Writing Prompts for Life Story Vignettes: 300 Words in 30 Minutes

Our first two parts of this series, Writing Prompts for Life Story Vignettes, offered up ideas for writing from the senses and a how-to for conducting a thoughtful self-interview. Here in Part Three, we provide a simple step-by-step plan for a timed writing exercise, along with three specific idea prompts to get you started.

giving yourself the restraints of only 30 minutes and 300 words can make a life story writing exercise more productive

300 Words in 30 Minutes, Step by Step

1 - set a timer for 30 minutes

2 - Begin writing on one of these topics:

  • Create a literary snapshot of someone close to you: a parent, friend, teacher, someone you love…

  • Think of a turning point in your life and imagine you had made a different choice (not going to college, telling your secret, becoming a parent)…

  • Write a vignette about an old family photograph in which you are pictured. What is the story of the moment in time captured in the photo—and what is just beyond the frame? What happened just after it was taken?

Whatever writing prompt you choose, try to include striking images that give readers a strong sense of what you see, hear, and feel about your subject.

3 - wait

Let your vignette sit for at least four days to give you some distance. Reread it.

4 - do a word count and edit

Too short? If your vignette is shorter than 300 words, add to your story (by fleshing out details or drawing emotional conclusions) until it reaches this goal.

Too long? If your vignette is longer than 300 words, edit the story down, aiming for a brevity that is crisply focused and conveys some essential truth.

The Value of a Timed Writing Exercise

“The hours we spend talking about writing is time we don’t spend actually doing it,” Stephen King asserts in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

By giving ourselves a time limit, we feel both the urgency to begin (before time runs out!) and a sense of relief that an end is indeed in sight (what’s a half hour, after all, in the scheme of things?).

That urgency in turn inspires us to write from the heart, in our own voice (forget about sounding polished or overthinking things)…to just write.

Dawn M. RoodeComment