Are Writing Prompts a Recipe for Creativity?

I was traveling this week for work so instead of writing something new, I went back into my archive of writing and found something I wrote a number of years ago. It is based on a prompt from the book Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg.

This book provides prompts to help you start writing. The focus is on memoir so the prompts tend to be around items that will jog your memory and help you dig into your past. Some of the prompts are long and open-ended, but others are more specific and fun like the one I’ve included below.

Using Writing Prompts to Feed Creativity

I did the prompts from this book for a while everyday after dinner before I started my memoir. I find that using prompts is a good way to jog your memory and can be good when you are between writing projects and looking for new ideas. and typed them into my computer. In looking back at them, I was surprised by some of the information I remembered while writing that I have since forgotten, such as the names of teachers that I thought were long forgotten.

But some of the prompts are just fun and let you do a little flexing of your writing muscles. The prompt that resulted in the writing below is a good example. Found on page 17 it simply said, “Tell me everything you know about Jell-O. Go. Ten Minutes. Let it rip.”

At least it seems simple at first. But as I wrote, I found so many directions I could go and memories that came up with this one simple word. This 10-minute writing exercise could easily turn into a new piece. So, without further ado. Here’s everything I know about Jell-O in 10 minutes.

My Ode to Jell-O

Jello is wiggly. Jello is wobbly. Jello, like Weebles, wobbles, but it doesn’t fall down. It is red mostly, although available in every other color of the rainbow, I remember it red mostly.

But what flavor is red, really? Strawberry? That makes the back of throat burn like I’m going to throw up. I hate the fake taste of red flavored things made to taste like strawberries. They never really do. They only taste like the scent of shampoo.

Is red Jello the flavor of cherry any better? It might be with a little Cool Whip on top. I think that’s the kind I had at Grandma’s house, served from a Pyrex dish floating with layers of bananas. They turned brown, but were still a pleasant treat inside the soft yet firm substance.

I liked the way I could force the Jello between my teeth like a water main break, rushing toward my upper lip, the way I did with spit sometimes, the banana forming a dike of impenetrability.

Later it would be Jello shots made with only a little water and a lot of vodka in tiny little cups you would scoop and suck out with your lips. It bit when you took it in, so strong. I had my last Jello shot a few years ago in Georgia with my brother and his family. My mom had one too. They were as bad as I remember them. It made me feel a little tipsy.

I do not think I have ever made Jello. I never really liked it all that much. I knew it was a low-calorie snack, but for my money, I’d take opaque pudding any day over the clear, colorful transparency of Jello. Pudding fills your mouth. Jello moves around in clumps you can’t quite chew, and you choke a little bit when it goes down. It’s just a substitute for real fruit or at least fruit-flavored candy.

Originally published at on July 19, 2019.

Narrative nonfiction and memoir. Querying my memoir about my family, told through the lens of brain tumor and father’s stroke.

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