Ripped from the New York Times: Inspiring Lives Prompts

In our continued celebration of the National Day on Writing, we’re working with the New York Times Learning Network to bring you a writing event ripped from the paper’s pages.

For this feature, we’re asking you to use first lines we’ve collected below—all taken from the “Lives” column, the long-running essay series that appears in the back of the New York Times Magazine each week—as jumping-off points for your own stories, essays, plays, memoirs or poetry.

Update!!! The ever-discerning folks at the New York Times Learning Network and your loving Figment team have been so impressed by the books you’ve submitted so far for “Inspiring Lives” that we’ve decided you need a little recognition. So we’re taking the advice of Figgie Jane Doe and giving the best of the best some quality time on the Figment homepage. If you haven’t already contributed, get going and submit your entry by November 10 (at 11:59 p.m. ET). Voting will run November 11-17 and the top ten most-hearted will go to the New York Times Learning Network team, which will choose its fave five. The winners will be announced on the Learning Network and be featured on the Figment homepage.

How to Submit:
1. Sign up for an account on Figment
2. Write your entry.
3. Tag it “InspiringLives” on the “Details” tab
4. Press “Publish Now.”
5. In about two hours or so, your story will appear among the submissions.

So choose a line below to start your new piece with, then see where it takes you . . .


Mornings are not our best family moments. (From Mother’s Little Helper)

I was 6 when my brother John leaned across the kitchen table and casually whispered that he had killed Santa Claus. (From A Rat’s Tale)

Last winter, after more than three decades of silence, I desperately wanted to see my mother before it was too late. (From The Most-Hated Son)

I don’t think anything would rattle the mother of a preteen boy quite like the words my 12-year-old uttered this spring: “Mom, we need to talk,” he said. (From The Missing-Piece Son )

I am parked in a rental car in front of the house where I grew up. (From Previous Address)


I’m not your typical undergraduate. (From The Re-Education of an Amnesiac)

In junior high school, I was bullied. (From Geekdom Revisited)

Prom. Graduation. Summer job. I wanted all three to complete my high-school days in iconic American fashion before heading off to college. (From Pancake Chronicles)

Patrick was the sort of student who made a teacher curious. (From The Lost Student)


I don’t care if it’s good for you, because to me kale has always been a four-letter vegetable. (From On This Farm There Was Animosity)


It’s impossible to look cool when you’re part of a tour group. (From In Too Deep)

In three days, I saw, heard and ate things that you see, hear and eat only on a 3,280-mile Greyhound trip across the United States. 
(From The Perfumed Cuban)

Not very long ago I was in New York for a few weeks and decided to get a tattoo while I was there. (From Under My Skin )

When I travel alone, my preference is to keep it that way. (From Strangers on a Train)


It had rained heavily the night before. (From The Letting Go)

It was an impossibly pristine Sunday afternoon. (From Online Mainline)


He friended me just after Thanksgiving, Week 13 of regular-season football this year. (From A Brief Electronic Affair)

Paul was one of my best friends in high school, but we drifted apart after graduation. (From High-School Redux)

One day this past summer, I logged on to Facebook and realized that I was very close to having 700 online “friends.” (From Facebook in a Crowd)

It was a given that we would be conspicuous. (From The Art of Losing )

Messages and Visitors

I was vacuuming the bedroom one afternoon some months back when I moved a few books aside and spotted a dusty old scrap of paper. (From ‘Bunch Muncherasi MD’)

The young man who came to see me a few months ago didn’t knock but stood at the doorway to my office. (From First Love, Once Removed)

I had almost forgotten I’d sent in an application when the e-mail message appeared, like Mr. Big, out of nowhere. (From Sects and the City)

Gorilla Suits and Cosmic Forces

There were a couple of dozen costumes to choose from — Superman and spaceman and muscleman and Popeye and, inexplicably, Baby Huey — but unless the customer had something specific in mind, I went with the gorilla suit every time. (From The Monkey Suit)

Cosmic forces have a way of turning up the heat to make us change. (From The Tractor Driver or the Pothead? )


36 thoughts on “Ripped from the New York Times: Inspiring Lives Prompts

  1. Yes! Finally an essay contest! I love reading essay books, like Sedaris and such. Our English textbook this year is all essays and I just read them in my free time.

    Is there a word limit?

    • November 10 is the deadline. There are no judges and no prizes, because it’s not a contest, but it’s a great writing event to get you inspired! 🙂 Have fun.

    • November 10 is the deadline for submissions. There isn’t any judging, because it’s not a contest, but it’s a great writing event to get you inspired! 🙂 Have fun.

  2. Sounds pretty cool, I might have to try it out 🙂

    and… not to sound rude or anything, but wow how many times does the same question have to be asked? 4 deadline questions and 4 judging/prize questions.

  3. So this contest is not really a contest at all!? Well now I’m angry 🙁 I thought this was a contest since it was listed under…contests 🙁

  4. Ok, first I agree it should be posted on the blog not the contest page… but oh well. second– since this isn’t a contest, can we change the sentences a little bit? Or use more than one?

  5. This was really disapointing because I thought this was gonna be the first contest I entered, and I have the most hearts, but apparently it’s not being judged…. 🙁 Make that more clear next time. Is there anyway you could convert it into a judged contest, or move it out of the contests section?

  6. I think you should at least pick some favorites to put on the homepage. It’s great you’re trying to inspire people, but why bother with a deadline if it’s just for fun? You might as well have just told us to use a random sentence from a book to write about on the blog for ideas.The homepage is a pretty big deal on Figment so that’d be a great thing to win!

  7. There was a boy, name Dan. Dan was thirteen and has straight A’s in every single one of His classes, after school he goes to the animal shelter and feed, and baths the animals. His dream job is to be a veterinarian, he loves animals so much. For a seventh grader, he is very generous and kind to anything and everybody on this earth.
    He was getting ready for school and all of the sudden he hears his mom screams. He got quickly dressed and ran to her and he sees his dad on his favorite chair not breathing all he could do was staring. He was very shocked; he couldn’t believe that his dad wasn’t moving. His mom is a nurse and was trying to save him. Dan’s mom and Dad have been together for almost 20 years. He could see how much pain was in her eyes. His mom told him to call 911, but he knew it might be too late but he does what his mom asks him.
    The ambulance came and they did the same procedures that Dan’s mom did. His mom pulled him to his room and tried to calm him down. He didn’t realize he was crying, till he felt a tear coming down in his room. One of the workers came in the room and told them that he was gone. Dan burst into tears and really asks, “Is he really gone?” The worker nod his head yes. All of a sudden he feels his heart break into two. Dan and his farther were really close. He felt was numb and that no one understands what he goes through.
    A week later, he went back to school and hand in all of his own work. He was a good student and he kept doing his work even though what happen. All of his friends where there for him and so where his teacher and the principle. He still did the same things before his farther died and he will continue. He won’t let his dream of becoming a veterinarian die. He tries his hardest to go to high school and go to college, so that way his farther won’t be disappointed. Even today he makes his farther proud. He went to college and became a veterinarian.

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