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  • Writer's pictureJeremiah Ritchie

Prompting the Trickster

During these early days of my 2023 goal to write 500 words a day (Sundays optional) I’ve been using writing prompts from a Google search. Like most Google searches, “free writing prompts” elicits hundreds of thousands of results. I would normally be happy to draw from my own resources - my mind, experiences, or motivations – to come up with something to write. In fact, that’s what this writing is. I try to keep a small notebook in my back pocket to jot down topic ideas for writings like this or writings that might turn into something more polished or part of a larger work (raise your hand if you’re a writer with an unfinished book). But prompts do something incredibly helpful in terms of creating or continuing a habit. Prompts keep me from thinking.

Some of you may feign surprise that I need any help to be prevented from thinking. To you I say, with all due respect, shut it. For the rest of you, allow me to explain. Prompts choose the topic for me. I have spent too many hours staring at a blank screen and that damned blinking cursor, waiting for my muse to dance her way across my mind and onto the page or for Inspiration to show up, pen in hand, ready to work a free-flowing masterpiece. The writing prompt has already done the hardest work for me. It has removed all choice, all confusion, all fear of what to write about. All that remains is for me to do the work it's given me.

The writing prompt is a form of the Trickster. He knows how to trick the little gremlins that creep up when we try to do our work. The Trickster knows how to get around the most vile and most subtle of gremlins that hold us back from our pursuits - The Inner Critic, Perfectionism, Fear. The Trickster circumvents their well-worn paths. I don't have to find something to write about because the Trickster has already given me the topic. I don't have to struggle to find the perfect title because my 500 Word posts all follow the same format. My Inner Critic cannot complain about the the prompt because I didn't choose it; the Trickster did.

So how can you put the Trickster to work for you? Here are a few tips:

1.) Identify the Gremlin. It helps to know your enemy. You can identify your enemy one of two ways. The first is from some behavioral observation. Staring at a blank screen and wondering what to type is one of mine. If you write and find yourself constantly stopping to spell-check a word or go to a thesaurus, you've found a gremlin. If you want to go to the gym three days a week but when it's time to leave you find you aren't sure what to wear, you've found a gremlin. If you want to go on more dates with your spouse or make more time for close friends but your schedule seems to constantly fill up, you've found a gremlin. The second way to identify your enemy is to name the underlying mood, emotion, or voice. Jon Acuff refers to soundtracks, the things we say over and over to ourselves to prove our reality. This requires some extra vulnerability because this goes beyond identifying the action of the gremlin. This is identifying the gremlin themselves. Fear of rejection, insecurity, lack of self-worth, perfectionism, and more.

2.) Call on the Trickster. Once you've identified the gremlin you can call on the Trickster to work his magic (or whatever pronoun you prefer). Turn off spell check in your word processing system and disconnect the Wi-Fi. Buy 3 identical outfits that are your gym outfits. Better yet, buy 6 so that you know you'll always have a clean one ready. Want to read 20 pages a day and go to the gym? Keep the book you're reading in your locker at the gym. Want more social time with our spouse or friends? Overcommit to it. Take the entire day off work so that you can go on a date that evening. Go to the same pub or restaurant or park where you meet your friends every week, whether you're meeting them or not. Have you identified a soundtrack gremlin? Write a new soundtrack and turn it into a song that you hum while you brush your teeth every day. Let the Trickster play.

3.) Prepare for the Attack the Gremlins. When you star to work with the Trickster your gremlins will take note. They'll call in backup or you'll discover that there was a more conniving gremlin hiding behind the one you'd found, and that one is an even bigger challenge. If the Trickster has gone to work but you've found something else blocking the path, rest assured another gremlin is lurking.

3.) Call a Gathering of the Tricksters. One of the best things you can do is to find others who know how to summon the Trickster. We go farther together (or is it further...I'll look it up later). Involve your friends or spouse in creating the Trickster. Share your experience with people who have struggled, too. Join a writing group or exercise group. Or maybe gather once a month with close friends to share the ways the Trickster needs to show up in your lives (see what I did there?). Gremlins love it when you're in isolation, so call in the reinforcements.

Shameless plug here at the end. One great way to identify gremlins and call on the Trickster is to hire a coach like me. Helping people work through these sorts of challenges is something I'm passionate about. And please note, the Trickster just did his work for me, helping me put myself out there in both my writing and as a coach. Sneaky little guy.

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