“The First Time I. . . .”—A Writing Prompt

It’s that time again, the start of a new school year. Today, I was on campus for our MFA picnic and orientation. I’d just entered Denney Hall via a side door that was open when I saw two young women peering through the glass doors at the front of the building. I opened the door for them and asked them if they wanted to come inside. One of them said, “She wants to see the room where her English class will meet.” I told them to come in, and I asked them which room they were looking for. “Room 214,” the other young woman said, and I told them how to find it.

I could feel that young woman’s anticipation and excitement. I knew, without having to ask, she was nervous as her college career was about to begin. I knew because she’d taken the time to make sure she knew where she was going for her class. I wish I’d told her I was nervous, too. I’m starting my forty-second year of teaching, and I still get a touch of nerves before those first classes. I’m especially nervous this year because I’m coming back to in-person teaching for the first time in three years when COVID kept me teaching online. I’m also nervous because I’m teaching a course I’ve never taught, one that will require some knowledge of technology, which has never been my strong suit. Like this young woman who was looking for her classroom, I’ll be doing what I can to make sure I’m prepared.

Yes, teachers get nervous, too. Here we are, students and teachers alike, at a time of new beginnings.

With that in mind, here’s a writing prompt you can use to call up new material. This prompt should work for both nonfiction and fiction writers:


  1. Begin a freewrite with the words, “The first time I saw/met. . . .” If you’re writing nonfiction, the “I” will, of course, be you, and you’ll be recalling the first time you saw or met someone you’ve never been able to forget. Maybe you can’t forget them because they’re linked to some experience that still haunts or mystifies you. If you’re writing fiction, you can use this approach for a deeper understanding of your main character and the relationship they have with another important character.


  1. What physical characteristics, mannerisms, or objects are relevant to this first sighting or meeting?


  1. What story or stories can be told about this person?


This is a prompt designed to invite your careful consideration of character. Walt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” What are you curious about when it comes to this person or character you’re recalling? What makes them memorable? What concrete details and particulars make them so?


  1. Iris Breed. Gail’s sister on August 22, 2023 at 8:32 am

    Your students are so fortunate to have you as their teacher/leader!!

  2. Jane Baily on August 23, 2023 at 1:34 am

    Thanks for the prompt. I an TRYING to write every day and this will be a great incentive for me to put pen to notebook!

    • Lee Martin on August 23, 2023 at 1:09 pm

      “First times” can always lead us somewhere fruitful. Keep doing the good work, Jane!

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