Writing prompts are like diving boards: a springy platform meant to launch you into a new space. They can be a word, a sentence, an image or an idea and they are a great way to get you writing, even if you don’t have a book you’re working on. But writing prompts can do more than that, they offer many skill-building benefits that can help any writer grow and improve. Here are just a few of the things writing prompts can do for you:
Most obviously, writing prompts can prompt you to write but the trick is to use them as often as necessary to ensure you’re writing every day. Remember, not everything you write needs to be a masterpiece destined for the New York Times bestseller list. What’s important is to keep your writing muscles toned and flexible by writing at least a few hundred words each day. And because writing prompts aren’t meant to create something meant for a wide audience, they’re a great chance to play. Which leads to our next point...
Try something new
Prompts are a great way to shake up your writing habits. Just as reading a book of science fiction can help you write a better romance novel, writing about subjects and situations you wouldn’t naturally gravitate to can help you grow your skills. By focusing on your weaknesses, you will increase the rate at which you add new skills. Struggle with dialogue? Choose writing prompts that set up interesting conversations. Not good at writing evocative settings? Find prompts that stretch your world-building muscles. Sure, it's easy to avoid using writing prompts in your practice when the suggestion isn't something you already want to write about. But that’s the point! Learning how to write about things that don’t immediately interest or that take us out of our comfort zone is what will put shiny new tools in our kit.
Ideas and inspiration
Perhaps the best part of using writing prompts is that they can spur new ideas. Writer Austin Kleon says that creativity is about “Taking what’s in front of you and everybody else and making something new out of it.” By combining a writing prompt (something that goes wrong on a mountain hike) with something we may already be writing about (a coming-of-age story about a social outcast), we can take our writing in new and unexpected directions. Perhaps our social outcast proves herself in unexpected ways.
Here's an idea to get you started:
You don't have to look far for ideas. Dostoevsky, for example, wrote several of his novels after reading newspaper accounts of real events. As we know, however, many news stories can be quite depressing. For a happier ending, try looking through positive news sites like this one. Find a story about an individual achievement and write about the moment things changed.
And here are a few more resources that can help you dive right in to your daily writing session:
For students, teachers or those interested in writing personal narratives, the New York Times offers an outstanding collection of 650 prompts organized by category.
Written by Christian Fink-Jensen, FriesenPress Marketing Manager