A Prompt From: Katherine Heiny

A Prompt From: Katherine Heiny


When I first started writing, in my early twenties, I tried to write a story about anything funny that happened to me. Like the time a man eyed me through the sneeze guard of a salad bar in midtown Manhattan and then told me that I wasn’t his type and also that the ends of my hair were brushing Thousand Island dressing. That was it — the whole story.  I couldn’t figure out what to do with it beyond the first paragraph.

Now, many (too many!) years later, I still love it when funny things happen to me.  For example, in the past week:

  • I was so eager to get my second COVID shot that I rushed to my appointment wearing jeans and a turtleneck with tight sleeves and then had to take my shirt off in front of a room full of people. 

  • A man at the dog park gave his dog a ten-minute warning when it was time to leave. (And, no, the man wasn’t being playful or ironic.)

  • My eighteen-year-old son asked me how to work the toaster — he leaves for college soon and I suspect the learning curve for living away from home may be steep.

All of these made me really happy and made me want to write, but the difference is that instead of believing that the incident itself was the inspiration for a story, I’ve learned to let the idea of the incident inspire me. I no longer feel the need to rush to my desk and begin a new piece about something that happened fifteen minutes ago — I just funnel the humor and inspiration into my current project. I may never write a story about the man and his dog and the ten-minute warning, but I’ll always be grateful that it gave me the emotional boost to write that day. And in case you’re wondering — the dog took the news about leaving pretty well.

- Katherine Heiny


About the Author

Katherine Heiny is the author of Standard Deviation and Single, Carefree, Mellow, and her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Narrative, Glimmer Train and many other places. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband and children. Her most recent book is Early Morning Riser, which the Sunday Times called ‘Tender, astute, more funny than I know how to describe and, in places, profoundly sad – Heiny can break your heart alive in one sentence. It takes the tiny stuff of everyday life and makes it big and meaningful. Quiet things become loud. You put the book down and feel glad to be alive’.