Writing Prompt: Nicknames

Ok, be honest. Everyone has one. Your parents, siblings, friends or even enemies hand them out throughout your life. I’ve acquired quite a few over the years and not necessarily for the reasons you’d think.

The city of San Francisco is laid out in a grid system of streets and avenues. Neat rows that go up and down, left to right. Near the bay is a neighbourhood called North Beach. It’s the little Italy of San Francisco and was my home. If you head towards the centre of town, the shopping and financial district is near Union Square. Right in the middle, between the two districts is Chinatown. At the weekend, if you’re trying to get from North Beach to Union Square, you need to pass through the narrow and crowded streets of Chinatown.

One day, a few of us were trying to get from the flat to Union Square. As we weaved out way through the crowded streets of Chinatown, my friends lost sight of me. I ducked and dodged the pushchairs, prams, shoppers, paper boys, merchants and vagrants. When I reached the gateway to Union Square, I took a seat beside a statue and waited. My friends reappeared 10 minutes later.

“She manoeuvred through that crowd like a ferret.”. That was my nickname ever since. So, “Wordferret”…@cityferret…that’s where it comes from.

So, think about your nicknames throughout the years and write about how you came by it.


Writing Prompt: How to….

I was watching “The Sure Thing”, that old John Cusack film and the scene where he’s working on his creative writing essay “How to eat pizza without burning the roof of your mouth”. It reminded me of one of the first writing exercises I did at university. It was a “How To” exercise.

So, since I’m sitting here with a few slices of pizza, I’m going to re-create John Cusack’s essay. Try something similar…


Writing Prompt: Far Away Places

I’ve been thinking of my favourite places. I’ll be writing about each of them today. What  I love, fantasies of when I’ll go back and what I’ll do when I get there. Try writing about your favourite places.







San Francisco



Writing Prompt: Mind the Gap

This is more a question to ponder. How far are you from where you imagined your life to be when you were young and where it is?

Try a couple of things. Draft, to the best of your ability what you thought you’d be doing when you were young and what you’re doing now. Where there any key decisions you made along the way that changed the course of your life? Next, write the outline for a story about a character with their lives mapped out. Next, have something momentous happen to them that takes them in a totally different direction.

Happy contemplating…

Writing Prompt: Blown Away

The winds have been kicking up a fuss today. Trains are cancelled or delayed and many of my colleagues have gone home rather than risk being stranded in town this evening. I’m going to risk it in favour or a dinner party tonight. What’s the worst than can happen? (Noticed how I tempted fate there?)

As I wandered across the road, the wind nearly swept me into the street. My hair flicked across my face and for a moment, I couldn’t see. Not the best way to start the day.

I know weather affects most people in one way or another, but I think I’m a bit more sensitive than most. You can ruin my day with a few drops of rain on a windy day.  Maybe it’s because I’m from a warm climate. So, why did I move to Scotland? I’m still pondering that one…

So, look out the window and write about the weather or write a scene where weather plays an important role in what is happening to your characters.

I’m going to hide under the desk and put my coat over my head….


Writing Prompt: Humbug?

When I was little, I loved Christmas. The big meals, the treats, made for TV specials featuring Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph and Santa, candy canes and of course, presents. My brother and I would sneak out of our rooms in the middle of the night and explore the brightly coloured packages under the tree, giving them a gentle shake to guess what was hidden in them.

We padded into the kitchen in our socks and took turns holding the lid of the cookie jar (shaped like Erine as in “Bert and Ernie” from Seasame Street) while the other retrieved chocolate chip treats from within. With our illicit snacks in our hands, we went back to bed and I watched the clock tick over to 6am, then 630am, wondering, is 7am too early to wake Mom and Dad and start in on the presents?

As the years went by and I started having money of my own from after school jobs and my allowance, I enjoyed getting presents for my friends and my brother, taking great care in my selections. I agonised over what to spend, making sure each present was special and reflected my friendships and knowledge of the person I was choosing for, wanting each gift to be perfect and inspire a look of pleasure in the recipient.

More years passed and I looked forward to Christmas as an excuse to show people what they meant to me in the form of a carefully selected present. I especially loved it when I could surprise someone with a small symbol of my affection when they didn’t know it was there in the first place.

When did that change?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my friends and family as much as ever and with the passing years the people who mean a lot to me are as much in my heart as ever. What I mean is, this year, I finished all of my Christmas shopping online. I was smug, pleased with myself for my efficiency. I knew what people liked and I chose accordingly. The presents arrived pre-wrapped in identical red paper and ribbon with a pre-printed note on them. When I saw the pile of presents, I was suddenly ashamed of myself. Yes, it was done and I could go back to the work and tasks of the day. Yes, I was sure everyone would like their gifts, but there was something hollow in the clinical and removed way in which I did my gift gathering. It was as though it was a chore to be tackled and not the daunting, agonising but meaningful way in which I approached Christmas shopping in previous years.

When did I stop taking pains for the one day in the year when I’m allowed to be a soppy, sentimental bundle of love? People talk about the mayhem of the High Street shops and how difficult it is to find anything and the battles to get from point A to point B, the long queues and the general pre-Christmas carnage, but wasn’t that part of the fun? Didn’t the effort it took to find that perfect gift for the person on your mind at the moment make the finding of it more satisfying?

What about the tangle of tinsel and sello tape, the lopsided wrapping paper and ribbon curled with scissors that symbolised the final polish of that present? I used to love finding something special for someone in September and re-discovering it in the cupboard in December when it was gift wrapping time. I would sit on the floor in the livingroom, paper and packages all around me and another prompt for me to think of that person and why the gift was being given in the first place.

So, what changed? Convenience has contributed to my laziness, but if I’m honest, I’ve changed, and not for the better. Work and life’s obligations have become the focus of my life and that pile of pre-wrapped gifts was like a huge, un-friendly mirror with writing across it. “You are taking people for granted”.

I know that in some cases, these things can’t be helped. Yes, Amazon is easier than going to the shops and taking your time (especially since my family are 6,000 miles away). I don’t think that being rushed is always a bad thing and I’m not talking about everyone here, just myself, but I want so slow down and really spend this holiday season thinking about the people I love, my friendships and remember what this whole thing is supposed to be about. It’s about love, connection and being grateful for the things and people you have. It’s not just about the presents, but the meaning behind them.

I know you’re supposed to make your resolutions in January, but I’m going to jump the gun here and resolve to think of my friends and family more often, to try to show them more than once a year what they mean to me and finally, to really think about what I can do to make them happy this Christmas. I think that’s the best present I can come up with.

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