Writing Prompt: What would you give up for a year? (Plus, a giveaway)


Thanks to everyone who wrote a story in response to my falling-book SOS last week. All the names were put into the magic Promptly hat, and a random drawing has produced one swag claimant: Jackie Reuter. (Jackie, can you e-mail your address to me at writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line?)

Still, even with those books finding a new home, I continue to be at a heightened risk of falling objects. So let’s do one more giveaway.

Post a story (500 words or fewer) in response to today’s prompt any time between now and next Wednesday, and we’ll randomly draw a new name to receive a stack of books.

If you’re having trouble with the captcha code sticking and can’t get your story to post, e-mail it to wdsubmissions@fwmedia.com with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up.

WRITING PROMPT: 365 Days
Something happened. As a result, you’ve decided to give something up for an entire year. Write a scene detailing the cataclysmic event, or the struggle to keep the vow you made.




Are you a late-night writer? Check out our Successful Nighttime Novelist Premium Collection. Sharpen your night writes with three craft books, the WD weekly planner, our 12 Weeks to a First Draft independent study course, our Start Your Story Right webinar, and an issue of Writer’s Digest magazine focused on creativity—all at 72 percent off. (Limited-time offer, only 50 are available. Click here for more info.)

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18 thoughts on “Writing Prompt: What would you give up for a year? (Plus, a giveaway)

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  7. Suzanne Clements

    She was fading. The baby was a healthy girl, now squalling in the corner as the nurse cleaned her off. But my sister was fading. Her eyes had a far-away, glazed look and the blood just kept pouring out. The doctor asked us to leave the delivery room. I bent down to kiss her on the forehead, as she weakly clutched my hand.

    “Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s just a precaution. Everything’s fine.” They were trite words, but they seemed to soothe her. I just wished I could believe them myself.

    Out in the waiting room, Mom was filling the family in on the situation. I knew there would be a blow-by-blow account of what had happened so far and then endless speculation on what was going to happen next. Our aunts would soon have my sister dead and buried and be waging a custody battle for the baby.

    I didn’t feel up to the questions and deliberation, so I slipped into a small chapel to the right of the waiting room. We had never been a religious family, but it seemed like an appropriate time to give prayer a try. After soaking in the silence for a few moments, I began to talk to a God I had lost touch with some time ago.

    “Dear Heavenly Father, it’s me, Jane. I know you’re not into making bargains with humans, especially not ones who mostly ignore you unless they’re in trouble. So this is not a bargain. It’s more of a pledge. If you help my sister pull through this, I pledge to give up men for a year. And alcohol. And I’ll go to church every Sunday. I make that vow to you. Just please let her live. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”

    After taking a few minutes to contemplate what I’d just promised, I returned to the waiting room. Mom met me with a relieved smile. “I was just coming for you. She’s doing just fine.”

    And that is the story of how I came to be a temporary nun.

  8. Brandi Strand

    “Her body just can’t digest milk protein.” That’s what the doctor said to me after my baby kept spitting up. I’d ingest some diary and through my breastmilk, she’d suffer the consequences.

    “Will she ever grow out of it?”

    “In about a year. She’ll be fine!” The doctor was very reassuring, however, she didn’t understand my addiction to vanilla bean ice cream.

    I wasn’t about to give up nursing my young baby, so I gave up all-things milk instead. Just like that. No more cheese, no more ice cream, no more chocolate. The first few days were tough. Many of the things I make for dinner contain dairy of some variety. The half eaten container of delicious creamy goodness was calling out to me from the freezer. Friends began to make things like, Buttery Cheesy Potatoes. The turkey on my sandwiches were lonely and sad without their cheesy companion.

    The days turned into weeks and weeks into months. I had to start reading labels for those hidden dairy elements, weary of the words “Derived from milk.” Family began to take sympathy on me and started making “special” dishes that contained no dairy.

    Milk, ice cream and cheese were still in the house. My son is addicted to all things cheese. He loves milk. My husband has a glass of chocolate milk every night. Temptation was surrounding me, but one look at my smiling baby told me that it was worth the abstinence. She was finally happy, no stomach aches were keeping her up at night.

    Three hundred and sixty eight days later, the day came when the doctor cleared Izzie of her diet restrictions. “I don’t see why you couldn’t try giving her some yogurt or cheese.” Those words were music to my ears. I was elated.

    I started slowly. Cheese on my sandwich here, a little bit of ranch dressing there. The big day came when I gave her some of my ice cream. A direct dose of the stuff that inflicted her tiny little body for months. Her first little spoonful was met with much anticipation. In a full spoon went, out it came clean. The smile on her face and the peaceful night’s sleep told me everything was going to be alright.

  9. Heather Adcock

    It stared at me, following my every move around the kitchen like a cat eying its prey. I could feel it watching me from its perch beside the refrigerator. The dishes clanked against each other loudly as I set them one by one into the dishwasher. My hands shook.
    I could almost smell it behind me.
    I paused, the last dish in my hand. It was a large coffee mug, a black Japanese pattern curled around it and down the handle. It was my favorite. In the four years since I got it not a day had past that I hadn’t used it.
    I could hear John’s voice in my head. He was laughing at me. Laughing at my mug.
    “That thing never leaves your side! How many cups do you have a day? Five? Six?”
    Ten, I thought, though I never would have told him that.
    “You couldn’t quit if you tried!”
    I sucked in a breath, tossing the mug into the dishwasher and slamming the door shut. Before I could think about what I was doing I spun, snatching the aluminum can which had stalked my every move from its spot on the shelf.
    I heard the contents rattling around inside. The scent wafted even through the sealed lid.
    I felt my resolve weaken slightly but then I heard John’s laughter again and my face hardened.
    Pushing the back door open I flung the can into the trashcan and slammed the lid shut. I felt myself strengthen as soon as the can was out of sight.
    I’ll show John I can, I thought to myself. Then who’ll be the one laughing?

  10. Carol Kalmes

    My dad was the kindest person I had ever known. He truly must have believed ‘If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing,’ because I can’t remember him ever having said an unkind word to or about anyone.

    During his last days he suffered horribly. His body was crippled with arthritis and his 88-year-old body had withered to under 100 pounds. The pain he suffered would have made the most saintly angry and bitter. Yet, he bore his pain and still managed a smile every day.

    On his final day we gathered around him, assuring him he had lived a good life. When he took his last breath I made a silent promise that I would try my best to be like him.

    I began my quest the next morning to bring sunshine into every life I met. It rained that first day! I made excuses. I was tired. I was sick. I was sick and tired. I vowed to make the next day different. I would change every complaint into gratitude and every sarcastic remark into a compliment. Within hours more anger and bitterness seeped from my mouth than oil from a leaky gasket.

    I tried little tricks. I put a rubber band on my wrist and snapped it each time I thought of uttering an unkind word. My wrist was bright red by mid morning. I tried avoiding the people most likely to irritate me. My world shrank to thimble size. I was beginning to believe I was not a very nice person.

    So I looked hard at my dad’s life. He must have held some magic on getting through each day without complaining or criticizing. He must have had some secret way to dispel all his negative emotions. Maybe his life was so much easier than mine and he had nothing to complain about. Even if that were true, he still found good in people where most would find only fault.

    Then one day I sat contemplating it and I heard his voice from above. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That was his magic. That was what got him through each day without getting dragged down to the level of the whiners and complainers. He looked at each person and situation and thought, ‘how would I like to be treated right now’ and that is how he would treat them. He would be hope for the hopeless. He would love the unloveable. He brought joy to the saddened.

    With this revelation I felt I had been given a second chance. I had been let in on the secret. I got up the next day and dressed in a new attitude. I was going to live by the golden rule. Only 364 days to go!

  11. Sam Webb

    Spring, the word alone makes me happy. Sloughing off winter clothes, seeing the first brave crocus, and driving the new convertible which Steven and I had purchased in the middle of winter from an overly generous dealer who was more than eager to unload the previous year’s inventory.

    My mother was excited, as expected, when I called her. “We’ll have to pick a date to go out together. I bet Gram and Gramp would love to go. It’ll be our own little convertible parade.”

    “After we have a chance to break it in Mom.”

    “Of course dear. Now be careful to follow instructions for the top. Remember when Gramp’s ripped off.” I giggled and assured her we would be careful.

    Finally, our long anticipated Saturday get away arrived. We set out mid-morning for a nearby state park that featured gorgeous views and roads built for our sporty car. As if on command the sun shone against a clear brilliant blue sky.

    “You know,” I remarked at one point, yelling a bit to be heard. “I’ve spent the whole time looking up. We could have done this in town.”

    “But not this,” said Steven grinning as he jammed the pedal. Clearly, he was enjoying this every bit as much as I was.

    By four we reluctantly agreed to put the top up and head home. “Want to go out for dinner?” Steven asked as we stopped at a light, “all this fresh air has worn me out.”

    “Sure. You drove, your choice.”

    It was the last thing I said to him as an eighteen-wheeler smashed into the back of our car. The scrunching, grinding sound was so overwhelming and sudden that neither of us even screamed and the police assured me Steven died instantaneously.

    I was almost a year physically recovering between surgeries and rehab. Personally I was a wreck. Somewhere along the way my occasional evening glass of wine became an every evening glass of wine.

    My shrinking social calendar fueled an almost manic desire in friends and co-workers to find activities for me. By the time the company blood drive came around I gave in to the well meaning assurances that helping others would be good for me.

    About two weeks later I received a letter from the health department. The screening test showed Hepatitis C antibodies. After an exhaustive round of tests and labs my doctor determined it had to be one of my numerous transfusions. Treatment needed to begin immediately and would last most of a year.

    Somehow the worst part was not that I would have to give myself interferon injections three times a week. No, the worst part was giving up alcohol. No Steven, no alcohol, it all seemed doomed to failure. Tomorrow I would be forced to begin yet a new phase of my life and I wasn’t ready for it. But tonight, tonight I would curl up in Steven’s favorite chair and finish my last bottle of wine.

  12. Athena Franco

    One year. Only one year. Of course, while you lived that year, those 365 days felt like an eternity.

    At least it hadn’t been a leap year.

    One year ago, Gilbert had made the decision. Or rather, the decision had been made for him. The bottle, or his family. Strange the way the former had taken on the qualities the latter should have filled. How he had come home each night, looking forward to some time spent alone with his friends Jack and Jameson. The bottle, with its smooth glass sides and liquid center, would welcome him into its embrace like a lover.

    But when Meredith had left and taken the twins with her, Gilbert knew it was time for a severance of friendship.

    It hadn’t been easy. There were nights when the choice seemed to be between the bottom of the bottle or the bottom of the river. It was only the faint memories of two small faces that kept him from either.

    And now it had been a year. Only one year. One entire year. He’d marked each day, patiently, methodically making large red x’s on the calendar until he reached his 365th x. It was only then that he allowed himself, with a trembling hand, to pick up the phone.

  13. Heather Lawton

    Cheryl stood on the opposite site of the courtyard from where she normally spent her lunch hour. She watched the smokers huddled together, trying to get that quick cigarette, before they froze from the frigid weather.
    The power of a cigarette is something that she had become very familiar with. A smoker for 15 years, she knew that she needed to quit. She had tried over and over again. Each attempt ended the same. Failure.
    So far, it had been two weeks since her last cigarette. She could already feel it drawing her back in. The smell of a cigarette was still so fresh in her memory. It only strengthens the urge to light up again.
    She made a vow to stop. She needed to honor that. If she could only make it to a year, she knew that she would be okay. She needed to do this. It was her mother’s dying wish.
    That should make it easy. She knew this. It was for her mother, who died way too young from lung cancer. A cigarette could never be worth losing all those years of life.

  14. Shara Darke

    “Katy, you HAVE to do this! We are lucky that he didn’t take away your phone! I am blocking you RIGHT NOW, so that you won’t be tempted!” Mel sounded as exasperated as Katy felt. “We’ve actually made it for three months!”

    Katy wanted to cry. Her father was SO unfair! “Just because I posted ONE little note on Facebook—“

    “—that embarrassed your family in front of five million people and made the news all over the internet!” interjected Mel.

    “—doesn’t mean that he has the right to take my whole life away from me! No Facebook? No texting? No Twitter? And even EMAIL? Seriously, he has RUINED me!” She choked back a sob. “I can’t live like this.”

    Mel’s voice softened under her best friend’s duress. “Come on, Katy,” she cajoled, “we get three months in Italy, all six of us, if only you can do this for nine more months.”

    Katy thought back through the ordeal that had led to this call. She had posted her feelings on her page about a run-in with the members of the family company’s Board, and it had made headlines in Africa. She hadn’t meant to do that. She had just been angry at the pompous, overstuffed—she cut those thoughts off. Well, Daddy had found out about it, of course. She had removed the post, but it was too late. So her father had chosen an impossible punishment. She had to avoid any form of social networking for one whole year. Emails to and from family and professors only. Relegated to hearing what was happening in her social circles after everyone else … this was too much.

    Her father had softened a bit when she had started crying, and offered her and her best friends an all-expense-paid trip to Italy, WITH trendy shopping sprees and the works. One year. The punishment? Fail, and be cut off from the family money forever. That would mean that she would have to get a… job. One year. What had she been thinking?

    She had called Mel, because the login screen to Facebook was staring back at her from the computer screen. A few keystrokes and she could be back in-the-know.

    “Alright, Mel, I’ll be good. I’ve gotta go.” She hung up quickly.

    Her tears hit the pillow before she did.

  15. Janel

    "Where did you learn to put on makeup? Clown school?"

    Janice tipped the wicker basket of lipstick into the trash bag. An escapee rolled across the floor and slammed into the side of the bathtub. The glittery, coral-colored lipgloss tube glowed like a lightbulb.

    "Do you use cosmetic brushes or a palette knife?"

    Her vision blurred with tears as she plucked bottles of foundation, concealer and bronzer out of the medicine cabinet. She dropped them into the bag, miniature bombs that popped like gunshots as they smacked onto the hardwood floor and other containers.

    "You know, Halloween is over."

    She looked in the mirror. Black streaks of mascara striped her cheeks. She opened the vanity drawer and grabbed handfuls of eyeliner and mascara. They clattered into the trash bag.

    A package of allergy medicine and a bottle of makeup remover were the only things left in the medicine cabinet. Janice grabbed a cotton ball and soaked it with the remover. She began circling it across her forehead. One after another, she saturated cotton balls and removed her makeup. A dozen of them piled on the counter in a rainbow of colors: flesh-tone, black, robin’s egg blue.

    Her mother insisted that she could not leave the house unless she had her “face” on. A slick of lipgloss and a little mascara were never enough. She applied concealers and foundation until her face was a perfect, monotone canvas. Next came the colorful eye shadow, thick Kohl eyeliner and garish hues of lipstick. Glowing patches of blush completed the routine.

    Janice loved her mother. As a little girl she sat on the edge of the bathtub, watching her put on her makeup in the bathroom mirror. When the show was over her mother always brushed a bit of powder onto Janice’s cheeks. She wanted to be her mother when she grew up.

    Now she was grown up. She emulated mother’s makeup routine for years. Instead of feeling pretty and confident the cosmetic overload brought ridicule and teasing. She couldn’t take it anymore. She wanted to be known for her intelligence, not her face. Maybe she could blend in and be normal if she didn’t look like a cartoon character.

    She tied the top of the trash bag. Last night she resolved not to wear makeup for a year. It wouldn’t be easy, but sending the temptation away in the garbage truck would make it easier. So would the picture of the clown she taped to the medicine cabinet’s door.

  16. Dare Gaither

    Mary Katherine’s sewing room was spooky.
    It was the perfect place to do my taxes.
    After last year’s post office disaster, I swore
    I would give up my haphazard record-keeping
    for this entire year. I even got some file folders
    and a box to keep them in. I refused to miss
    the midnight mailing deadline again!
    365 days later, the moment of truth had arrived.

    All year I had kept each scrap of paper even
    remotely related to a “taxable event.”
    My bulging “tax stuff” folder made a loud thud
    as it hit the table. Everyone said I should join the
    21st century and file online. I prefer to do it the
    old-fashioned way with calculator and pencils,
    as Congress and the Devil intended!

    Our local post office would still be open until midnight.
    I would be there in plenty of time to score the coveted
    April 15th postmark. Mary Katherine was at her friend’s
    house under solemn oath not to return til after that
    fateful hour had passed. She doubted I could make it.
    Infidel! I would prove her wrong!
    I rolled up my sleeves and set to work.

    Once I overcame the fear of starting,
    the hardest part was organizing my “stuff.”
    After that it was just a matter of following
    instructions and filling out the form.
    I checked my math. Twice.
    I signed the form.
    I gritted my teeth and wrote the cursed check.
    Taking a deep breath, I looked up at the clock.
    10:55pm.
    I was shocked!
    I had seemed longer than that.
    The post office was only 10 minutes away.
    I even had time for a cold beer to celebrate.

    I felt good as I grabbed my keys and headed for the door.
    I was already anticipating Mary Katherine’s apology for doubting me
    when she nearly ran over me in the driveway.
    She was home early.

    She rolled down the window and smiled.
    “You’re back already?”

    “I’m just leaving. I’ve still got 45 minutes til midnight.”

    Mary Katherine shook her head.
    “No, you….”
    Suddenly her eyes widened and she blushed deep red.
    Good! She should feel ashamed for doubting me!

    “You were in the sewing room, weren’t you?” She asked warily.

    I nodded.
    “It was the perfect place. I was done with an hour to spare.”
    I tried not to look too smug.

    “Not exactly,” she said, shaking her head slowly.

    “What do you mean?” Cold fear gripped my heart.

    She stuck her arm out the car window, showing me her watch.

    “I never reset that clock after the Spring time change.
    It’s actually 12:15am….April 16th!”

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