On Using Writing Prompts

From very early on in my writing, I have loved using prompts.  Personally, I don’t go for complicated prompts – those that border on puzzles.  For example, “Use these seven words in a flash fiction of under 300 words” or “Write a story in which the protagonist is somebody who has constructed a house across the street from your grocer.”  Some people gravitate towards prompts like that and I certainly applaud them for it.  They just don’t click with me.  I like gentle, nudging prompts.  Sometimes a gentle prompt such as a single word or image will unlock a story that’s been churning away in my subconscious for some time.  Or a prompt will put some structure around a vague idea that I’ve had for a story.

It is with this idea in mind that I stumbled upon an idea for a prompt while wandering around a bookstore the other day (yes, bookstores still exist in some parts of the country).  ”Word a day.”  As simple as that.  The idea came to me while looking at moleskins in the bookstore.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any “word a day” calendars at this time of year, but I found a free app for my iPhone and I am now off to the races.

My goal is to get into a daily writing habit even if it’s something as small as a paragraph or just a few lines, although I know that many days I won’t be able to pull this off.  I started my “Inspiration Minute” posts with that in mind, sharing things that inspire me to at least think and possibly write.  And “Word a day” also fits that prescription beautifully and in two days it has inspired two flash-length stories.  My words so far have been “avatar” and “trenchant.”  The stories themselves may or may not ever see the light of day – the goal isn’t to work a finished story every day, just put forth some rough draft material.

I’ve added a “word of the day” to my sidebar – scroll down, it’s on the right-hand-side.  Not sure if I’ll leave it there, but it serves as a good reminder for me for the moment.

Do you use prompts?  What sort of prompts work best for you?  Please add your links for prompt sources and if I get enough, I’ll gather them up and include them in a post.  I’ll share some of my favorites, as well.


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21 Responses to On Using Writing Prompts

  1. Tony Noland says:

    My last FridayFlash was inspired by a couple of prompts I got from friends on twitter. Mostly, it was the single word: canines. That was enough.

    When I used them, I prefer simple prompts – a picture, a word, a scent. Some of my best stuff has come from them.

  2. Linda Austin says:

    Yes, I am also not interested in literary gymnastics.

  3. Scott Roche says:

    There are a couple of good prompt sites that I keep an eye on. http://everyphototells.com/ http://www.creativecopychallenge.com/ http://piratewritingprompts.blogspot.com/

    I like all kinds of prompts, myself.

  4. Anjie Kokan says:

    Hi, PJ. I started a very eclectic writing prompt website and I’m trying to feature guest prompters once a week. Sometimes I put up random words and challenge folks to use some of them in a poem for x amount of lines, etc. However, the major rule is to “write” as opposed to following the suggested rules in the prompt. If a person finds one word on the list that prompts a memory, then great, I say go with it. There are always lots of options per post, and my goal is that there will always be something for everyone. I post a picture everyday, too. Please check out my site and let me know what you all think. Today is one of those lists of random word days. http://www.promptsforwriters.blogspot.com/

  5. Lisa says:

    I like the Word of the Day sidebar prompt! I also agree that writing small amounts every day is a very good idea. A couple of years ago I set the goal of writing at least 250 words a day, which I emailed to my son for accountability. Sure enough, I often far surpassed that goal. And sometimes I barely made the 250 words. But, before long, I had the draft of a middle grade novel. 250 words at a time.

    Go, go , go!

  6. Lou says:

    I've been lamenting the fact that the 52/250 project is coming to an end, as I was really getting into their short prompts. I love this idea, PJ. Maybe I'll jump in and join you from time to time.

  7. What a fabulous idea! I'm a big fan of writing prompts, and like you I prefer the gentle nudges. I also love learning new words or trying to use new words in an every day sentence, but this idea of using the word a day as a writing prompt is brilliant. :)

  8. mroby says:

    Mine are all poetry related. Would you still like the links? They also tend towards being exercises…

  9. PJ Kaiser says:

    Linda – It's funny how different things work for different people. Some people love that kind of prompts, but generally they don't work for me. Thanks for your comment :-)

  10. pauline says:

    I just started writing prompts with the red dress club and love it. If you haven’t seen them already, its http://www.thereddressclub.blogspot.com (I think) . They use #TRDC as the twitter hashtag.

  11. John Wiswell says:

    I almost never write using prompts. The only one this year was an outrageous dare – a friend sent me a list of 100 unusual and quirky words, and I decided to try to fit all 100 into one flash fiction story. The supreme constraints were attractive.

    I almost never give out writing prompts, either. If a friend begs me for a story idea I'll always whip one out. Otherwise, it's seldom that I get an idea I deeply desire to see other people write. The "regret for the death of a horrible person" was one, and the only I've put on the BM's.

  12. I like writing prompts. I use them from time-to-time. Sometimes I use a photo, usually something I've photo-stalked from a friend. And those friends have in turn asked for specail photo-prompt stories ("Waiting" & "The Hunt")

    A few times I've used a word prompt from http://www.oneword.com They give you a word and you have 60 seconds to write anything about it. The only two #fridayflash serials I've done have been based on Biblical prompts: 7 Deadly Sins (although those aren't actually in the Bible, not like that anyway) and "A Time for Everything" from Ecclesiastes 3. Writer's Digest gives daily writing prompts and you can subscribe to them through Poets & Writers, too. They give a weekly prompt, one for poetry and one for fiction.

  13. dtrasler says:

    I'm never stuck for things to write, but don't always find the right project for the available writing slot. Right now I'm suupposed to be pounding out some scenes in a shared pantomime project (for TLC Creative, my writing partnership) but it's not fun enough. I'll be meeting up with the guys in person next week, and there'll be no problem then, but it would be nice to be ahead of the game for once!
    I also have a neat little book called "The Writer's Block" Hang on, I'll go and get it. It's by Jason Rekulak, and it really IS a block – 3 inches on each side, or thereabouts. Inside are photos, questions, single words and prompts like "Write about your worst habit.". It's a cool inspiring thing, but I haven't used it as much as I should…

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