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Dot com writing

Mary Jesse | Monday, April 14, 2008

I am not a writer. And I am not going to pretend that I am one. The problem is not a technical one – my AP English Language and English Literature scores will tell you that I have mastered the basics. After all, I am a good speller (read: I can identify and change the words underlined in little red squiggles), and I can usually do a decent job with grammar – I just read what I have written out loud, and if it sounds okay then I figure I am probably good to go.

Basically, the problem is getting started. The prompt. What do I write about, and how do I make it interesting? One of my worst nightmares is when teachers assign an open-ended paper topic, restricting it only to Show-That-You-Actually-Understood-the-Lectures-and-Readings-this-Semester-in-at-Least-Five-Pages-Double-Spaced. Oh, and be sure to use Times New Roman, 12 point.

Yes, I am certain that I am not alone in my struggle to fill a page with meaningful text. For anyone who has ever tested 12.5 point type or 1.3 inch margins, or even resorted to T. N. Roman’s close (yet less space-efficient) cousins Big Caslon, Baskerville, Bookman, and Bell, you know what I mean.

Now, maybe you will get lucky, and your teacher’s untrained eye just won’t catch the type modifications that stretch that four-and-six-sevenths page paper to a full five-pager (note: spelling out numerals under one-hundred is correct standard formatting, and also happens to take up a lot of space. Same with spelling out contractions). It would be a bummer, though, if you had to e-mail the paper. Also, I would not recommend trying any tricks with the typography teachers in the Graphic Design department. Oh, wait, we don’t write papers in design class. Never mind.

What I am trying to say is that even if 13 point Century with 1.476 inch margins will not do the trick, there is, thankfully, help for those of us struggling to complete writing assignments. For example, CreativeWritingPromps.com and similar Web sites are out there waiting to get your fingers tapping and your carpal tunnel activated. (Let’s be serious, nobody writes with pen and paper anymore. Then you would not be able to copy-paste your most recent research material into Wikipedia when you finished.)

Some of the 302 prompts on the site sounded worthy of note (thesauri are excellent for finding synonyms for overused words like “interesting”), so I narrowed it down to a few that I almost used to write this column. I have clearly chosen another direction (and have done a decent job of filling the box!), but I encourage you to choose and ponder one of these, or discuss it with a friend over some regulated-portion stir-fry. If it turns out to be interesting, you can e-mail it to me (in any font and point size), or just give me credit for writing such a great Inside Column.

#302 Write from the point of view of a spoon inside the dishwasher.

#263 Give eight good reasons it is ok for men to lie.

#231 List the seven worst things to say to a person who just got dumped.

#20 Write about the color of hunger.

#285 Write a fictional news story about an adoption agency selling shaved apes as babies.

#182 If an ATM could be custom created for you, what would it spew out instead of money?

#130 What’s the un-funniest joke you’ve ever heard? Who told you the joke? Write about it.

#44 Put Shaggy (Scooby Doo’s partner) and Batgirl in an elevator and write a 200-word scene.

#57 Try to use all of the words in a story: plastic bottle, hockey puck, dirty handkerchief, crumpled note, unhinged door.

#132 How would a broken plate feel?

#158 List 30 uses for a hanger.

#273 Complete this famous tagline with your own: Please don’t squeeze the _______.

#121 Start your story with this: “She touched the little box in her pocket and smiled.”