Avoiding Crisis

a writing exercise – my first

with 9 comments

I had some time this morning to do some writing.  So, of course, in typical me fashion, I procrastinated.  But, this time, in atypical me fashion, I procrasticated writing by writing.  Get that?  I didn’t write, but I wrote.  Confused? 

See, I was going to write an essay/commentary on the recent discussions of narciscissm, mindsets and praise, but that wasn’t going too well.  So, instead, I decided to try something else.  Something different. 

Not since high school have I written creatively – by that I mean, written something all made up.  Yeah, like fiction.  I don’t really know how to write fiction, with made up characters and dialogue and all that stuff.  I always seem to get the tenses messed up and screw up the narration voice.  But today, today, I thought, was a good day to try something new, even if it didn’t turn out so good.  So I found a writing prompt and completed a writing exercise.  Good practice, I felt.  At least it got me writing instead of just thinking about writing.  

I thought I’d share with you all what I came up with.  And criticism is strongly suggested…just don’t tell me it really sucks and is the worst sort of dribble you’ve ever read.  You might hurt my feelings.  okay? 

Prompt:  Write a scene in which a woman, under no threat of bodily harm, is forced to empty her purse*

Walking out of the store with her 5 year old son in tow, Martha quickly checks to make sure she has everything: a purse hanging securely on her shoulder, a bag of groceries in one hand and her son holding on to the other. She looks at her watch.

“Got everything I need and a bit of time to spare,” she congratulates herself.

Martha was feeling pretty good right about now. They made there way across the parking lot to the car. Skipping, they spoke about their plans for the rest of the day.

Carefully resting the groceries on the ground, Martha lets go of Billy’s hand and tells him to stay close to the car.

“Remember, we’re in a parking lot, Billy. You need to be very careful.”

The phone rings. It’s a friend. They chat. Knowing that she needs to get going, Martha shuffles through the contents of her purse. She cuts the conversation short and hangs up.

Billy waits impatiently, playing with the tire rims.  His hands are black with dirt. Martha shoots him a disapproving look. He stops and shoots her back a sheepish grin. He wipes his hands on his jeans. Martha shakes her head. She turns her attention back to her purse.

“I know I have them in here, somewhere”

She takes out a matchbox car and hands it to Billy.

“Here, play with this.”


“No, Billy. Not now. Play with your car. Okay? Mommy’s busy.”

“But, mom?” Billy repeats in a nagging, whiny voice.

“Please Billy, Mommy’s looking for something very important. I just need you to sit down on the curb and wait. Can you do that for me?”

With his head down, sluggishly, shuffeling his feet along the ground as he walks, Billy does as his mother asks.

Billy plays with the toy car on the sidewalk. He makes an obstacle course out of rocks and trash he has found on the ground. He occasionally glances over at his mother, knowing that he really shouldn’t be playing with trash. She’s not paying attention.  He keeps playing with the trash.

With her back to Billy, Martha has one knee propped up against the trunk of her SUV and her bag is draped over her leg. Martha continues her search. This time with a bit more urgency and a hint of anxiety.

“God damn bag. It’s like a bottomless pit. Why did I buy this bag in the first place? I really need to get something smaller.” She mumbles to herself.

Unable to hold her balance any longer, he squats down and puts the purse on the ground.  She pulls the contents of her bag out – a wallet, day planner, cell phone, two MAC lipsticks, 3 lip glosses, 5 pens, a few crayons and a stack of receipts.  In a matter of seconds, also on the ground are tampons, hairclips and rubber bands, candy, mints, gum, a McDonald happy meal toy and two more matchbox cars, which she throws over in Billy’s direction. With barely anything left in the bag, she flips it inside out emptying the remaining contents on the asphalt. Pocket change and candy wrappers fall to the ground. She checks the pockets. Unzipping and zipping. Tugging, pulling, searching. Nothing. She sits, dejected.

“They’re not in here. Shit. Where could they be?”

She hastily shoves all the items back in her bag, throwing things around without any care.

“Mom?” Billy says, using his sweet-boy voice.

“I told you not now, Billy!” Martha shouts through a clenched jaw.

“But mommy, what are you looking for. Maybe I can help?”

“Oh sweetie, that’s very nice of you but I don’t think you will be able to help.” Martha responds, in a somewhat condescending, mother-knows-best tone. “We have to go back into the store.”

She takes out her cell phone to call her husband. Explaining that she’ll be late to Isabella’s soccer game, she reminds him that she has the juice and cookies for the after game snack. She hangs up. There is a tug on her arm. Snatching her arm away in anger and frustration she snaps at Billy for bothering her.

“But mom…” Billy says a bit fearful of the response.

“What is it Billy? I told you not to bother me right now.”

Leaving the groceries by the car, her day planner on the ground, bits of paper thrown about, she starts to walk briskly back to the store physically pulling Billy along.

They reach the entrance.  Billy stops.

“Come on Billy,” Martha yells. “I don’t have time for your games.”

Billy reaches into his pocket.

Holding out the car keys for his mother to see, he asks, “Is this what you’re looking for?”

 * this prompt was found on writersdigest.com and originanly comes from The Pocket Muse: Endless Inspiration (Writer’s Digest Books) by Monica Wood


Written by nicolemarie

March 30, 2007 at 3:34 pm

9 Responses

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  1. I think it was great. I have to “see it” to feel it – very descriptive, very visual. Just start writing the novel already!!!


    March 30, 2007 at 3:50 pm

  2. Not bad at all – you could definitely build it into something bigger! Maybe the kid just picked up the keys after she left them on the counter. Maybe he’s a devious little *ahem*, who took them out of her bag to play a trick on her. Maybe he has a record of trying to wreck her head! 🙂

    Well described seen, too. I could imagine it really happening.


    March 31, 2007 at 11:23 am

  3. Well described *scene*, sorry.


    March 31, 2007 at 11:25 am

  4. or maybe she handed the keys to him while they were in the store in an attempt to make him feel like a big boy and have some responsibility – or to just distract him from asking for the candy that was siting at the check out counter…


    March 31, 2007 at 2:41 pm

  5. Nicolemarie- this is a great description of the mounting frustration and irritability of the mother, and the let-it-be-dont-interrupt-now attitude of the little boy. A good example of “show, don’t tell” caution to writers. I really was the mother while reading this! Well done!


    March 31, 2007 at 6:42 pm

  6. You’ve got a nice kernel of a story here. It made me think of a short story by Salinger called “Down at the Dinghy”. He really takes his time (in the second half)revealing the complexity of communication between a mother and young son through description of their non-verbal movements. It’s also a good example of getting tense and narrative voice to work in synch. Play around with what you’ve got here. I think there’s still a lot to discover.


    April 1, 2007 at 3:21 pm

  7. all – thanks for the comments. I really enjoyed this exercise and may make it a weekly activity. so, stay tuned.

    And barry, I’ve always enjoyed Salinger so I’ll be sure to take a look at the short story you mention. thanks.


    April 1, 2007 at 8:53 pm

  8. i can totally relate to always losing my keys in my bottomless bags! very impressed for your first exercise!


    April 5, 2007 at 12:25 am

  9. to my dear friend from home…I think it’s about time we both invest in getting smaller bags.


    April 5, 2007 at 4:41 pm

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