If you’ve never used writing prompts before, it can be a little … weird… figuring out how to use them. It seems like it should be simple: choose a prompt and start writing. But there are some places where a writer can stumble, like putting too much emphasis on perfection or spending too much time on the prompt and not enough on the WIP, so some guidelines may be appreciated.
To wit: how to use a writing prompt.
Get your WIP ready.
Place your WIP near you (or open it in a new window and put it in the background). Gather anything else you will need to work on your WIP near you (Drink? Freshly sharpened pencil? Floor plan for the castle?) and then ignore it. Cover it with something if necessary. You want NO excuses to do anything BUT work on your WIP after the writing prompt.
Choose a prompt.
Stop writing when the timer goes off.
7 minutes works well for me. If you are even more impatient than I am (which, honestly, seems REALLY unlikely), try 5 minutes. If you are a slow writer or typer, try setting a timer for 15 minutes. You need to choose a time that is short enough that it doesn’t eat into your primary writing time, but long enough for you to get warmed up.
Any prompt will do. You can also choose to “free write.” Write whatever comes to mind, stream-of-consciousness fashion. A prompt helps give your thoughts focus, which can be helpful if the blank page stresses you out.
At all. Don’t think about the right word, don’t go back and fix spelling, don’t reread, just write. Don’t stop moving your hand/fingers. Even if you have no idea what to write, just keep writing. Anything.
If you feel yourself getting “stuck” or pausing, try one of these tricks:
Start describing, using all your senses, what is around you. For instance, I am typing this on my deck. Two birds are whistling back and forth to each other, one on my right and one a few houses down on my left. I can just hear car traffic from the lake-road at the bottom of the hill. The awning is down, blocking my view of the sky but I can see the cedar trees and maple trees in front of me, in all their shades of green. My feet are planted on the solid surface of the deck, just a little pebbly, and my bum is slanting forward on the rocking chair, curving my back a LOT and just starting to cause a pinch of pain. I really should sit up straight and maybe start those core exercises I keep thinking about. Just keep writing.
Start over, right where you are. Rewrite/retype the prompt and see where this new start takes you. Rewrite the prompt several times if you must.
Write “I remember I remember I remember” over and over again until you remember something and then start writing that.
Write “I hate this stupid exercise” and why you hate it.
Set a timer for a reasonably short amount of time.
Begin writing and do not stop.
Begin working on your WIP as soon after your exercise as possible.
Save your work, or don’t. (When I start writing about people, possible characters, I save my work. If all I’ve done is whine, I don’t.) Do NOT edit. Don’t even reread. Now is not the time to turn on your editing mind. Now is the time to stay in your creative, writing mind.
You want to start working on your WIP while your creative muscles/energy are high and your critiquing energy is low.
Now, get writing.
Why you should be using writing prompts
I'm Val Serdy, and I'm an editor. I love writing, and I love writing about writing.