Writing Prompt: Letting Go, Holding On
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
The above quote, by psychologist Henry Ellis, works well as a writing prompt, both for fiction or nonfiction. Why? We’ve all experienced bouts of letting go, and times of holding on, in terms of
- issues and beliefs
- likes and dislikes, passions and anathemas
When we hold on or let go, the outcome is sometimes positive, sometimes not. And sometimes we don’t understand the effect of the outcome until months or even years have passed.
In using the term fine mingling, I think Ellis is suggesting that balance is part of a good life. Don’t let go of too much, but also don’t hold on beyond what is realistic or wise.
But as writers, we often focus on imbalance to keep readers and viewers involved. Our task is to present the imbalance, so they search for balance/closure and feel satisfaction when it appears at the end of a book, story or essay.
Explore the idea of letting go, holding on, or both. See where your creative mind takes you.
Freewrite for 10 minutes or more, letting your mind play with one or both terms. Don’t restrict yourself. Write down whatever comes up, no matter how odd.
What was or could be let go? Held onto? A person? A memory? An activity? An emotion? An object? What outcome, positive or negative?
Prompt: Develop a scene
Is the scene from real-life, imaginary, or both? What happens and why? Who is affected? What’s the outcome? Is the outcome comedy or tragedy, or something else?
Prompt: Work the link
Select a specific person, incident, or place—past or present, real or imaginary—that links in some way to the idea of letting go or holding on.
Who or what is involved?
What’s so special/interesting about this particular act of letting go or holding on?
What ‘drives’ the action? Ambition, responsibility, fate, pain?
What emotion is dominant?
What happens as the result of letting go or holding on? Is the outcome positive, negative, or mixed? High comedy, tragedy, or somewhere in-between? How/why?
Does anything unexpected eventuate? What effect does this change have?
Choose a person, incident or place that you thinks embodies the idea of letting go or holding on. It may be someone you know and admire, a famous person in history, a special spot, or an incident.
What’s the setting/location? Occasion? Motivation?
Past, present or future? Time period? Duration?
Immediate outcome? Long-term?
Dominant mood, e.g., comical, bittersweet, nostalgic, creepy?
Prompt: Personal experience
Draw on your personal experiences to freewrite on any of these questions:What have I let go of in the past? Held onto? E.g., people, objects/possessions, memories, emotions, actions, relationships? Why? What has been the outcome? Was it my choice?
At this point, what could I let go of? Hold onto? Why? What could change as a result?
Have I ever made an exchange? Have I opted to let go in some way to achieve a holding on in another way? Or opted to hold on, to achieve some kind of letting go? What happened? Would I do it again–or not? Why?
Am I more of let go or a hold on person? Why? How does/did it affect me? Others? Outcomes?