February 2017


BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz Alice Lowe.jpgBy Alice Lowe

You hate writing from prompts, because you’re no good at it, because despite the human brain’s instantaneous capacity to absorb new input and coordinate an appropriate response, you cannot put pencil to paper with any degree of intelligence or coherence. Within seconds of hearing a prompt—prompts like “write about saying goodbye” or “riding the all-night train” or “a pool of blue water”—all potentially interesting and challenging topics—you’re at a loss, stammering internally, increasingly anxious as a fleeting memory or opening line evades you, as any possible direction remains out of reach.

You look around the table—prompt-writing usually takes place in a small group around a table—you look around as the prompt is being read, and at the dropped voice, the sound of the concluding period (or ellipsis) ending the prompt, it’s as if a starting shot has been fired, heads down, pens and pencils moving in notebooks with seeming constancy…

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How did I come to write about 19th-century Arctic exploration? It started with a song, as I explain in my essay “The Idea of North.” One thing led to another, and I was off on a tangent of research & reading, trying to make sense of such a diverse body of findings.

Surely, some might think, she’s not going to be able to fit Virginia Woolf into this one! But my work has a strong literary component, and Woolf belongs by virtue of my quest starting while I was staying in her home village and by a not-surprising-when-you-think-about-it connection in A Room of One’s Own.

The result was this piece, just published in The Baltimore Review, but my fascination with the subject continues, and I continue to read about polar ice and cold and the people who pursue it from the safety of sunny San Diego. Read “The Idea of North” here.