The Joy of… Writing Prompts

Ever since I sold FLYAWAY, writing has changed for me. Now it seems that I’m always racing to meet some deadline, either self-imposed or imposed by my editor. Impending publication has made me very product-oriented, and sometimes I forget to enjoy the process. I’ve found that one thing I can do to take me back to the good old days of process-oriented writing is to try my hand at a writing prompt. In case you’re unfamiliar with them, a writing prompt is just like it sounds: an idea-generating poke in the arm that holds the pen.

Writing prompts come in several forms. There’s the simple instruction: “Write about what you love about your mother.” There’s the first sentence prompt: “It was the season of sadness.” There are longer prompts that urge you on to more complicated writing tasks: “Write a paragraph about a favorite activity. Now write the paragraph again, this time in the voice of a character who hates that same activity.” But whatever form they come in, the goal of all writing prompts is the same: to free your imagination and get you started putting words on the page.

I use prompts for several purposes. Sometimes they’re jumpstarts, a way of getting my mind – and my hands – moving when I feel stuck. Sometimes they help me generate new ideas. And sometimes I use them to solve a particular problem in the book I’m writing. In the latter case, I might follow a prompt, but write in the voice of my main character. Having to write outside the story in this way often helps me learn something new about the character and see possibilities for my story that I hadn’t thought of.

So, where do you find writing prompts? They’re easy to find online – just Google “writing prompts” or “creative writing prompts” and you’ll come up with hundreds of hits. One of my favorite online sources is Writer’s Digest. Getting a prompt here is fun because if you come up with something you like, you can post it online for others to read. Another favorite source is writer Jolie Steckly’s blog, Cuppa Jolie. Her “Monday Moments” are perfect for helping you explore characters and issues in your work-in-progress.

But you don’t have to go online for inspiration. There are some great books of prompts, too. A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves gives a prompt for each day of the year.

The Writer’s Idea Book by master writing teacher Jack Heffron is divided into chapters that help you find prompts to address specific issues in your writing. But my absolute favorite prompt book is Writing Open the Mind by Andy Couturier, whose truly out-of the box prompts can’t help but shake your imagination loose.

Do you use writing prompts? If so, what purpose do they serve in your writing? What are your favorite sources?


2 Responses to “The Joy of… Writing Prompts”

  1. Annie says:

    Holy Prompts, Helen! You’ve mentioned books I’ve never heard of and will look up Right Now! When I work with young writers, one of my goals is for them to begin understanding that anything can be a writing prompt.

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