Have you ever had the creative urge to write, but don’t have any solid ideas at the time? One of the most difficult parts of writing is the conceptualization stage, when you start deciding what kind of story you want to write. We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be original. Often, we want to say something unique to ourselves as individuals when we write. We worry that the things we write will just be a re-hashing of the stories we’ve already told. We want to try something new, but all too often, we worry that we will just end up sticking to the same genres, the same themes, the same structure. How can we overcome this mental block and get back to our “zone” when writing? One way you can do it is by challenging yourself with writing prompts.
What is a Writing Prompt?
Simply put, a writing prompt is a set-up for a story that challenges any and all writers to finish the story in their individual voice. Writing prompts make no strict demands from the writers who use them, nor do they claim ownership of the stories that are generated from them. They are ideas that are given freely to the writing community, knowing that it’s more than possible that several people may take the idea and run with it, even at times making money on the resulting work.
A writing prompt is typically not lengthy. It gives just enough information to help other writers start using their imagination to fill in the blanks. The resulting work doesn’t even have to resemble the original writing prompt when all is said and done. The whole point of a writing prompt is to encourage creativity and imagination, and the best prompts leave most of the decision-making to the writers using them.
Some examples of different types of writing prompts:
- “You find yourself alone on a deserted island after a night of hard drinking. The last thing you remember is a man in a trench coat smiling at you as you take a drink of a beer he bought you with the word “Escape” on the can. As you try to make sense of what happened and where you are, you suddenly hear a voice speaking to you from the water…”
- This prompt gives the writer a setup that may be atypical for them, but sets themes and events that the writers can use to build upon.
- The prompt ends on a “fill in the blanks” situation that is designed to force the reader to decide for themself what happens next. Suddenly, the writer taking the prompt more likely to be automatically engaged in continuing from where the prompt left off.
- It doesn’t tell a full story, nor does it set all the rules for the work. One writer may take it in a fantastical direction, another could take it in a much darker direction. The choices are left up to the writer taking the prompt and running with it, and when multiple writers do it you can see how the different styles compare between them when given the same input.
- “Write about a character who is going through something immeasurably painful, but doesn’t want to let others see what they are dealing with. How does this affect the daily life of this person? Their relationships? Their mental health? Is there a clear way for this person to resolve this issue? If so, why isn’t it resolved? Think about the things in this character’s life that may have shaped their behavior, and how they react to normal things in life because of these factors.”
- This type of writing prompt is more academic and straight forward. It functions the same as the first example in that it expects the writer to fill in all of the blanks, but it also gives more freedom for the writer to decide how to write this particular story. For some, this type of prompt can be more appreciated, especially if writing from a blank slate is desired. For others, they may still find there’s too much wide-openness in the writing and may prefer a prompt more like the first example in order to get them out of their most typical writing subjects and patterns.
Where to Find and Share Writing Prompts
- Storyaday.org. This site is dedicated to the idea that you should write something every single day, and get used to doing so. The site gives weekly prompts to the readers, so there’s plenty of content to browse through if you are looking for prompts.
- DIYMFA.com. You can have a good time with this website. It’s a writing prompt generator that works under the principle that a good writing prompt has a Character, Situation, Prop and Setting (similar to the first prompt listed above). Simply hit shuffle until a combination of the four inputs sparks your imagination and go from there.
- reddit.com/r/writingprompts. If you want to take the opportunity to see a vast array of writing prompts, as well as several different responses by aspiring writers for most prompts, or if you’re brave enough to share one yourself, then Reddit’s Writing Prompts subreddit is for you. Some people have even taken the writing prompts given to them and have created and published successful book series from them.
- Your local library! If you want to get involved with other aspiring writers, the library is a good place to do it. Join a writing group and give one another challenges for writing prompts and discuss your writing. This is usually the absolute best way to not only get better by receiving feedback but also by thinking critically about others’ work, and networking with likeminded individuals is one of the best ways to further your career. I highly recommend doing this if you have the time to commit to it.