A WRITING PROMPT FROM RILEY HANICK

June 5, 2015

Each Friday we post one new writing prompt created by a Sarabande author. Prompts like this one are included in our online Reader's Guides along with discussion questions and suggested reading to accompany each title. So if you can't wait a week for the next prompt, visit our Reader's Guide page to find them all in one place!

This week's prompt comes from Riley Hanick, author of Three Kinds of Motion: Kerouac, Pollock, and the Making of American Highways

 

THE EXERCISE: DEAR JACK,

I started inserting letters into this book about halfway through the process of writing it and, to be honest, I’m still not sure why I needed to do it. I have a few theories, and some justifications, but all of them are supplemental to the basic impulse to begin a section in a particular, pointed way: Dear Jack. The direct address clarified things, maybe only temporarily, but it felt like I had a different mode of making more work and I was excited/curious to pretend-speak to someone that remained mostly a myth or figment to me. And the blurriness proved helpful. Last year I gave a craft talk about “epistolary engines” in the work of several writers and interpolated some of the following inducements to letter-writing into my talk:

Write a letter to someone you have never spoken to.

Someone you see all the time – maybe every single day – and have never spoken to.

Maybe it would be better to make sure that this person is not in any way famous.

Write a letter to someone you have never seen.

Write a letter to someone so famous that you don’t have to speak her name for a reader to know who you’re talking about.

Write a letter to someone you think of fairly often who never thinks of you.

Write a letter to someone that you are confident often thinks of you.

Write a letter to someone you’re convinced sometimes thinks about you but wouldn’t want to hear from you. Make sure you are confident that this person would not want to hear from you.

Write a letter that pretends the previous one was lost and picks up the conversation accordingly.

Write a letter with nothing but regrets.

Write a letter that fails entirely to get to the point.

Write a letter that can never be answered in any way by anyone alive.

One that you are determined to never send.