Friday, April 3, 2015

Promptness Counts

When you hear the word "Prompt," you're put in mind of an adjectival quality associated with timelines, speed, dispatch, on schedule, better yet, without delay.  Prompt trains arrive on time.  An author who is prompt in delivery of a contracted manuscript is an author who has fulfilled obligations will full, deliberate speed.

Although aware of any number of other possible definitions of the word, even taking it from adjectival to verb or noun, you would, if matters should ever come to pass, list your definition and preferred use of the word as number one in a dictionary definition.  

You can say without hesitation what your choice for definition number two would be:  the verb form, as in urging or directing someone to speak the fuck up or become the opposite of a ditherer.  "She prompted him to make a decision, order in a pizza or dine out."

You find something satisfying about being prompt in the adjectival sense, of not dithering, of being where you wish to be at the time you'd hoped to arrive.  This satisfaction speaks to you of having some control of your destiny, which is to say of the outcomes you'd planned for, yearned for, worked to achieve.

While control is not one of your priorities, focus is.  You may not be able to do more than offer a few hints to anything so categorized as destiny, but you are growing increasingly able to  achieve focus.  Joyous as this focus is, it also contains some barbs of irony.  

The more focused you become on a thing that interests and/or pleases you, the greater the likelihood you will not be prompt with regard to things of less interest or pleasure to you.  And this has the attendant momentum of you being yet less prompt in matters of lesser interest.

You recognize the interest in and value of control to individuals you deal with.  Most of these individuals are not writers, although you do think it fair to allow that many writers, you among them, seek to achieve control over their craft, at least to the point where a scene or story evokes the feeling the writer--or you--thinks appropriate.

Most of the time, especially when you are focused on some craft-related aspect, you are resigned to the snarky dialogue between control and focus. Troubles come when you encounter the word "prompt" as a noun.  Someone will approach you with the best of intentions, asking for one, in the manner of a neighbor borrowing a cup of milk or sugar from another neighbor.

The exchange goes something like this: "Do you have any prompts?" 

The few times you'd answered, "Nothing of late," you were met with the forced smile of someone who resents having to react to your joke.

Sometimes a perspective student will ask if you give writing prompts in your classes or if you not only give prompts, you allot a time for the class to write something on those prompts, with the clear notion that those who have done a good job will be offered the opportunity to read their prompts to the class.

This is often the point at which you will receive notification from the registrar that Pupil X has withdrawn or dropped, although this does not preclude student evaluations in which you are not surprised to see such comments as, "Would have been a totally good class if Shelly had given us prompts," or the more aggressive, "How can a writing class not give prompts to the students?" or the definitive, "Instructor refused to give us prompts."

You've never been on the fence about that sort of thing, although you have been remarkable in your lack of judgmental comments about the practice of prompts until directly asked.  One dear friend of yours was in a group in which the format of the class involved securing three seemingly unrelated words, all to be used as prompts in the same composition, which would then be read among the participants.

Each week, after your friend's group, she would either call or email, wanting to know if you would like to hear or read her composition.  Nicely as possible, you thought, you suggested you would rather read or hear a story or a segment from a longer work,  "But,"  she said, "these are longer works.  That's why we have three words."

 So far as you are concerned, characters are prompts; they prompt you to find out more about them.  They try your patience, sometimes lie to you, sometimes manipulate or try to control you.  If you need something to get you to writing, they surely can accomplish the deed by telling you some secret or inventing one or telling you that everything they've told you so far has been a lie, and from now on, things are going to be pretty much the same.

So far as you are concerned, ideas are prompts.  Someone from the prompt camp could argue that the magic words "What if?" are prompts.  What then if two dissimilar concepts are brought together as room mates?

You are pleased to think writers who do not require prompts are writers who have ascended the face of K-2, Annapurna, or Everest.  They understand the greatest prompt of all, which is imagining a few of your characters are speaking in sotto voce so that you can scarcely hear them.  You approach to listen.  They become aware of your presence.  They lower their voices even more.

What are they saying?

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