Writers seem to either love or loathe writing prompts.
Those of us who love them probably use them to focus, or to explore, or just to write when we feel uninspired or stuck on another project.
Those of us who loathe them might feel constrained by their specificity, or think there are no original prompts out there, or just don’t want to be “told” what to write about.
At the Center, we embrace prompts. We offer 52 of them as a free download when you join our email list community, and we wrote every single one of them in-house. Within that email list community, we do a monthly photo prompt contest. If you’re seeking writing prompts, or even if you’re skeptical of them, we hope you’ll check ours out.
However you feel about writing prompts, here are some tips for getting the most out of them:
Know why you’re using a prompt.
Check in with your writer self. Are you completely blocked? The right prompt could get you writing again, especially if you commit to a free write and don’t think too hard about what you’re putting down. The best way to un-block is to go with the proverbial flow, and prompts can be a great for that.
Trying to take a break from a work-in-progress? The right prompt could be a nice distraction or could even inspire the current project.
Need to revise a problematic piece? Using a prompt as a template might help you trim and re-shape an existing piece in interesting ways.
Feeling playful? The right prompt could make for a fun writing session where you generate a piece of writing unlike anything you’ve ever done before.
So what’s “the right prompt”?
Look for quality prompts.
It’s easy to say, “Write about a meaningful day” or “Write a letter to a deceased loved one.” These more generic prompts might get you writing for a day or so, but for many of us, they aren’t enough. They aren’t specific enough. They don’t inspire. They don’t show us anything that we can use as a jumping-off point. They don’t ground us in any concrete imagery, like the writing we hope to produce with them should.
Look for original prompts that are well-written themselves, that engage your senses and stimulate your imagination. Or write your own prompts! Use favorite books and stories to start a list of plot lines and character traits to emulate, or situations/scenes you can alter. Keep your original list of prompts handy for when you hit a writing slump.
Make the prompt your own.
If you choose someone else’s prompt and are feeling limited, revise it! Don’t think you have to strictly adhere to the prompt as it is written. Change specifics before you start writing; or, if you get on a roll and don’t seem to be writing in response to the prompt anymore, just go with it. The purpose of a prompt is just to get you writing. If you’re writing, the prompt has worked for you.
But maybe you need some limitations. Maybe you are challenged by strict parameters, and writing within them has helped you produce pieces that make you proud. Those of us who thrive under pressure, generate their best work on deadline, and think busy days are good days might really enjoy and benefit from sticking to prompts as they are written.
Whether you change the prompt or not, you have an opportunity to write something you might not otherwise have written. Stay open to receiving the inspiration prompts can provide.
Writing prompts—do you rely on them or avoid them? Have you or will you try any of ours, and if so, which one(s)? Share with us in the comments.
Related reading: Write your way out of a rut
Want to receive tips and inspiration like this in your inbox every Sunday morning? Subscribe to our email list! And when you do, not only will you get a year’s worth of weekly writing prompts as a FREE download, but you’ll be eligible to participate in our monthly photo prompt contest for a chance to share an original piece of writing with our community of over 1,500 subscribers!