Writing Prompts from our August WORKshops

Warrior Writers gathered twice at The Old Oak Dojo ( this month for manual labor and a writing prompt. The Dojo kindly hosts our yearly retreat, and this summer we had an opportunity to give back. We chopped wood, shucked bamboo sticks and braided fresh garlic from the garden. Then we wrote down some memories about dirty jobs we've done in the past.

Here are the prompts we used:

Part 1 - August 7th - Write About a Dirty Job You've Done


Shooting an Elephant
by George Orwell

by e. e. cummings

"let's start a magazine

to hell with literature
we want something redblooded

lousy with pure
reeking with stark
and fearlessly obscene

but really clean
get what I mean
let's not spoil it
let's make it serious

something authentic and delirious
you know something genuine like a mark
in a toilet

graced with guts and gutted
with grace"

squeeze your nuts and open your face

Prompt: Write about a dirty job you did once, or many times. Focus on a specific task that you did on a specific day. Why did the job need to be done? Who else was involved, and why were they there? Why did you take the job? Did you learn anything by doing it? Focus on the facts and details. Try not to get distracted with value judgments. Describe the action, and if you're feeling ambitious connect what you did to some larger cause or purpose. We do dirty things for reasons. So can you see value in doing whatever dirty job you were doing?


Part 2 - August 25th - Anger Exorcism


Portrait of My Father as a Young Black Man
by Sjohnna McCray

Rage is the language of men
      layers of particulates fused.

      Rage is the wine
            father pours to the ground

            for men whose time has passed. Rage
            is gripped in the hands

      like the neck of a broom held tight. Rage
gets stuck in the throat, suppressed.

Rage is a promise kept


the bullet was a girl
by Danez Smith

the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet

was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin

was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it--

must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black

with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes

they like rap, they police--good folks
gather around a boy's body

to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame

why'd he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed


The Illiad (1:1-16)
by Homer

Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men--carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another--
                                                                 the Lord Marshal
Agamemnon, Atreus's son, and Prince Akhilleus.

Among the gods, who brought the quarrel on?
The sone of Zeus by Leto. Agamemnon
angered him, so he made a burning wind
of plague rise in the army: rank and file
sickened and died for the ill their chief had done
in despising a man of prayer.


A) Write about a time you were angry. How did you feel? What do you remember thinking in that moment. How did anger effect your senses? What were you angry about? Was your anger at that moment an expression of some deeper frustration, or just a biological reaction to some chaotic event? Think about those questions as you're writing, but focus on describing that initial moment of anger. Write it out without looking back to make edits. Just get as much text as possible out on the page in 5 minutes.

B) What events lead up to that moment of anger? What ultimately triggered the anger? Who else was there? Did your anger cause any fall out? What happened after that anger? How did the situation ultimately resolve? Stories are about conflicts, so your moments of anger are great plot points to explore. They provide a ready made narrative. Reread the text you wrote about anger, expand and revise it with an eye for cause and effect.


Stay tuned for more events coming up this fall. We're planning a series of workshops at the Suffolk Poetry Center, and several more at Vets centers around Boston. We may do one more WORKshop at the Dojo before the end of the fall to rake some leaves and finish chopping up all that wood.