Writing Prompts from the 2022 Women’s Prize shortlist

Women’s Prize winner Maggie O’Farrell once told us “a huge amount of writing is reading – you can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader.” Ask any number of successful published authors and they’ll tell you that much of their inspiration comes from reading, reading and more reading. So if you’re a writer in search of a great new idea – maybe you’re thinking of entering Discoveries? – why not try out one of these fun writing prompts inspired by the novels shortlisted for the 2022 Women’s Prize. 

Have fun – and let us know how you get on by tagging us @WomensPrize.

If you read and enjoyed The Island of Missing Trees

Is there a part of your family history that you feel disconnected from or don’t know enough about? Look at family genealogy sites and see what you can discover about your family history. Did your ancestors live through civil wars, conflicts or significant moments in history? 

Research a tree or plant that appeals to you in detail; it might be a plant associated with a particular place that is special to you, or indigenous to the place of your birth. Find out as much as you can – including any mythological references it may have, or any old plant lore – and write a few paragraphs imagining what it would say. What would it have witnessed? Would its tone be wise, jaded, enlightened?

If you read and enjoyed Sorrow and Bliss

If you have ever been in the situation of being misdiagnosed or misunderstood, it may be cathartic to write about the experience. You could use a diary or journal to record your experiences and then your thoughts and feelings about what happened.

Alternatively, if there is a health issue that you’re passionate about sharing information on, or sharing your experience of living with a certain health condition, you could consider writing a blog or a magazine article. Sharing personal experiences can be difficult, but it can also really help and validate others.

If you read and enjoyed The Book of Form and Emptiness

In the paediatric psych ward, Benny meets Alice/Athena, who is making written ‘event scores’ and handing them out to her fellow patients. The event score is a feature of the Fluxus art movement which aimed to create live ‘happenings’ rather than fixed art pieces. Can art be in-the-moment as opposed to just a static thing that hangs on a gallery wall for a long time? Look at the work of performance artists such as Carolee Schneemann and Marina Abramovic who work with ideas of impermanence and one’s place in the world. Are you inspired to write something, so that the art comes full circle?

Or, do you think you could benefit from a Marie Kondo/Cory-style clear out? As well as decluttering, choose two objects you love and write about them, as if they had a voice. Benny has his beloved marble and spoon. What objects hold deep significance for you? Have they got a story? Tell it if so.

Writing Prompts

If you read and enjoyed The Bread the Devil Knead

Alethea’s voice runs throughout the narrative, steering our experience as a reader and engendering our empathy,incredulity and anger. But there are always a multiplicity of perspectives, so how might another character put their spin on what Alethea goes through? Write a scene from Leo or Bobby Sharma’s perspective, trying to employ their authentic dialect.

Alternatively, you might like to research real-life stories of women who have suffered abuse, either from history or contemporary times. Are these stories easy to find? If not, why do you think this might be?

If you read and enjoyed Great Circle

Throughout Great Circle, Shipstead gives us snippets of aviation history including mentions of American women pilots Amelia Earhart and Elinor Smith, and the English pilot Amy Johnson. Amelia Earhart is described as an uncompromising woman, rather like Marian, who tells her husband upon getting married that she will need to be away for long periods of time and that she will also need to be polygamous – what we might today call an ‘open marriage’. Research these female pilots’ lives. How much did race and class enable them to be pilots in the first place? What challenges did they face? What level of detail can you find about their achievements, in comparison with the volume of information available on their male counterparts?

Alternatively, you could write some missing entries from Marian’s log book. What might have happened in the moments that went undocumented? What might Marian’s innermost thoughts have been on her perilous flight around the globe?

If you read and enjoyed The Sentence

The Sentence is, among many things, a book about loving books, independent bookshops and the joy of finding the perfect book. Indeed, it features Erdrich’s own real-life bookshop, Birchbark Books in Minnesota. Even more brilliantly, we are given Tookie’s own personal book recommendations at the end of The Sentence, which provide a reading list par excellence, including a raft of books by Indigenous authors. Thinking about recommendation, write a book review of The Sentence (or another favourite); this could be in a reading log, or a notecard to a friend as you share the book with them.The Sentence features the Covid-19 pandemic, a moment in our collective history and consciousness that has affected all of us. Think about how you would represent the experience, or what someone you know would write in reflection if it has been a challenging or painful time for you personally.

Looking for some more writing prompts? We’ll be posting them regularly throughout the Autumn over on our social channels.

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