A Little Something Different…Issue 2!

For a period of time, Jack Kerouac had a ritual of lighting a candle each time he sat down to write, pounding out words by its light until he was done for the night, then blowing it out. Joan Didion would spend an hour each evening before dinner editing with a cocktail. Don DeLillo forces himself to stare at a picture of Borges to restore his focus if his attention starts to wander.

Why do we find the peculiarities and habits of writers so interesting? Perhaps the reason lies in the act of writing itself. E.L. Doctorow said that writing “is like driving a car at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way,” and it’s true. Writing anything—a poem, a novel, a short story, an essay—can feel like a rather myopic exercise. So much of any piece of writing is in the building blocks, the words, that it can be like trying to assemble a forest of meaning out of acres and acres of perfectly seeded saplings. We plant them and place them, and sometimes we’re not even sure ourselves exactly what meaning we’re sowing until they start to sprout and tangle into each other, until we step back and look at the growth from a distance. Eudora Welty described it similarly: “Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together…And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect.”

Getting at that meaning, whether we see it as a forest or a mountain or some other massive destination, can feel like a procedure only partially understandable, a rain dance we do without ever really knowing the steps. And maybe that’s why we find the idiosyncrasies of other writers so fascinating: we like to see how others arrived at those mountains and forests of meaning, what it looked like to them in bits and pieces along the way, through their own myopia. We want to know what they ate for breakfast to sharpen their senses, what music they played to heighten their awareness, whether they navigated by compass or map or the seat of their pants. We want to know if it was a daily jog or a dirty martini or the jingle of an Oscar Meyer commercial, whether it was the light of morning or the heavy quiet of night, that allowed them to do what they did so masterfully. It’s almost as if each of these details is part of a code, a tiny scrap of paper with foreign symbols scrawled upon it, that when pieced together might form some cohesive message about how we as people best tap into what’s inside us and funnel it out into something tangible and communicable.

That’s why we’ve decided to do something a little different with our second issue of Promptly. Along with producing some truly wonderful writing inspired by prompts from June, July, and August on Prompt & Circumstance, our contributors agreed to be interviewed about their creative processes, both in regards to the specific piece we’ve published in Issue 2 and to their relationship with writing and creativity in general. What that means is that in this issue, you’ll find Lara Eder’s tale of love, loss, and fad dieting along with an oddly-shaped piece of fruit that once inspired Adrian Mangiuca; you’ll learn how Josh Morrey wrote a story set in an airport while in an airport himself, concluding it in mid-air on his flight, and see from the eyes of a character Donna McLaughlin Schwender created from a photograph and placed in her masterful poem. And you’ll find even more poetry, fiction, and creative insight to delve into from Marie Abate, Kelly Ann Jacobson, Robbi Nester, and Ramona D. Pina!

You can check out Issue 2 on our “Current Issue” page under Promptly.

We hope you enjoy this new spin on writing and inspiration, and as always, thanks for taking part in the Prompt & Circumstance experience!

Brandi & Shenan


FALL into writing!

OK, so technically it’s not fall yet. But it is September, and September kicks off our fall season of prompts and submissions for Issue 3 of Promptly (which will be published in December 2013). Just wanted to give everyone a heads up, should anyone need a little creative kick in the rear, to go check out the new prompts over at Prompt & Circumstance, write, write, write, and as always, show us what you come up with!

August: Final Prompts for Summer Issue!

Howdy promptees! Just popping in to let everyone know that August has arrived, and with it, a new set of prompts. What’s in store to spark your imagination, you might be wondering? Well let us tell you: there are fires and chickens over at Run With It, an….interesting guest over at Whatta Character, trenchant luminescence (and much more!) in Six Words, and a point-of-view that just has to be seen at Imagine. Check them out, see what strikes your fancy.

As a reminder, since we are now embracing a quarterly publication schedule, Issue 2 of Promptly will be published on the 15th of September (keep your eyes peeled!), and though the August prompts are now up, we urge you to read, and write from any of the prompts up on the site from June, July, or August! And of course, we’d love to read what you come up with–submissions from any of this summer’s prompts are fair game for publication in Issue 2. Submit by September 1 for a chance to see your work in (digital) print!

From us to you, write on, writers!

Brandi & Shenan

New Publication Schedule

Hey there promptees, we’re announcing a slight change of protocol here at Prompt & Circumstance: we’re going to keep on with the monthly prompts, but are going to try out being a quarterly publication instead of monthly. This means we’ll be publishing Promptly on the 15th of September, December, March, and June from here on out. So be on the lookout for new prompts each month, as usual, and we encourage you to submit anything inspired by June, July, or August’s prompts for our second issue, now set to roll out in September.

Thanks for sticking with us as we try on different shoes for our little publication to find the ones that fit best! And thanks, as always, for your writing and readership, which makes us what we are.


Brandi & Shenan

Yes, We’re Open: Promptly Issue 1!

“The blank page is about the only holy place I understand. I think all writing is inspired—even the worst. It has to come from somewhere and I don’t know exactly where any of it comes from. I do know that it appears on the page suddenly and I am astonished at that fact. It is like getting a note written in invisible ink—there is something mysterious and secret about a first draft and all the subsequent drafts just deepen my surprise.”
-Steve Scafidi

Where does inspiration come from? There is something vaguely mysterious about it, as poet Steve Scafidi alluded to in the interview quoted above. There’s no magic formula or algorithm that we can plug into, repeatedly and without fail, anytime, anywhere, when we need an idea. Lawrence Ferlinghetti describes this as well in his poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” comparing the writer to a tightrope walker taking a flying leap of faith in the space between the completion of each poem and the start of the next one, blindly reaching out for beauty like a trapeze in the empty air in front of him, hoping each time his hands will find something to grasp onto. Because of this, when we find ourselves—against any formula or algorithm that would tell us with certainty that we should—grasping onto that trapeze once again, there seems to be something supernatural or divine about it, as if it was the doing of something outside ourselves.

And yet, there’s something instinctual about it too. There’s something that arises from within us that guides us to exactly where and what we need, and what we need to be doing, for good writing to emerge. And that’s part of what makes it seem so near holy, isn’t it? Not only the wonder and mysteriousness of a first draft, but the fact that it seems to come from us, be of us. Perhaps it’s not just happening to be in the right place, at the right time, in the right set of circumstances for an idea to take hold. Perhaps inspiration is living in that constant state of openness to the surprise of the world as a literary possibility, the potential for it to appear on the page like invisible ink at every turn. Not waiting for literary opportunity to strike by a fully formed story or poem falling into our lap, but creating opportunity by treating everything we encounter as potential creative sparks, viewing every experience as worthy of talking about because of how we choose to talk about it, word by word by word. Not waiting until we see the trapeze to jump, but jumping, knowing it will be there because we make it so in our act of flight, for there are trapezes everywhere for us to grasp onto if we simply jump for them.

Activating that instinct is the goal we had in mind in conceiving of Prompt & Circumstance: to provide bits of tinder and fluff and newspaper, highly flammable little things, knowing that you, the writers out there, would know exactly what to do with your hands to light a fire. And we could not be more proud and delighted at the result! Traveling from the intimacy of a conversation in a lazy weekend shower in Marie Abate’s “Poem for a Willow Tree” to the vast expanses of space, searching for connection in an empty galaxy in Nels Hanson’s “Homeward Bound,” from a surprising visitor in Kelly Ann Jacobson’s “Rhubarb Pie” to a surprising turn of events after a night of debauchery in Adrian Mangiuca’s “Daybreak in Soho,” from the heron to the 50-cent gazelle from which Robbi Nester’s and John J. Brugaletta’s poems take their names, the results were outstanding, and we couldn’t be more excited to share them with the world!

So head on over to Promptly and check out the amazing work May inspired!

From us to you, the keepers of the flame, the trapeze artists, the writers of invisible ink.

Brandi & Shenan

June Prompts Are Here!

Hello and welcome, all you word fanatics out there! We’d like to take a moment over here at Prompt & Circumstance to thank everyone for making our debut month such a success–we’ve had a ton of wonderful writing roll our way, and we couldn’t be more happy at the creativity our May prompts seem to have inspired. Anyone who submitted a piece to us in May should be hearing from us soon as we prepare to roll out the first issue of Promptly on June 15th. We are so grateful to all of you who submitted for sharing what those prompts sparked in you, and letting us read all the interesting, inspired, odd, wonderful, beautiful things you had to say.

And now, we’re pleased to introduce a whole new set of prompts for June! If May was any example, we can’t wait to see what you do with these…maybe Barnaby O’Conner and his kangaroos will make an impression on you over at Whatta Character. Perhaps you’d like to get to know them better? Or maybe dangerous propellers and dead grandfathers sipping chocolate milk at the airport pique your interest. Only one way to tell: head over to Run With It and check it out. There’s also a scintillating set of sonorous words over at Six Words and a…well, we think this month’s Imagine prompt speaks for itself. You’ll have to see it with your own eyes.

Write on!

Brandi and Shenan