Writing Project Leader’s Blog Among “101 Best Websites for Writers”
By: Art Peterson
Date: July 14, 2010
Summary: Monda Fason, co-director of the Great Bear Writing Project, discusses the elements that have made her blog, devoted to writing prompts, a go-to site for writers and teachers of writing.
Type the word "writer" into your Google search engine and you will be rewarded, with nearly 200 million website possibilities from which to choose.
The Writer's Digest editors saw the need for a bit of honing here, so each year now they peruse a group of nominees to identify the 101 Best Websites for Writers. This year they looked at 2,300 nominees in categories from writing groups to publishing resources.
One of these categories was "creativity" and high up on the list of sites recognized was Easy Street , the blog creation of Monda Fason, co-director of the Great Bear Writing Project at the University of Central Arkansas.
Fason, who now teaches composition at the university after many years as a teacher of English at Conway High School in Conway, Arkansas, describes her blog as "an unsticking place" where every day writers can find a new visual prompt or a fresh posting of a random word inspiration.
From Classroom Activity to the Web
The blog's genesis was sparked by Fason's students' zeal for her writing prompts.
"With my creative writing students I had been using visual prompts for years, mainly hoarded and cut-up magazine photos. When I began blogging in 2007, I quickly realized this was the perfect medium for visual prompts. I soon added random words and phrases as prompts. My students were addicted."
The blog now attracts a following of students and teachers from 122 countries.
"At this point," she says, "it's clear that most of my subscribers and visitors are writers, but I still have quite a few teachers out there who use the prompts regularly in class."
How does Fason decide what to post?
"I choose prompts purely on what I like, what photograph or video makes me eager to get to the page. I love choosing vintage photographs and spend hours going through such wonderful resources as Wikimedia Commons and Flickr Commons . The random words and phrase prompts come from a collection of scribble notes. I collect words."
I want to give writers enough to begin with and then let them create.
At the Great Bear Writing Project, Fason has built an entire workshop around free writing with the word "orange." Other words that work particularly well are" fire" and "fences."
"I've seen amazing writing from something so simple," she says.
But other words and phrases go beyond the simple: "post-menopausal courage," for instance, or "agoraphobic incubus."
Perusing the visual prompts on Easy Street, one comes on a collection of strange and wonderful images. In one photograph, a man of indeterminate age is dressed as Father Time. Underneath someone has hand written, "Father Time, Mr. Seth Williams, Bank Manager."
In another photo Fason—who seems to have a rather quirky sense of humor—has posted, a roadside sign that advertises for sale "Beer, Wine, Liquor" and "1,900 Guns." She has captioned it "Asking for Trouble."
Prompt #839: Family Pictures
It's Fason's belief that the strongest student writing comes from more open-ended prompts.
"I want my students to take risks, push the verbal boundaries, and make unlikely connections. We spend our whole lives collecting sensory detail, and I find that these open-ended prompts give writers permission to access their treasure, to rearrange and define. I want to give writers enough to begin with and then let them create."
When she has attempted to be more directive, her prompts have often bombed. "I once attempted a 'first line' type of prompt to shake things up a bit. It fell flat on its face. My audience was disappointed and let me know it, so that was that."
A World of Writers' Websites
In another feature of Easy Street, Fason directs writers to other websites they will find useful, like Big Tent Poetry , and to writers' resources they may want to use, like Absolute Writer Water Cooler , a discussion board for writers.
Says Fason, "There are so many resources out there for teachers now. Fifteen years ago, I relied on the teachers down the hall and at conferences to give me the teaching tools I was hungry for. Now, a half hour searching Google can have new teachers armed for scholastic Armageddon."
One would think that keeping up with Easy Street, teaching at the university, and performing in a Writing Project leadership role, Fason would have enough to do. But apparently she doesn't think so. She also manages two other blogs. One, No Telling , is devoted to reflections on her teaching life.
The other, Fresh Ribbon , is focused on, of all things, the subject of old typewriters. "I collect old manual typewriters," she explains. Through the Internet she has discovered a "whole gaggle of people out there who were collecting typewriters. I fell in love with the bizarre idea of honoring old technology by using new tech to publish it."
In August of last year, both No Telling and Fresh Ribbon were named Blogs of Note by Blogger.com. "My readership," Fason says, "went through the roof and changed my life forever."
"I'd like to talk every teacher into blogging," she says. "Entering into the conversation is so important. Making connections, exchanging ideas, discussing pedagogy and frustrations—there's a real teaching community out there."