Reflections on using Stimuli from some NCW Group Members

~ just to reassure you that we’re all the same ~  

I don’t know if it’s an age thing or something that’s always been present with me but when I’m put on the spot in a class situation, I always become a blithering idiot and this translates into the ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ initial reaction I experience most weeks  …… and sometimes the rabbit has myxomatosis which makes it even worse and impossible for the rabbit to move at all!  However, once the lights dampen down I can usually get my brain in gear and produce something, but nothing particularly creative at the time. The words are usually mundane, the images full of clichés, the ideas not very original and I’m only just beginning to form any sort of cohesive structure when time’s up and it’s pens down. I’m always amazed at what others are able to produce in the allotted time ….. and totally blown away by some. 

However, having said that I can see the absolute value of going through the stimuli experience. I think the learning element of hearing the other pieces read out as well is essential if I want to progress ….. and afterwards I can reflect on the whole session and learn from it …… and surely that is the purpose of it all. 

Janet Peace

So, we writers are brimming with ideas continuously. We certainly don’t need artificial starter packs to blew up a story or rattle out a vintage poem. We do our own yeast. Right? Well, maybe for some of us but being open to stimuli creates more possibilities. How often have I seen lift-off on the back of a photograph, a painting, the first line of a story, an imagined scenario. Sometimes serendipity plays its part. The stimulus is exactly what we’ve been looking for. It’s heaven sent. A piece is conceived as a result of what could be described as an arranged marriage. But it gains integrity and grows exponentially. The writer forgets its origin but is captured by his or her creation. The stimulus has done its job. So too has the one who prepared and offered it. Thanks to all sifters and delvers who week by week come up with fresh arm jogs. Something creative happens in the right setting. Something about mind focus and high definition, concentration and compression. We are talking keys and unlocking here. ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ Doubtless CD got this one from his Creative Writing tutor! 

James Simpson

 In life I like to know where I am going and how I am to get there. 

Being encouraged to write from stimuli with time limits has made me realize that when writing one does not need to know how it will end before the beginning is written.   Conquer the fear – just  start! 

The variety in the stimuli has encouraged me to allow my imagination to take me down paths I would otherwise never have explored. 

Yvonne Hamilton

For me, stimulus writing performs several magical feats. It helps when I feel blocked, just getting something on the page can break that spell. It encourages and challenges me to think in ways and about topics I would not usually address in my writing. And probably the most important thing to me about writing under pressure is that it can throw up work that is worth revisiting and developing further, even if is only a line or two that has caught the imagination. 

Geraldine Fleming


On the matter of stimulus writing in the Group! 

What do those ten minutes of stimulus writing in class mean to me, “it’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the chase!” Can I in those 600 seconds , write something coherent, can I produce something someone would want to hear? Can a sonnet arise, perhaps a haiku, maybe a piece of micro fiction? It might be serious, it might be fun, could be a polemic, could be nonsense.

 I see what I write as ephemeral, I rarely go back and revise something, so those 600 seconds (sounds more when you express it in seconds) really count.

 One a sad note, I realise I might have done more of my homework when at school. I mean ten minutes is probably a precis on a whole chapter of Aeneas and Turnus! 

Ian Turnbull


Writing in response to Stimuli 

I have found the stimuli very interesting, though I’ve had trouble at times selecting an item from a long list. 

I see from my notes that I’ve picked items depending on how quickly I can get into the story and finish. 

I have not been inspired to poetry by the stimuli.  Yet. 

Helen Hand (only 5 months in NCW)


For me this process involves letting myself stand aside, disappear, float away. In my place another energy can access me, and I am just the instrument for the creative process to flow through. Sometimes, the stimuli create conflict and both sides of my brain clamour to conjure something at once but if I relax and let the images rise of their own accord they will almost always jump from the brain to the pencil and form something salvageable. In fact, stimuli whether pictures, words, cluster writing or a song can almost always lead me to a place where I can begin the birthing process of my thoughts and rearrange them into the bare bones of a new-born story. 

Mae Gardiner

I often look forward to the stimuli as it makes me write, though sometimes when I see the offered titles, phrases or symbols I can see or feel nothing for a while. The 10-minute slot makes me go into areas or ideas I would never think of myself, being too stuck in the here and now and realism. The joy of writing a short piece which is in a different genre especially when I get some positive feedback is great. Many are consigned to the bin but a few have led to a story, that feels good. 

Brenda McAteer

 Stimuli prompt you to take creative journeys you might not have previously considered, catapulting you into trying out new subjects, styles or genres of writing. You are forced to plant a seed you have not chosen yourself, to tend and nurse it through to a harvest of some sort in an impossibly short time. The results can be surprising. There may well be nine weedy, unpromising shoots, but occasionally there will be one with the potential to blossom into a flower. 

Rhona Stevens


A stimulus from outside your own mind serves the purpose of training your mind to react to an idea planted there not immediately from your own imagination but by someone or something else. It releases your imaginative and thinking juices just as a dish prepared by somebody else can release your digestive juices. L’appétit vient en mangeant. How you react to a given stimulus and the thought processes you go through in response to it will all depend on your personal experiences, emotions and literary experience. It also depends on the time you have to tease out your reaction to it. Some people can react quickly and imaginatively while others may be more reflective, need more time and yet may at the end produce something of even greater value. 

Stimuli of different kinds and how you react to them serve a very useful purpose in widening your mind, your imagination, your vocabulary and your style.  

Paul Girvan


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