7 Ways to Use Writing Prompts With Your Current Project

Writing prompts…love 'em or hate 'em.


Some people swear by them, while others shudder at the thought of using a writing prompt in their work. Because, too often, using random writing prompts can lead you astray.  And let's face it, most prompts are a bit on the random side, aren't they?  Those books of prompts are great, but they have about as much as common with your novel in progress as flying to the moon does to a wedding dress.

Say you're stuck on your writing project, so you open one of your books of writing prompts, choose one and begin writing.  All well and good.  Except that you're just writing, not really writing about anything of much interest or use to you.

Now, I'm a great one for writing something, anything, on a regular basis.  And I often exhort people to do just that–particularly when they are stuck.  But writing mindlessly for any great length of time can be as frustrating as not writing.   Writing aimlessly is bad for your creative morale, because your heart and soul won't be in it.

The trick is to find a way to make your writing prompts relevant to your current project, so that they are enhancing your writing, not taking away from it.  When used in this manner, writing prompts can be wonderfully helpful in a couple of ways:

  • To generate actual writing
  • To get a flow of ideas going
  • To get yourself unstuck

And, remember, the best way to use prompts is as freely and loosely as possible.  Take your prompt, write it at the top of a sheet of paper, and set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Then write.  And write and write and write, without stopping, until the timer goes off.

If you want to use writing prompts with your current project, here are some suggestions:

1. Take the last line of the previous scene or chapter and use it as a prompt.  Or take the first line.  Using a sentence from your work is a great way to drive deeper into the writing.  Because you are writing freely and loosely, your inner critic is silenced and you may be surprised what you come up with.

2. Put a location from your book into a sentence and use it as a prompt.  You can do this for the city or area your book is set in, or do it on a smaller scale, using a building such as your character's workplace or his home to write about.  This technique can help to uncover details you'll later use in description, or even ideas your character might have about her surroundings.

3. Put your character in a sentence.  Of course, this is sort of the whole point of writing a novel, but do this in a random way, having your character do either something unexpected or completely mundane and then write about it for 20 minutes.  You'll be amazed what you'll learn.

4. Use a line of dialogue from your project. 

5. Use keywords as prompts.   Quick, tell me three words that describe your writing project.  Now use those words as prompts–either one at a time or putting them into a sentence.

6. Use theme as a prompt.  Maybe you don't know what the theme of your book is–don't laugh, it takes many a draft to figure it out sometimes–or maybe you have a vague idea of it.  Make a sentence out of what your don't know or that vague idea and use it for a prompt.

7. Riff on the title.  Most works-in-progress have a title, even if its only a working title.  Use that for a prompt and see what comes up.

Those are some ways I've used prompts with my work-in-progress.  Any more suggestions?

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8 Responses to 7 Ways to Use Writing Prompts With Your Current Project

  1. Don 11/10/2010 at 07:53 #

    Thanks Charlotte. These are all great points on prompts, including most of which I never really consider before, but thanks to you I shall.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 11/10/2010 at 13:51 #

    Glad they were helpful to you, Don!

  3. J. Matthew Saunders 11/11/2010 at 13:15 #

    I’ve used random writing prompts I’ve found online to create character sketches. The short 250-300 word stories I end up with don’t (well hardly ever) make it into my work in progress, but they always give me insight into my characters I can use.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 11/11/2010 at 13:28 #

    That’s another great way to use prompts, Matthew–as a way to understand your characters through writing about others.

  5. Anica Grey 01/30/2011 at 10:32 #

    This is definitely a good way to get yourself unstuck, thanks.

    A few days ago I happened to think of a location in my story, something from my worldbuilding process. I thought “what would happen if the main character visited such and such place, and met such and such person?” A BIG idea sprung up in my mind as to how if fit into the whole story.

    Also, some of the elements in my story came from the working title. My mother once told me that if you can’t think of a title, look for titles from albums, songs, TV episodes, etc. I’ve done this a lot. My current project was named after an album for a band I’ve never even listened to! I just went to iTunes and did a random search.

    I will definitely share this advice (and your site) with my sisters (who are also writers). Thanks again!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 01/30/2011 at 13:15 #

    Anica, Thank you for stopping by. Glad this post was helpful. And thanks for sharing your idea about using a title from a song or TV show, or album, its a good one!

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  8. Charlotte Dixon 05/26/2011 at 07:34 #


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