A writing prompt is a jumping off point: a series of words, an incomplete sentence, a memory jogger, a picture. A prompt is meant to be provocative. (If a prompt doesn’t spark a thought in your murky brain, it may not the right prompt for you.) It’s meant to give you something that you can write about.
So, a writing prompt is a pretty simple thing. But given its simplicity, why all the attention on writing prompts?
They are powerful. Writing prompts can help you get unstuck, provide story ideas, improve your writing, and more
But, COMMITTING (see what I did there?) to writing to a prompt every day, however, is so much more attainable. It gives you a baby step to the bigger goal you want to achieve, a little practice at writing, a little practice at VALUING your writing enough to schedule time for it, a jog to your brain that this practice is important to you so quit nagging about all those chores that aren’t getting done RIGHT THIS INSTANT.
Just take a deep breath and focus on the words in the prompt.
But I’ve been cooking since I was 12 years old. I have confidence in my abilities, and so, once I silence the starving horde, I eventually realize I can make sloppy joes, or tacos, or baked ziti.
I have that same confidence in my creativity when I’ve written to a few prompts. I always, ALWAYS, am able to write SOMETHING, even if I spend the first seven minutes whining about how I hate this prompt. And coming up with SOMETHING, even if I won’t use it in a story later, always makes me feel more creative, which makes me feel more confident, and, confidence is everything.
If you write to a prompt five days a week, chances are good you’ll get one good idea. If you write five days a week for a month, you’ll have at least four new ideas to pursue when the time comes.
We have an obvious attachment to our WIPs, or else why would we be working on them? And that attachment gives our critic all the ammunition it needs to cow us into not writing. If you can begin your writing session by writing to a prompt, however, you give your creative mind time to wake up before your critical mind can squash it. You aren’t attached to this random piece of writing, you’re just writing. Start writing and intentionally ignore (or even actively shush) your critic, and your creative mind has a chance to take over. Even when you’ve finished writing to the prompt, your creative mind has a good chance of staying in control because you’ve paid attention to it, giving it more importance than your critical mind.
But, you CAN take that risk in a writing prompt. You have no attachment to the outcome of the prompt. You’re going to throw it away most likely so it doesn’t matter if it sucks so badly it must be deleted off your hard drive immediately to ensure that, to paraphrase Annie Lamott, your entire, awful, untalented self is not exposed to the world if you get hit by a bus and people search your writing for something to use in your eulogy.
So, go ahead. Take a risk. Write SciFi. Write in verse. Write from the POV of a brilliant six-year-old child. The worst that happens is you’ve learned, in only 15 minutes, that you HATE writing SciFi because of the stupid FTL problem.
Use these nuggets of wisdom. Modify your writing practice based on what you’ve learned. For writing idiosyncrasies, just note them and save them for a later time, during revision, when you want your critiquing mind around.
How to use writing prompts