Past Prompts

Janet and Caroline have conducted nearly a dozen editions of The 18 Somethings Project, some just for themselves and others open to the public. Here’s a sampling of some prompts, letters, and stats from a few of the public editions. (You’re welcome to use these prompts for your own writing.)

Shelter In Place Edition, April 2020: 320 participants from around the country / world 

Shelter In Place Edition: Day 1

Dear you,

It is the beginning! We are starting something together, we 280+ people spread across this very connected world. Whatever your relationship with beginnings, we are so glad you are here, writing with us, participating in this act of feeding the force inside you that wants to express and create. We are not worried that you will do a bad job at it, that you will miss a day and this will ruin everything, that what you create will not be good enough. We trust that you are going to do it perfectly for you at this challenging, strange moment in time. We trust in these beginnings, that we have to start somewhere, and you are starting, and we love that.

We have been thinking of wilderness, wildness, the outside. Where writing comes from, what writing feels like sometimes. Unhinged. How much it is possible to explore wildness from the confines of the boxes in which we currently shelter. (Maybe you are far from literal wilderness or maybe you are close. We are far and we miss it.)

The prompt is a starting place but please do not feel boxed in by the prompt. It is a knot that you hold onto for a bit to get started. Then if you listen and let your hand(s) move, you will find the rope that is uniquely yours, and you can follow it for ten minutes, putting down on the page what words want to come out or through you. Writing on a computer is good, and so is writing by hand. It is also good to make sure you can’t be interrupted by a phone or a person (if possible). It is only ten minutes.

Let yourself be surprised. You do not need to cling too tightly to ideas of what you “should” be writing. You have the rest of the day for that. Feel invited to bring your wild(er)ness, your tender and unsightly parts to this writing adventure. 

Thank you for being here with us.

Prompt: What was wasted 

With love,
Janet and Caroline

Shelter In Place Edition: Day 13

Dear you,

Having written to you about grief, we also wanted to be sure to write you to about joy. 

Joy makes us both think of Ross Gay and his book Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. He writes, “There is a fence and a gate twisted by hand / there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana / it will make you gasp. / It might make you want to stay alive even, thank you…” The poem weaves death and sorrow alongside the joy; the minutiae of zinnia and gooseberry alongside the bigness of friendship and family; kindness alongside cowshit. 

What can happen in the juxtaposition of the big and the small, the ecstatic joyous and the impossible grieving? 

Sometimes it is challenging to find the joy. We have found it helpful to go very small. And, often, to focus on the non-human world. To look at the Escher-like patterns of romanesco broccoli or smell the jasmine growing at the edge of the sidewalk. 

“I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude / over every last thing, including you,” Gay writes towards the end of the poem. Take your own sponge and see what you might wipe clean.
Prompt: You trust the

With love,
Caroline & Janet

Shelter In Place Edition: Day 16

Dear you,

The two of us have been writing these missives as we have also been writing the prompts along with you. We write them collaboratively — usually one of us starts the letter, and the other finishes it, or we trade back and forth a few times until we feel we’ve “got it.” Occasionally it never works and we abandon it altogether. 

It is very special to write to you all. We have, at times, found it helpful to write things in the form of a letter. There is a long tradition of these epistolary poems. We find it freeing to imagine a certain someone on the other side of the writing, receiving it. We can direct our energy towards the person or presence we are writing to, toward. You do not need to know the receiver of the letter personally. Or maybe they are not alive anymore, or maybe it is not even a person but an entire place. 

(We previously said, don’t worry about audience. Still true – don’t worry about the big, nebulous audience of “who will publish this?” or “what will people think?”) Instead, focus on a specific receiver. Maybe this is your most generous reader, your imaginary friend from childhood, an old mentor.

You can write across time and space this way. 
Prompt: Dear you

With love,
Caroline & Janet

Shelter In Place Edition: The Prompts

  • what was wasted

  • I create an occasion for

  • Pink moon says

  • When you free yourself from _______, you can

  • Bruised orange

  • The time travels

  • A closet stuffed with old _______

  • At the root of it

  • What you never knew

  • We are working our way back to

  • The cactus flowers

  • She distills the

  • You trust the

  • in the stillness

  • By the river, they

  • Dear you

  • We can’t save

  • A portal to

Previous editions’ prompts

  • I forgot how

  • whistle

  • they hate the smell

  • capslock

  • our world was

  • where the wound is

  • a chorus of

  • the ______ district

  • he wanted more than

  • elipses

  • the war will be

  • ring finger

  • you are the

  • winners and losers

  • graffiti

  • when we knew

  • the texture of the

  • how you left

December 2013: 106 participants representing 36 cities and 5 countries (including the US). 79 people were new participants.

The prompts were:

  • I wear it as

  • censor

  • sleeveless

  • his teeth like

  • glacial

  • the first edition

  • to dig for

  • shepherding

  • a country of

  • she doesn’t want

  • corner

  • what’s in their minds

  • sweatpants

  • never before seen

  • a route towards

  • binary

  • imprinted upon

  • you will

June 2014: 74 participants, with a big concentration in the Bay Area, as well as folks in Canada, the Philippines, Vietnam, and “the Open Road.” Prompts:

  • what I avoided

  • a recording of

  • pocket

  • and the sun is

  • shopping list

  • him / hymn

  • poodle

  • what she forgot

  • !!

  • gap

  • a vigil for

  • your chest is

  • entrenched

  • the exact right thing was

  • wind tunnel

  • super_______

  • it was enough

  • we waited for

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