The Practice of Creativity

Writing Prompt: When do you like it best? Exploring Tensions and Contradictions

Posted on: April 13, 2012

I am always amazed at how much insight a spontaneous writing prompt can yield. In my ‘First Thursdays’ writing group, we come up with a prompt generated on the spot, freewrite for 5-10 minutes and share. We also critique 3-4 pages of work we’ve brought. Yesterday, my dear writing buddy Al offered this prompt: “I like it best when…” We put pen to the paper for 8 minutes.

I wrote a list:

I like it best when I’m in charge.

I like it best when I find a book that makes language feel fresh.

I like it best when I work in the background and help others—but also acknowledged for a doing a good job.

I like it best when others believe I’m smart.

I like it best at home, hanging out without any makeup on, in comfy clothes, with plenty to eat in the fridge.

I like it best when I have uninterrupted writing time that fuels long spells of imagination.

I like it best when I’m healthy.

I like it best when I have a new book that I’ve written, hot off the press, in my hands.

I like it best when I wake up with a line for a new poem on the tip of my tongue.

I like it best when I have cooked a sumptuous Indian meal.

I like it best when I laugh so hard with a friend that I sound like I’m snorting.

I like it best being inundated by the lights, sounds and smells of a Las Vegas casino.

I like it best right after a facial.

I like it best when I hear from a former student who tells me about their achievements.

In reading over my list wonderful contradictions and tensions are present.  My writing group pointed to the tension in my statements between liking to be in charge and wanting to play a supporting role. I see a tension between my enchantment with casinos (I lived in Las Vegas for two years), and therefore intense stimuli and the joys of solitude that accrue through the practice of writing.

Tensions and contradictions are what make humans fascinating and writers mine these facets of personality to make their work emotionally compelling. Try this writing prompt and see what you discover about yourself. Or, you can apply this prompt to the fiction that you write. How would your main character answer the prompt? What contradictions and tensions from the character’s list could you draw on to deepen a conflict or plot development?


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6 Responses to "Writing Prompt: When do you like it best? Exploring Tensions and Contradictions"

I love these sorts of writing exercies. I think of them as playing the piano scales. It’s the best way to warm up the mind and warm up the creative juices. The beauty of the list form of writing is it allows the write to go back and write to the specific items.


Hey Brenda,
Thanks for stopping by. I love the image of playing the scales–great. And yes, lists allow us to dive deeper. I probably could write for 5 minutes on each entry!


How true, tensions and contradictions are what make up the spice of life…I say keep it spicy, enjoy all the sumptuous flavors!! 🙂


Spicy indeed! Thanks, Victoria!


Those two contradiction—being in charge and working in the background, I can relate to. The puppet master syndrome—and I mean that in a positive way. I’d rather influence the heads of state than be the heads of state. Basically I’m Dick Cheney…only you know, not so scary.


Oh, Lynne! I love your remark! How you bring together writing, leading and Dick Cheney is a beautiful thing!


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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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