From the monthly archives: August 2011

Mt. Rushmore

Last week we saw one of today’s most charismatic leaders, Steve Jobs, resigning from the company he built with his riveting way of communicating his vision. But was that charisma, or was it a determined professional who spent hours, unseen, rehearsing his presentations. Almost certainly it was the latter.

The research results suggest that charisma is sometimes an illusion. While managers can establish a reputation as a transformational, charismatic leader in a number of valid ways, managers can also gain the mystique of charisma by veiling how they accomplish what they do, like a stage magician. Prof. Morris, who leads Columbia Business School’s Program on Social Intelligence, elaborated on a point elucidated by this area of research, “Winning in business and political endeavors comes not only from performing well, but also from managing the interpretations that others make of your performance.” – Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Just like Steve Jobs, your writing charisma is based on the back story that only you will see. This is a prompt that encourages you to flesh out your characters and the world in which they live in ways that will never appear in your story.

Journaling Prompt: Write about how you use rehearsal (or don’t) to improve your charisma.

Art Prompt: Charisma

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience how they can improve their charisma.

Photo Credit: jimbowen0306 on Flickr


I admit it. I’m a sci fi geek. Time travel is awesome, and I want to try it. Barring that, I want to read and write about it.

…apparently the very first written time travel story is Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, written in 1733 by Samuel Madden, about an angel from the year 1997 who journeys over 250 years into the past to give documents to a British ambassador that describe the world of the future. -Michio Kaku, Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel

Writing Prompt: Take your protagonist on a short trip via time travel. Where and when will she go? Who will she meet? What will she do?

Journaling Prompt: If you could time travel, where and when would you go and why?

Art Prompt: Time Travel
Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience where you would go if you could travel through time and who you would want to meet there.

car accident

Do you ever drive and end up at your destination without knowing how you got there? Our minds get lost in rehashing the past or rehearsing the future. As it turns out, that could be very dangerous.

“Taking a trip down memory lane while you are driving could land you in a roadside ditch, new research indicates. Vanderbilt University psychologists have found that our visual perception can be contaminated by memories of what we have recently seen, impairing our ability to properly understand and act on what we are currently seeing.” –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write a scene about an accident that occurs because your protagonist was focused on something that happened in the past.

Journaling Prompt: Write about your experience of losing time because your mind was lost in memories.

Art Prompt: Crash

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Talk to your audience about the dangers of distracted driving.

Photo Credit: Toronto History on Flickr


Every culture from before written history to today’s modern society has viewed fire as both a force to be feared and an element to be revered. Fire or smoke are seen in many religious rituals. Both symbolize a cleansing or renewing force. 

Lighting this fire at the entrance would lay claim to the cave, establish it as their place of residence. Controlled fire was a device of man, essential to life in a cold climate. Even smoke had beneficial properties; the smell alone evoked a feeling of safety and home. The smoke from the cave fire, filtering up through the cavern to the high-vaulted ceiling, would find its way out through cracks and on drafts through the opening. It would take away with it any unseen forces that might be inimical to them, purge the cave, and permeate it with their essence, the essence of human. -Jean Auel, The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth’s Children, Book One): with Bonus Content

Writing Prompt: Write a scene about a ritual using fire or smoke.

Journaling Prompt: What feelings does fire evoke in you?

Art Prompt: Fire

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell a story that involves use of fire for protection and / or ritual.

Photo Credit: Vincent van der Pas on Flickr

father and son

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. -F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Writing Prompt: Use this first line as the first line for a story or as inspiration for a poem or haiku.

Journaling Prompt: What is the best advice your father ever gave you?

Art Prompt: Advice from Father

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell a touching story about something you learned from your father.

Photo Credit: John Mettraux on Flickr

dalai lama

From the Oxford Dictionary of English, this week’s word:
ahimsa n. [mass noun] (in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist tradition) respect for all living things and avoidance of violence towards others. Sanskrit, from a ‘non-, without’ + hisā ‘violence’.
Writing Prompt: Create a world where the practice of ahimsa is part of the foundation of society. What is different about that world than ours?

Journaling Prompt: In what ways do you practice ahimsa? In what ways do you not practice ahimsa?

Art Prompt: Ahimsa

Photo Credit: abhikrama on Flickr


Magical thinking is something we associate with children, but adults engage in a lot of magical thinking as well. The difference is that they aren’t aware of it and if asked, will generally deny it.

The experimental findings, in the paper “Washing Away Your (Good or Bad) Luck: Physical Cleansing Affects Risk-Taking Behavior,” converge with anecdotal reports of superstitious practices, such as an athlete wearing the same unwashed shirt during a winning streak, and show that magical beliefs about luck have behavioral consequences.

Magical beliefs are exhibited, for example, by having confidence in one’s ability to predict the outcome of a random event beyond the known probabilities if one can exert irrelevant control on the situation. For example, research has shown people are more confident they will have a winning scratch-off lottery ticket if they pick the ticket instead of being given one by a clerk.

Debriefing conversations with participants suggest that people remain unaware of these influences, as has also been observed in other studies. Although participants are familiar with the underlying metaphors and related superstitious practices, they do not realize that this knowledge is applicable to the experiment and, needless to say, insist that they would never be influenced by such a thing. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write a scene in which your character engages in some unconscious superstitious behavior.

Journaling Prompt: Do you use any superstitious rituals to create a feeling of control in your life?

Art Prompt: Lucky rituals
Nonfiction / SpeechwritingPrompt: Tell your audience a humorous story about a ritual you have used in the past.

Photo Credit: dollen on Flickr

strange highway

You really have to click through to see this picture on Flickr at full size. It is such a great image of our subconscious. There are things we’ve left behind strewn along the road, things we’ve never noticed, and things we are purposefully ignoring. Our brains are pretty messy places.

Something was bothering me. It happened that way, sometimes. It’s like a little pebble that gets in your shoe and, after a while, you feel like you’re carrying around a boulder. My mind worked like that—something inconspicuous escaped my attention at first, but then, after a while, the significance hit me like a brick, as if parts of my brain had been silently mulling it over and suddenly reached a conclusion. -Kyle Kirkland, One Out of Many, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, July 1, 2011

Writing Prompt: Write a list of at least 10 things that are in your protagonist’s subconscious, irritating and working to bubble up into awareness.

Journaling Prompt: Write about something that you carried around in your subconscious until it got as big as a boulder.

Art Prompt: Subsconscious

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell a humorous story about something in your subconscious that led you to do something crazy/silly/foolish.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelane on Flickr


What if you could navigate solely by sound? It would mean fewer stubbed toes in the middle of the night for me. As it turns out, if I would just apply myself, I could learn to echolocate.

In the early 1800s, a blind man from England named James Holman journeyed around the world — he may have been the most prolific traveler in history up to that point, Magellan and Marco Polo included — relying on the echoes from the click of his cane. Not until the 1940s, in Karl Dallenbach’s lab at Cornell University, was it irrefutably proven that humans could echolocate.-Michael Finkel, The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See

Writing Prompt: Write a story about a character who has developed one of their senses beyond the everyday usefulness.

Journaling Prompt: Write about how you use your hearing.

Art Prompt: Sound
Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the miracle of hearing.

Photo Credit: Banjo Brown on Flickr

Soldiers and Marines walk through rotor wash from a UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter as they move toward a Forward Operating Base in the village of Darrah-I-Bum, Badghis Province, Afghanistan Jan. 5, 2011. The cadre of personnel accompanied the International Security Assistance Force Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin L. Hill on a visit to the Marines, sailors, and Soldiers of Special Operations Task Force-West living and working in Darrah-I-Bum. (U.S. Marine photo/Sgt. Brian Kester)

Sylvester Stallone created an entire career playing the Warrior archetype, first in the Rocky series and then more directly in the Rambo series. We are fascinated by stories about the warrior archetype, but what happens when you take the warrior out of the war zone?

“Teach a man to kill, as in war, and then you have to recondition him later.
“But during these same wars we also develop another type. He is the born commando, the secret agent, the expendable man who lives on action. There are not many of this kind, and they are potent weapons. In peacetime that particular collection of emotions, nerve, and skills becomes a menace to the very society he has fought to preserve during a war. He is pressured by the peaceful environment into becoming a criminal or a misfit.
 “…History is sentimental about that type–when he is safely dead–but the present finds him difficult to live with.  -Andre Norton, The Time Traders

Writing Prompt: Create a character based on the warrior archetype and place him into a peaceful setting.

Journaling Prompt: Write about someone you know with a strongly expressed warrior archetype.

Art Prompt: Warrior

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience what you believe makes a person a warrior.

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army on Flickr