The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Matthew Sharpe – Writing Prompt

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Matthew Sharpe



I recently spent about two years writing a lot of very short stories. I started by writing them accidentally and enjoyed it so much that I switched to writing them on purpose. I developed a few guidelines for myself: try to complete a draft in one sitting; don’t worry about not having a single idea in your head when you sit down to write, and also don’t worry about not knowing what will happen in the sentence after the one you’re writing, or even at the end of the sentence you’re writing; aim for the bottom of the well or thereabouts.

I mostly stuck to my own guidelines except when I couldn’t, or couldn’t bear to. I never used the following prompt when I was writing my flash stories. I did, though, extrapolate it from at least two of the stories I ended up writing. Feel free to use all of it or any part of it as suits you.

The prompt:

Someone is on her way to work (the person may be of any gender you choose but I am saying “her” because I find it slightly less objectionable than saying “his” or “their” in this context), and something happens that impedes her from getting to work on time, or at all. As a result of this impediment, the person meets another person she’d otherwise be unlikely to meet. Person Two does and/or says something to Person One that further alters the course of Person One’s relationship to the job she’s on her way to, and maybe not just to the job….

Matthew Sharpe is the author of the novels Jamestown and The Sleeping Father, among others. He teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. He’s posted some of his very short stories at


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