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The Prompt

As a writer, I like to begin my creative time with a writing prompt. I’ve used several websites - and a book or two - with an astounding variety of ideas to get me warmed up and ready to write. For me, those 10-15 minutes in the morning are essential, especially when I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write about - either for my column or the book “idea” I started more than a year ago.


My all-time favorite writing prompt is one that led me to begin a project that I hope will one day be my first published novel. Just to give you a glimpse into my process, here’s the prompt and what I wrote that morning, with a few minor edits. (https://www.writersdigest.com/traditional-prompts/writing-prompt-write-the-red-letterthe-dead-letter)


At a used book sale, you purchase a leather-bound volume. At home, you thumb through the pages and an old letter tumbles out. What does it say? Write the letter. 



I stumbled upon it at the friends of the library book sale. I was thumbing through a first edition of John Grisham’s legal thriller, Pelican Brief, when it fell out. 


The envelope was pink and smelled of jasmine. Don’t ask me how I knew what jasmine smelled like, but I did. It was addressed to Marshall Melbourne. Curious, I opened the envelope. What I found inside stopped me in my tracks. All thoughts of buying any books flew out the window like the proverbial dove. 


My Dearest Marshall,


You don’t know it, but I’m still in love with you. It’s thoughts of you that keep my heart beating day after day…that keep me going step by step. 


The day you left was the saddest day I’ve ever known. Still today, 50 years later, my eyes fill with tears at the thought of you. I know you had no choice. Uncle Sam saw to that. And I admired your dedication to keeping our country safe from people like Adolf Hitler. As an American I admired you. As your girl, I hated you, even while loving you so desperately.


My life has been a good one. I have been blessed with a loving husband. You’d have liked John. He was a good man. He loved me with his whole heart. And he gave me three precious children. They and their children and grandchildren are my life. 


John died in my arms three years ago. Cancer. I hate cancer. It’s taken me this long to write to you. But know that I have thought of you every day of my life. 


If this letter somehow finds you, know that I loved you more with each passing year. I longed to see your face. But I also knew where my duty lay. It’s not that I didn’t love John, because I did. And I do. But you were my first love. 


I have no expectations, but should you wish to contact me, I am giving you my address and telephone number. 


Your loving Annie


I’ve since tweaked this a bit and lengthened it for my prologue, but I loved the storyline. Fellow writers and friends who have read it have encouraged me to keep going. I hope to finish Annie and Marshall’s story one day.


Is there something you’re struggling to get started? What do you use to motivate yourself?




This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the December 23, 2023 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.








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