Writing prompts are a great way to begin a writing session; I think of it a bit like a vocal artist warming up her voice by singing scales.
And, unlike the improvisations of a vocalist, the result of our intellectual calisthenics persists, whether in a digital file or scribbled in a notebook ready to be mined later.
I just finished reading a great article about writing prompts written by Simon Kewin called Writing Prompts 101.
Simon notes that one of the wonderful things about prompts is that what you write in response to a prompt can be entirely unstructured.
You can jot down ideas in point form--or even words--and use the prompt to begin free associating.
The prompt is there to give your writing a place to start, an initial focus.
You may just come up with rough, disjointed notes or you may end up with something more polished and complete, a scene or even a complete story. The point is to simply start writing without being held back by any inhibitions or doubts.So, why use writing prompts? Simon writes (I'm paraphrasing):
1. Defeat Writer's Block
Imagine you're hard at work on a murder mystery and, for some reason, the words have stopped flowing. This happens to me sometimes when I reach the "and stuff happens here" part of my outline.
Simon writes that a way to re-prime your idea pump (as it were) is sometimes to do a short and entirely unrelated piece of writing.
Set your alarm for 5 or 10 minutes and write to a prompt. Afterward, go back to your story. Keep in mind that if, suddenly, you start getting ideas for your story you can just go with it! You just have to write for 5 or 10 minutes, it can be unrelated to the prompt. The prompt is just there to start you writing, to give you that initial idea.
2. Gives You NEW Ideas
Ever had an idea just out of reach? Sometimes taking a break and allowing ourselves to do unstructured writing lets these sort of ideas connect with our conscious mind.
3. Helps Get You Into The Habit Of Writing
Simon suggests we think of our daily writing as an excersize regime to help build our writing 'muscles'. After a couple of weeks you'll find writing easier and you'll be able to write longer.
4. Community Involvement
Various websites publish a daily writing prompt and provide space for writers to show what they wrote or just chat with other writers.
This can be a great way to meet folks interested in the same things you are. Simon suggests these sites:
Developing Your Own Writing Prompts
- Read news stories. Sometimes I think: Oh, this would have been a great story if only ...
- Visit Flickr and look at images. What just happened? What will happen?
- Cloud gazing. What do you see? (By the way, cloud gazing works with any random phenomena.)
- Listen to a song. What was the song about? What was the theme?
If you have a writing prompt you'd like to share, please do! :-)
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Photo credit: "Four Storms And A Twister" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.