw. Something vulnerable and dangerous.

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Day 154: Time

Anytime I ask a group of writers about their struggles, I always hear “Finding time” from someone.

For me, I created time to write by giving up an hour or so of sleep (a serious sacrifice, y’all — sleep is my hobby). Others squeeze it into lunch breaks or standing in line at the DMV or dictating into their phone while they’re driving.

Sometimes, you just can’t find it at all.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time? How would that change if no one had to sleep? If we were all awake 24×7?

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Day 155: What Doesn’t Kill Us…
(Thanks Arlen Miller)

Write about a difficult experience that ended up having a positive effect later.

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Day 156: Spew or Stew

It’s been a little stressful around our house. Graduations, grandparents’ coming to town, travel. All good things, but it takes a lot to make it all happen. And in the preparation comes a lot of stress and family…stuff.

When you get overwhelmed, do you spew it all out or do you hold it in and stew? What about the people around you? What happens when a spew-er and a stew-er get stressed together?

Today, write about managing stress.

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Day 157: Graduation
(Thanks, Heather Tuba)

As Heather so wisely pointed out, graduations aren’t always from school. Think differently…and write about another type of graduation.

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Day 158: Aw, Shucks

Someone recently complimented me on doing something well, and I shrugged it off. Now, it wasn’t for painting a masterpiece, and it wasn’t for curing cancer. But it was something meaningful to her. She appreciated the work I had done, and I shoulder-checked her appreciation like I was Wayne Gretzky.

After I thought about it, I realized I was wrong in two different ways.

First, I was raised with a really warped sense of humility — I think a lot of us are. I was told that bragging was bad and there’s no I in “TEAM” and all those other things. And while narcissism is certainly not a good character trait, too many of us swing the other way. We become too selfless. We struggle to take pride in what we’ve worked so hard for. At least I do.

Second, I dishonored my friend. I told her “You might have appreciated that thing I did, but it was nothing worthwhile, so by appreciating it, you must be __insert demeaning adjective here__.” I diminished her experience. And that’s not fair to her.

So today, write about humility and pride. Taken to the extreme, gone astray, mixed up.

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Day 160: Using Fear
(Thanks Devani Anjali Alderson)

We’ve talked about fear. Overcoming it. Pushing through it. Now let’s talk about how to use it.

Athletes and actors talk about channeling their nervous energy into their performance. As a writer, what does your fear tell you? Fear can drive you to improve, and fear can protect you from going too far. But sometimes fear is the signal that you’re doing something right. That you’re ready.

How can you tell the difference? How can you listen to fear and use it?

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Day 161: Advice to your Younger Self

It’s a little cliche, but sometimes cliches are there for a reason…so let’s do the “If I knew then what I know now” thing.

Imagine you got a time machine and could go back in time to talk to a younger version of yourself. What advice would you give? What would you tell yourself to do differently or to let go of?

Write a letter to your younger self.

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Day 162: Time Travel

If you could travel in time — any direction to any year — to what year would you go? Why?

And don’t just answer the question…show us what would happen.

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Day 163: If I had…
(Thanks Tonia Hurst and Red O’Laughlin)

If you had 3D technology that could make anything at all, what would you make?

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Day 164: What’s Your Why?

We have a lot of new people and we haven’t talked about “why” in a while. So today I ask you…

Why do you write?

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Day 165: Wordplay

We all love words, right? (I sure hope so, anyway) It’s fun to juggle them around and toss them like salad.

Recently, Toni J Cook told us about a friend who tries to juggle them and, well, drops the ball every now and then. Malapropisms (mixing up similar sounding words and using the wrong one) can quickly turn an innocent conversation upside down.

Today, write a dialogue between two characters and find a fun way to play with words.

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Day 166: Fathers’ Day

Some of us had great dads. Some of us, not so much. We touched on how Mothers’ Day is rough for some people, and Fathers’ Day can be hard too.

Today, if you want to write about your father, or about being a dad — good or tough — then go for it. But if you’re hesitating (or if you’re just looking for a challenge), try a different angle.

If you are an amazing dad, imagine what it could have been if circumstances were different. If your dad was rotten — or not there — imagine if he had been different. If things had been different. If dreams came true.

Whatever your circumstance, write about the opposite side this Fathers’ Day.

(And for those of us using our 500 to process hard stuff…go easy on us, ok?)

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Day 167: Road Trips

Summer is the time for road trips (at least it is for us Northern Hemisphere folks). Maybe you live in an area with wide open spaces, or maybe you’re in a densely populated area. Maybe you don’t drive at all.

Write about an epic road trip.

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Day 168: Everything to Everyone

As writers, we want to please our audience. We want to be “good enough.” We want everyone to love us. But it doesn’t take long to realize, you just can’t make everyone happy.

So today, focus on your ideal reader. Who is he/she? What does she look like? What does he think about the world?

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Day 169: Mistakes

Did you ever start out to help someone, with all the best intentions, and end up messing it up far worse than when you started?

Today, write about mistakes. Write about what you learned, how you recovered, or even maybe how you found grace or mercy.

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Day 170: Pick a Color
(Thanks, Pat Gerbrandt)

Great writing puts the reader right in the middle of a scene. A reader connects when she can feel the breeze on her face. When he can smell the cookies just out of the oven.

Descriptive skills are our bread and butter.

So today, practice describing. Pick a color and help us see it the same way you do. Why is it special? What does it make you feel? Make us experience it that way, too.

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Day 171: Summer Jobs
(Thanks Heather Tuba)

I long for the lazy days of summer, dousing myself with sunscreen and sitting by the community pool. But many of us have had to spend most of our summers working for a living.

So today, write about a summer job. Maybe you had the best job (lifeguard? Golf pro?) or the worst one ever (silkscreener in a circuit board factory comes to mind). Put us there and let us live it with you.

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Day 172: Hospitality

How do you do houseguests? Do you turn down the bed and put mints on the pillows? Or do you make people crash on the basement couch with the dog’s old blanket?

Tell a story about houseguests.

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Day 173: Crowds

Each crowd has a culture all its own. The audience at the symphony is far different from the fans at a soccer championship.

Today, write about crowds. The craziest one you’ve ever been in, the one where you felt the most at home, or maybe imagine a crowd of people exactly like you.

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Day 174: Free write

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Day 175: Characters
(Thanks Red O’Laughlin)

Name the best or worst character you’ve ever encountered in a book.

Now write your 500 words on WHY. How did the author develop the character in such a way that you cared? That the character left such a strong impression?

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Day 176: Point of View
(Thanks, Priya Jain)

Think about a situation from someone else’s point of view. Whether it’s a first date or a discovery or a fight (or something entirely different), write it from the other person’s perspective.

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Day 177: Let’s Get Technical

One of the most boring classes I ever took was technical writing. It also probably taught me the best lesson about writing I ever learned: When teaching someone to do something, assume nothing.

We wrote thousands of words of instructions. How to open a can. How to clean your dog’s ears. How to program a VCR (yes, that’s how long ago I took the class.) And invariably, our papers would come back all marked up. For instance, in the dog paper, I forgot “Step 1: Get the dog.”

So today, write about how to do something, step-by-step.

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Day 178: Survival

Post-Apocalyptic lit is super-popular these days. Whether you like it or not, it does bring up some questions. Like could humans really annihilate ourselves? What happens after the end of the world? Why are some zombies slow and some are just So. Darn. Fast?

Today your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write about survival when everything you normally rely on is gone.

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Day 179: Reunions

(Thanks, @Carryl A Robinson and @Red O’Laughlin)

Red and his beloved Marilyn are celebrating her high school reunion this weekend.

What do you think of reunions? Love them? Hate them? Avoid them?

Write about the first reunion you ever went to. And if you’ve never gone to one, write about why not, or write the stories that confirmed your choice was the wiser one.

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Day 180: From the Fingers of Babes

(Thanks @Heather Tuba and your amazing daughter Annie)

Whether we liked it or not, most of us had to write *something* as a child. Maybe you wrote a story in second grade and the whole class gasped when Billy the Bully tried to steal Susie’s lunch. Or maybe you struggled to put the right letters together into words and you had to force yourself to push through.

Today, write about writing as a child.

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Day 181: Losers

(Thanks, @Kurt Poole)

History favors the winners. William Henry Harrison was president for exactly one month. And he was sick for pretty much all that time. But can you tell us who lost that election without Googling it?

Think about the losers — the side that failed to prevail. Did they face defeat with bravery or cowardice. Was the defeat filled with injustice or was it deserved? Maybe the loss led to something entirely unexpected and far greater?

Today, write about the losers.

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Day 182: Canada Day

Yeah, you heard me. Canada Day. It’s like you crazy Canucks sneaked this in right before the fourth of July just to steal our thunder. 😉

I had the privilege of spending July 1 in Montreal a few years back, where this day is not only a day of national celebration, but also the day when, like, ALL the apartment leases run out and the entire city moves house. On. The. Same. Day.

Sorry, Canadians, but that’s just weird.

What does your country or state or city or family do that’s just a weird holiday tradition?

(Oh, and Happy Canada Day to the Canadians among us!)

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Day 183: Firsts

(Thanks @Timothy Fowler and @Kurt Poole)

Life is full of firsts. This week, both my daughters shot a handgun for the first time. (For the record, I obliterated my zombie gopher target. I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse — but only if we’re attacked by gophers.)

So today, write about a first. Your first stitches or your first bicycle (these might be just one story!). Your first driving lesson. Your first time on an escalator.

Pick a first and put us there. Show us the anticipation. The fear. The joy.

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Day 184: Traction

(Thanks, @Roy Wasson)

When you set out to build a habit, you’re all excited and enthusiastic. You feel great. But as time goes by and the excitement wears off, it’s easy to slip off. To miss a day, then two, then lose traction entirely. This is more common among writers than any of us would like to admit.

I’m inspired every day when I pop into this group and see you guys who’ve been at this for a while and have stuck through when it’s hard.

So today, share the secrets of your traction. What keeps you going when your eyes won’t stay open or your thoughts are just a jumble? What would you say to someone just starting out?

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Day 185: One Nation…of many

This week, we are with our daughters in Washington DC to celebrate Independence Day.

For young women who spent their early years thinking of America as an abstract dreamland, visiting the US capital (on its 238th birthday) as citizens is especially meaningful. (For those of you who don’t know, we adopted them from Ukraine at ages 12 and 14) We’ve had great opportunities to talk about history and politics and culture — the good and the bad.

But it also reminds us (as arrogant Americans) that the US isn’t the only country on the planet. The girls help us think beyond our borders, consider our role in a global economy and culture, and consider how we respect and treat others.

So today, write about your country. What makes you sing with pride and lower your eyes with regret? Where would you take a visitor? What would you have a native remember?

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Day 186: What’s Cooking?

(Thanks @Amy Lewis, @Tim Fowler, and @Renee Baude)

Think back. Maybe you sat at your grandmother’s table, leg jittering as you waited for the apple pie to come out. Or maybe it was a great aunt’s roast chicken or your dad’s smoked barbecue.

What was your favorite special dish? Who made it? What did it smell like? What does it feel like to remember?  (And share a recipe if you have one!)

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Day 187: Random Acts of Kindness

(Thanks @Adrianne Goodrich)

We all know we’re supposed to do good deeds for the good of it, not for the glory or recognition. But sometimes, sharing them can be a good thing too. You can give someone else a great idea to do good — pay it forward.

So today, fess up. Write about a good deed or a random act of kindness. Encourage our faith in each other and share some ideas with everyone.

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Day 188: Silence

Waiting for an answer can be frustrating. At least it is for me.

Today, write about silence.

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Day 189: Denied

Call me silly, but this guy just won my heart. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10203938207756898&set=vb.1273189611&type=2&theater

What do YOU do when someone tries to steal your ball (or your dream, or something else important to you)? Write the scene. Put us there.

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Day 190: Potato Salad
(This must be pop culture week at My 500 Words.)

Have y’all seen this guy with the kickstarter to make potato salad? (Google it…I’m not dignifying it with a link)

Part of me admires the guy. What was clearly a joke has gone viral and the guy is making a mint on this. But part of me wonders what the heck is up with this world where people balk at paying an artist for his or her work while they’re willing to plunk down an average of more than $12 each for a guy to make potato salad.

But I’m trying to be positive. So today, write about the most ridiculous thing you can think of to crowdfund. Write your summary, the risks and challenges, and the frequently asked questions.

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Day 191: Eaten Alive

Summer in the woods. The air sags between the trees. I hold the wire frame in one hand, the tomato plant in the other. No hands remain to kill the vampires swarming me, assaulting the back of my neck, sucking my veins dry.

It’s mosquito season.

Today, talk about bugs. What kind of bugs are common where you live? Do you love them? Hate them?

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Day 192: Put Your Best Foot Forward

We all want to make a good impression…usually. Sometimes that results in disaster.

Today, write about a time when you (or your character) tried to make a great impression but everything that could go wrong, did.

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Day 193: Story

A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Today, instead of getting all complicated, just tell a good story.

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Day 194: Games

Maybe you like card games or board games or Pin the Tail on Grandma. Or maybe you hate games of all types.

Today, write about games. Put us in the middle of one, or defend your hatred of them.

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Day 195: Thankfulness

Mondays often bring a spirit of burden. Of drudgery. Of dread.

And sometimes that carries over into our writing. We feel blocked or discouraged. We fight with a website or lose a great draft. We wonder why we even bother.

But we writers have much to be thankful for. We have words, which are free for our use. We have a passion for stories, which we can create in our minds. We strive to inspire, motivate, or entertain. And we don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on golf clubs or camera equipment or original parts for a ’64 1/2 Mustang (well, unless we’re into those things, too…)

Today, write about the awesome parts of writing.

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Day 196: Pessimism
(Thanks Zen Duque II)

I didn’t let you get down on Monday, so how about Tuesday?

It’s natural for some people to think of the glass not as half full or even half empty, but half full of scorpions. Some people just see the darker side of things. So it is with us pessimists.

We spend a lot of time fighting pessimism. Learning to see the opportunity instead of the problem. Learning to find the silver lining.

But what if we embraced it? What if we channeled our inner pessimist and found a way to use that to our advantage?

Today, write about the dark side. The empty glass. The “what could possibly go wrong.”

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Day 197: A Magic Wand

Today, you have a magic wand. Think of your biggest problem and write your way out of it.

(Use a Unicorn if you need to.)

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Day 198: A Night at the Movies
(Thanks Anne Gollias Peterson)

It’s possible that a few of us don’t watch movies, but for those of us who do…

Think of your favorite line from a movie. Start with it and write from there. Analyze it, or rewrite the scene with new characters or throw in a twist.

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Day 199: Angels and Demons

Whether you see them as truth or as metaphor, angels and demons have been around since the dawn of time.

Today, pick one and dive deep. It could be a literal angel protecting a child or a metaphorical demon in a fantasy story — or anything in between. Tell the story. Put the reader right there. Show us what’s happening and make us believe.

(Please keep in mind this is a writing exercise, not a theological debate. We have people of all different beliefs and backgrounds, and I know y’all will keep it respectful. Thanks for being awesome.)

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Day 200: Umm…Wow

Day 200. Two. Freaking. Hundred.

That’s 6.45 times longer than we planned to be here, and you guys are still rocking it. (And yes, I just proved I know how to use a calculator. Go, me.)

Today, write about discipline. Write about what you’ve learned about yourself through this exercise. And write about your goals for the next 100 days.

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Day 201: Writing Is…

Finish the sentence. What is writing to you?

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Day 202: Country Mouse, City Mouse

I loved that story as a kid. I loved how each mouse discovered a whole different world.

Write about discovering a new culture or environment. Experience the place as a newcomer does. Show us the wonder or the overwhelm. The beauty or the grit. The smells. The feel of the air.

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Day 203: Loss

My older daughter just moved out. My heart is heavy. The house seems even quieter than when she was just “not home.”

Many of you have also felt the absence of someone important. You know the sting of betrayal or the agony of death. You feel the hollow suction in your chest — a hole where love used to be.

Today, write something that connects with others who have felt the same loss or that encourages them to know there’s hope.

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Day 204: Character Names
(Thanks, Red O’Laughlin)

If you were a character in a book, what role would you want? What would you want for your name?

Today, pick a name and write about that person or character. Go beyond the mechanics of height and weight and hair color. Explore how his or her personality shines through. Is he a curmudgeon? Is she everyone’s grandma?

Introduce us.

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Day 205: Lyrics

Music is powerful.

Tell a story using only song lyrics. Write a memory triggered by a song. Pick your favorite (or most annoying) lyric and write about it.

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Day 206 : Choices

Would you rather eat a really big salad or a tiny spoon of ice cream?

Today, write about choices. Lay out two choices that could be equally awesome or equally horrible. How do you (or how does your character) choose?

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Day 207: Imagination and Creativity
(Thanks, Sharon Rose Gibson)

I imagined a lot as a child. I played in the yard with my imaginary friend. I made mud-pies and sold them in an imaginary sweetshop. I imagined a yard filled with dandelions as my personal garden (and I got very upset when my dad mowed).

Think back to a time in your childhood when you were free to express your creativity. Or remember a time when you felt your imagination was stifled.

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Day 208 : Revenge

“There’s not a lot of money in revenge.”

When you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to want revenge. To imagine it. To obsess over it.

Imagine what if you (or your character) got revenge. What would the scheme look like? What would happen afterward?

Today, write about revenge.

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Day 209: Writers Read

Classes and workshops and retreats are great. Writing every day is great (and important). But you can also learn a lot by reading.

Pick a writer (or two or three) who has achieved a goal similar to yours (you don’t even have to really like their work that much). Study them.

If they’re traditionally published, trot down to a thrift store or Half Price Books and pick up a couple of their books. If they’re an online writer, find a representative sample of their writing. Then tear it apart like you’re a literature student.

Try copying a piece of theirs (write it or type it out, word for word), then try writing a short piece of your own in their style.

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Day 210: Do you take things for granted?

I just got an email from a professional organization promoting a very self-centered networking strategy.

It took me aback at first, but then it reminded me to cherish the relationships I’ve made with others, and to honor the way those relationships have developed — through generosity, authenticity, and mutual trust.

Each one of you is important to me, whether you post here every day or every now-and-then, or you just quietly write on your own.

I’m thankful for you. Yeah…YOU.

Today, write about something you cherish, but you often take for granted.

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Day 211: Sleep

I love to sleep. And these days I’m not getting quite enough of it, so of course I think about it. A lot.

Today, let’s do sleep. Write about how it can elude you, or the bliss of a deep sleep, or maybe the dream that you can’t wait to get back to. Write about sleep.

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Day 212: Free Write

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Day 213: Free Stuff

It’s great to get stuff for free right? But what happens when what you get isn’t quite what you expected?

Maybe it’s a free puppy who loves to chew on designer shoes. Or maybe it’s a trinket bundled with something you bought at a yard sale that turns out to be a historical treasure.Today, write about a great deal that goes haywire.

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Day 214: Forests and Trees

Are you a detail person or a big picture person? While it’s great when we play to our strengths, you can learn a lot by taking some time doing things that are not natural to you.

Today, if you’re a detail person, try writing *just* 500 words about something big, high-level, or abstract — maybe outline an epic adventure or a multi-generational story. (Maybe try to summarize an Edward Rutherford novel in 500 words — I dare you!)

If you’re a big-picture person, try getting down into the details. Use all 500 words to describe a single blade of grass or maybe an ant.

And no saying “I can’t” or “It’s too hard.” Nothing worth doing is easy. Good luck!

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Day 215: Free Write

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Day 216: Reviews

About a week ago, we talked about how important it is for writers to read. Today, I want to take that a step further.

Sometimes it’s wonderful to just escape in a great story. But as writers, we must also understand what makes a story great (or not-so-great).

Today, write a review of the last book you read. Be critical – not complaining or nit-picky – just be objective. Explain what the author did well, and also tell us who the book is not for and what they might not like.

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Day 217: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Yep, THAT is stuck in your head now. You’re welcome.

There’s a lot of things in the world to worry about, but as wise men from Solomon to Bobby McFerrin have said, worry doesn’t really get us very far.

So no matter how much it feels like the world might come crashing down, find something happy to write about today.

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Day 218: Sell Sell Sell

I hate selling things on Craigslist. But unless my life’s ambition is star in an episode of “Hoarders,” some stuff’s gotta go.

Today, write an ad for Craigslist. Be funny or detailed or tell the story of your first car and why someone should pay top dollar for it.

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Day 219: Marriage

Jeff shared a great post about marriage this week (if you haven’t read it, check it out). Maybe your relationship is beautiful (Red and Marilyn come to mind). Maybe it’s lying in tatters on the bathroom floor. Or maybe it’s just a dream for the future (or not).

We’re all in different places, so each one of us has something unique and special to say. Share your great advice, dire warnings, or maybe even why it’s totally fine to not want it.

Today, write about marriage.

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Day 220: Adrenaline Junkies and Risk Managers

How do you feel about risks?

Some people love to live on the edge. They’re not bothered by the chance of something maybe happening to throw things off course–that just means a fresh adventure.

Others? Not so much. We like to know the bases are covered. That there’s a safety net.

Which one are you? Today, write from the opposite side. If you’re risk-averse, write about a wild adventure. If you love the adrenaline, write about being a little more careful.

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Day 221: Friends

Sometimes the most unlikely people become friends. Sometimes people meet in strange ways. And sometimes friends find unexpected ways to show they care.

Today, write about friendship.

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Day 222: Move Yo Body

What would it be like if you took a 2-mile walk? A 10-mile bike ride? Paddled a kayak down the river?

Make us feel the burn in your legs, or the light breeze on your face. Let us smell the sweat or hear the wheezing (oh, wait…that’s me.)

Today, write about exercise.

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Day 223: The Great Outdoors

Whether it’s a city street, a mountaintop, or anywhere in between, describe your favorite outdoor space.

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Day 224: Love to Laugh

Why do darkness and laughter come so closely intertwined? Why is it that those who inspire such great joy often live in the depths of despair?

We may never know the answers, but today, let’s just laugh, ok? Write something funny.

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Day 225: I get by with a little help from my friends

It’s hard to ask for help. We live in a culture where independence and self-sufficiency are lauded. Where asking for help is considered weak.

Our brains know that’s a lie. But our hearts? It’s hard to break that conditioning.

Today, write about help. Offering it. Receiving it. Honoring friendships with more than just words.

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